The Pentagon and Congress' investigative arm are sparring over the location of the military's newest geographic command.
Defense officials say the current location of U.S. Africa Command (Africom) in Stuttgart, Germany, is optimal for its mission. But the Government Accountability Office is concerned that the military didn't seriously consider relocating it to U.S. soil.
"Until the costs and benefits of maintaining Africom in Germany are specified and weighed against the costs and economic benefits of moving the command, the department may be missing an opportunity to accomplish its missions successfully at a significantly lower cost," a GAO report says.
Established in 2007, Africom oversees U.S. military operations across the continent. The Pentagon originally intended to place its headquarters in an African country, but many locations there lacked adequate infrastructure and several nations objected to U.S. forces in their region.
Stuttgart, already home to U.S. European Command, was chosen as a temporary Africom site, and defense officials this year decided the headquarters would remain there for the time being.
The GAO reports that the Pentagon is spending $140 million to renovate Africom's offices, family quarters and the officer's club, as well as build a child-care center and a shopping facility. There are 1,637 Pentagon employees at Africom headquarters, and their families add another 3,900 people.
Pentagon officials say a recent study they conducted on Africom's location was intended to address questions from Congress, not be the last word on the matter.
"This study focused on several elements of the Africom question and is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis to determine the optimal location for the Africom headquarters," Army Lt. Gen. Robert P. Lennox, principal deputy director the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, said in a response to Congress.
But GAO investigators note that study for reasons the command should be moved to the U.S.
A move would save the Pentagon $60 million to $70 million, plus create 4,300 jobs in the U.S., the report estimates. The annual benefit to the local economy where the headquarters would be located would be $350 million to $450 million.
"DOD's letter describing the January 2013 decision to maintain the command in Stuttgart was based on operational benefits that are not clearly laid out, and it is unclear how cost savings and economic benefits were considered in the decision," the GAO says.
Pentagon officials have said that keeping Africom in Germany is more efficient and allows its personnel to work more easily with European allies.
The decision by former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's not to relocate the Africom headquarters to the United States "was based largely on the Combatant Commanders' military judgment which is not easily quantifiable," Gen. Lennox said. "If [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel sees the need to readdress the location of Africom, the department will conduct appropriate analysis, consistent with sound analytic practice, to inform such a decision."
The GAO also said the Pentagon's study suggests that Africom could relocate in the U.S. but keep a forward operating center overseas — a model that has been used by other geographic commands. Investigators said they were unsure why the study did not say why this option wasn't chosen.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.