Report: US paying more for bases in allies' countries
WASHINGTON — The United States is bearing a bigger share of the cost to maintain military bases in allied countries than in years past, and military construction projects in those countries move ahead without proper oversight, according to a Congressional report released Wednesday.
A yearlong review by the Senate Armed Services Committee found that the United States spends more than $10 billion yearly to maintain overseas bases. Seventy percent of the spending is directed toward three major allies: Germany, Japan and South Korea. The figure does not include military pay and benefits or the cost of supporting the war in Afghanistan.
The report comes at a time of declining defense spending as well as a new defense strategy aimed at increasing U.S. influence and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The biggest expenditures — $4 billion in 2012, not including personnel — are in Germany, where the United States is reducing its footprint and withdrawing troops, including a brigade combat team deactived last year and another planned BCT deactivation in 2014. About 48,000 U.S. troops are currently based in Germany.
As the United States military returns facilities to Germany, the report found, it typically accepts “in-kind” payments of services or other facilities rather than cash. But in-kind payments are supposed to be a “last resort” when cash negotiations fail, the report said. Moreover, it said, the military has failed to notify Congress about in-kind negotiations, as required by law.
The in-kind payments have been used on “questionable” construction projects, investigators found, including sunroom additions to officer housing and a $6 million furniture warehouse. Cash payments can’t be used for construction.
That kind of financial management is particularly unacceptable with defense budgets shrinking, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., SASC chairman, in a written statement.
“Federal dollars should always be spent with utmost care, but at a time when the Pentagon and the entire federal government face enormous fiscal challenges, the questionable projects and lack of oversight identified in this review are simply unacceptable,” Levin said.
In-kind payments negotiated without proper oversight are also common in South Korea, where the United States spend $1.1 billion annually to maintain bases for 28,500 troops.
South Korean contributions “have not kept pace with the growth in U.S. cost,” the report said. From 2008 to 2012, while South Korean contribution grew by $42 million, U.S. nonpersonnel costs grew by more than $500 million, the report said.
Meanwhile, the South Korean contribution is sometimes treated as “free money” to be used on questionable projects, according to the report. Those include a dining facility project and a $10.4 million museum for the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division at Camp Humphreys, the facility that will replace Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.
In Japan, where the United States spends $2 billion annually to support about 50,000 U.S. troops on the mainland and on Okinawa, Japan’s contributions to a voluntary cost-sharing program has fallen from more than $1 billion in 1992, to $200 million in 2012.
And, the report said, 20 percent of the Japanese contribution is reserved for projects initiated by the Japanese government, while some high-priority U.S. projects go unfunded.
Among them are critical repairs needed at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, where the Japanese government has canceled projects totaling $140 million with the expectation that the facility would be closed under U.S. military realignment plans in the Pacific. But political disagreements have so far stalled plans to relocate Futenma.