US GAO questions Africom HQ location in Germany


The US Government Accountability Office has questioned the Department of Defence’s decision to keep US Africa Command (Africom) headquarters in Germany, saying that moving the headquarters to the United States could save $60-70 million a year.

The US DoD in January 2013 decided to keep Africom headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said. When Africom was created as the US military’s newest command in 2007, the Stuttgart headquarters were planned to be temporary, but finding a new location was problematic due to the cost of moving the headquarters and opposition from African countries to host the command on the continent.

When announcing the decision to keep Africom in Germany, the US Secretary of Defence said that keeping Africom in Germany would cost more than moving it to the United States but the commander had judged it would be more operationally effective from its current location, given shared resources with the US European Command.

The GAO in a report released last week said it found that the DoD’s decision to keep Africom headquarters in Germany “was not supported by a comprehensive and well-documented analysis that balanced the operational and cost benefits of the options available”.
“Although details supporting DoD’s cost estimates were not well-documented [in the study accompanying the decision], the analysis indicated that moving the headquarters to the United States would accrue savings of $60 million to $70 million per year.
“The 2012 study also estimated that relocating the headquarters to the United States could create up to 4 300 additional jobs, with an annual impact on the local economy ranging from $350 million to $450 million, but it is not clear how this factored into DOD’s decision,” the GAO said.

The GAO also questioned why the study did not address the fact that small, forward-deployed headquarters elements can make up for distant headquarters, such as employed by other US-based combat commands.
“Until the costs and benefits of maintaining Africom in Germany are specified and weighed against the costs and benefits of relocating the command, the department may be missing an opportunity to accomplish its missions successfully at a lower cost,” the GAO report read.

The GAO recommended the DoD re-evaluate its position on Africom headquarters by more comprehensively studying the available options. These options should include placing some Africom headquarters personnel in forward locations, while moving others to the United States, it said.
“DoD partially concurred with GAO’s recommendation, stating that the decision was based primarily on military judgment but that it will perform additional analysis of the location of the headquarters if the Secretary deems it necessary. GAO continues to believe such analysis is needed,” the report concluded.

Last month there was talk of shutting down one of the DoD’s nine combatant commands, six of which are focused on specific regions of the globe. Media reports suggested that the Pentagon might seek to merge Northern and Southern Command into a single Americas Command and disestablish African Command and divide its responsibilities between the European and Central Commands, reports the Lexington Institute.

The Institute cautioned that short of stopping all activities, closing offices and retrenching staff, not much money will be saved by disestablishing or merging commands.

The US military has a single permanent, official, military base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, but has around a dozen temporary detachments across Africa which conduct surveillance operations, training etc. Camp Lemonnier is home to more than 2 000 American military personnel – around half of the total on the continent.

General Carter F Ham, former Africom chief, told journalists in March this year that establishing another military base in Africa or moving Africom headquarters to the continent is unnecessary and will not be helpful in Africa, especially as the German headquarters are established, close to European Command, have similar time zones to Africa and would be costly to move.