One provision in the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that President Obama recently vetoed would have forced the Defense Department to look at putting an intelligence complex at Lajes Field in the Azores, which is part of Portugal.
U.S. European Command wants to put the complex at Royal Air Force Croughton in England Britain, but the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence believes that defense officials intentionally overlooked Lajes as a potential site and that that decision will cost taxpayers money.
"The requirements were to look at some sites in Germany, some sites in Belgium — or BENELUX, which is the greater Luxembourg, Belgium area — and the U.K.," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said "You don't even have to do a study to know when those are your requirements, you're going to end up with the U.K .as your site because there were so many bases in the U.K. that they could use."
Nunes is a member of the Congressional Portuguese American Caucus, and his family emigrated from the Azores. He said that he and other lawmakers have been pressing the Defense Department for years to find new missions for Lajes amid the department’s plans to downsize the U.S. presence there.
"What we said was: 'Look, we've got a great asset at Lajes; you need to look to use that facility — not for refueling — because we know that that mission could be downgraded, but we know that the cost of doing business in continental Europe is exorbitant,' " Nunes told Air Force Times in an interview.
The cost-of-living allowance and housing allowance for U.S. personnel can run about $4,000 per month in Great Britain, compared with about $1,200 per month at Lajes, a congressional staffer told Air Force Times. Factoring in the cost of inflation, the Defense Department could save between $39 million and $46 million a year on those benefits alone by putting the intelligence center at Lajes, the staffer said.
Despite the apparent cost savings of putting the intelligence center at Lajes, defense officials did not consider Lajes as one of the potential sites for the center, Nunes said. He speculated that the officials who decided which countries to consider for the intelligence center are permanently assigned to Europe and would rather live on continental Europe than the Azores.
"I think the process is inherently flawed when those are the people who are writing the requirements and drafting rules when it's in their best interests to stay or enlarge where they're at," Nunes said. "I understand why. Sometimes they are married to people there. They have kids there. They have kids in school. But that doesn't help save the taxpayer any money and it sure doesn't help the military carry out its mission."
A spokesman for EUCOM said that consolidating existing intelligence facilities into the Joint Intelligence Analysis Center at RAF Croughton is expected to save the U.S. government $74 million a year.
"The critical criteria during the analysis were the Department's ability to conduct intelligence operations and bilateral/multinational intelligence collaboration, Air Force Lt. Col. David Westover said in an email to Air Force Times. "International agreements and relationships, quality of life, and business case were non-critical, yet important, secondary criteria. DoD used standardized modeling and statistical data to determine the cost of the facility and future savings. These DoD & commercial costing tools provide historical benchmarks and are proven analytic modeling solutions."
The intelligence center is part of a Defense Department plan to close two other bases in Britain: RAF Molesworth and RAF Alconbury, Westover said. Moreover the new building that will house the intelligence center will replace existing "substandard, deteriorating facilities," and it will be co-located with the NATO Intelligence Fusion Center, he said.
Gen. Philip Breedlove, head of U.S. European Command, said that the new Joint Intelligence Analysis Center at RAF Croughton will have the infrastructure, communications and support functions "to enable seamless intelligence operations."
"While Portugal is an important NATO ally, moving the JIAC [Joint Intelligence Analysis Center] to Lajes Air Base in the Azores does not make financial, operational or strategic sense," Breedlove said in a statement to Air Force Times.
But Nunes is not done pressing this issue. Even though Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act, Nunes said he hopes that officials involved in selecting RAF Croughton will tell Congress what really motivated the decision.
"Aside from the NDAA, there are many other ways through which Congress can encourage the DoD to correct the numerous inaccuracies identified in its calculations," Nunes said. "Whistleblowers have provided damaging information about the DoD's actions on this issue, and Congress now needs to ensure that anyone who provided Congress with misleading information is held accountable."