With Budget Cuts on Horizon, Consultant Says Eielson is Expensive
A radar screen located in the flight tower keeps track of in-flight aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Griffin, Photo Credit: USAF
FAIRBANKS — With looming military budget cuts, the Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee met in Anchorage on Monday to discuss the protection of Alaska’s military bases.
The meeting came in light of federal efforts to close or realign military bases and was largely focused on Eielson Air Force Base. Earlier this year, the Air Force announced plans to relocate many of Eielson’s personnel to Anchorage as part of a larger, service-wide hunt for savings.
In June, the Air Force announced it would delay force relocations for at least a year, giving more time to research the moves in preparation for what many expect will be a round of base realignments and closures, known as the BRAC process, in 2015.
The committee heard from Steve Hyjek, of Hyjek and Fix Consulting Group, which was hired by the state to come up with a plan to protect the bases.
Hyjek told the committee that the Air Force approaches base closure process primarily by looking at the base’s cost, a bad spot for Eielson because it’s one of the most expensive to operate.
“The people who do the first cut in the BRAC process are number crunchers, they’re not focused on the strategic importance,” he said. “They care if this base is expensive. They are green eye-shade guys.”
The news was clearly bothersome to many of the committee members, who have pointed to Eielson’s strategic location and its unmatched open training area as its strengths.
Hyjek said strategic importance does factor in, but far later in the process.
Committee member Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, said the BRAC process is worrisome.
“I’m personally upset that the first people to look at it are accountants who are only interested in savings and not the strategic importance of Alaska. ... They might end up with a military base in the middle of Iowa,” he said.
Hyjek’s group is preparing a full report for October that will include a more thorough analysis of Alaska’s position. It also will include suggestions on how to proceed.
He said the Legislature should consider ways to lower the cost of energy not only at Eielson but on bases throughout the state.
He also said the state needs to make a serious attempt to save the bases and shouldn’t “bite around the edges.”