Jon Ossoff Backs Off From Plan for Military to 'Expand Joint Basing'

GAO reports dispute Ossoff claim that there are $2.3 billion of savings available

Jon Ossoff / Getty Images
June 2, 2017

Democratic congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff quietly backed off a plan to expand joint basing at the Department of Defense after his Republican opponent pointed out that it would likely cost Georgia thousands of jobs.

Ossoff's proposal to expand joint basing was first unveiled by Ossoff earlier as part of his outline to cut back on government waste. His campaign released an ad last week directing voters to his website where he claimed his plan to "expand joint basing" at DOD would save $2.3 billion.

The claim has now been amended on Ossoff's website. The proposal to "expand joint basing" has now been amended to a proposal to "improve existing joint basing."


The change occurred after Ossoff's Republican opponent Karen Handel seized on his call to expand joint basing, which is used by the military during Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). Handel's campaign pointed to a report from Georgia's House of Representatives on the effects that another round of BRAC would have on the state, which has one of the largest military populations in the country.

"This 'wasteful' spending that dangerous liberal Jon Ossoff is so quick to eliminate could mean the loss of 26,000 Georgia jobs and weaker national security at home and abroad," Handel's campaign said, referencing figures contained in the report. "That's a plan Georgia families just can't afford."

Ossoff's campaign has not responded to numerous inquiries into the reasoning behind the change on his website.

Ossoff's call for expanded joint basing was based off a note in a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that mentioned a 2013 call by the GAO for DOD to create a plan to achieve $2.3 billion in savings through its joint bases.

Ossoff has attempted to use the $2.3 billion as an example of an opportunity to "immediately save taxpayers' hard-earned money," but that is far from the actual situation, according to a conversation with GAO's director of defense capabilities and management Brian Lepore.

The $2.3 billion figure was what DOD initially estimated could be saved over 20 years by consolidating 26 military installations into 12 joint bases, Lepore explained. By 2009 that estimation of savings had already been cut by 88 percent to just $273 million.

The failure to achieve the initially estimated savings was partly due to new support standards that the joint bases needed to spend money to satisfy, according to a 2009 GAO report.

DOD officials told the GAO in 2009 that the savings from joint basing would likely "continue to decline."

"In view of the increased cost estimates from the initial phase I joint bases, some DOD officials stated that the military services' future estimates of the potential long-term savings would most likely continue to decline," the report states.

By 2014, the GAO was calling on DOD to reevaluate its joint-basing plans due to implementation challenges that had become increasingly clear over the years.

Lepore explained that the GAO's use of the $2.3 billion figure does not mean that it sees that amount of savings as a possibility, but is rather just there because it was DOD's initial recommendation.

"We do bring up the $2.3 billion number, but the point we are trying to make is that it might be possible to achieve those savings, but you're going to have to find new and more efficient ways to do business to get there," Lepore said.

"All we're doing is repeating DOD's goal," he explained. "We did not develop the $2.3 billion number, that is the number that DOD presented to the commission [in 2005]."

"What we try to do when we audit a federal program is say, ‘Look, this is the goal you set for yourself—to what extent are you running your program in a way that can get you there?’" he said. "Will they ever get to $2.3 billion? I don't know—that's just the goal they set for themselves. We do think that there are opportunities to save more money."

Ossoff's transition from calling for expanded joint basing to calling for improving existing joint basing is not the first time that Ossoff has had to transform policy in recent weeks.

Two weeks ago Ossoff refused to voice support for the Taylor Force Act, which would cut off funding to the Palestinian government until it stopped providing funding for terrorists and their families. A day later, his campaign told the Washington Free Beacon that Ossoff had changed his mind and would vote for the legislation.

Handel's campaign has said that Ossoff's shifts show he has "no idea what he is doing when it comes to national security."

"Jon Ossoff clearly has no idea what he is doing when it comes to national security as he continues to flip-flop on issues left and right," said Handel spokesperson Kate Constantini. "It's time he is finally held accountable and forced to answer for his ever-changing positions."

Many Georgia politicians oppose another round of BRAC in fears that some of its bases, such as the Dobbins Air Reserve Base bordering the district Ossoff is running in, would be among the casualties.

Georgia senator Johnny Isakson (R.) has stated his opposition to further joint basing not just because of the jobs it could cost the state, but also because it is "contrary to the country's national security interest."

"Senator Isakson has strongly and publicly opposed any efforts to engage in another BRAC and has worked to secure language in previous National Defense Authorization Acts to prohibit a BRAC," said an Isakson aide. "He believes that, at this time, closing military bases is contrary to the country’s national security interest considering the growing number of threats around the world."

Ossoff has often claimed he had five years of national security experience as a Capitol Hill staffer with top secret clearance, but it was uncovered in March that his claims were exaggerated. Ossoff worked for just over two years as a full-time congressional staffer and had a security clearance for just five months.