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Honduras: Continuing U.S. Military Presence at Soto Cano Base Is Not Critical

(Letter Report, 02/08/95, GAO/NSIAD-95-39)


Since 1983, the United States has maintained a semipermanent military
presence at Honduras' Soto Cano Air Force Base.  The U.S. presence was
established to support U.S. military and political interests in Central
America, which were threatened by Communist expansion in the region.
The cost to maintain the U.S. presence there is projected to be about
$38 million in fiscal year 1994.  With the end of the Cold War and
political changes in the region, GAO examined the need for a continuing
U.S. military presence in Honduras.  This report assesses whether the
U.S. military presence is critical to U.S. activities and objectives.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  NSIAD-95-39
     TITLE:  Honduras: Continuing U.S. Military Presence at Soto Cano 
             Base Is Not Critical
      DATE:  02/08/95
   SUBJECT:  Military bases
             International relations
             Interagency relations
             International agreements
             Military training
             Drug trafficking
             Federal aid to foreign countries
             Foreign military assistance
             Reductions in force
             Military cost control
IDENTIFIER:  Honduras
             El Salvador
             Panama
             Guatemala
             
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Cover
================================================================ COVER


Report to Congressional Committees

February 1995

HONDURAS - CONTINUING U.S. 
MILITARY PRESENCE AT SOTO CANO
BASE IS NOT CRITICAL

GAO/NSIAD-95-39

Honduras


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV

  CINC - Commander in Chief
  CSA - Chief of Staff of the Army
  DEA - Drug Enforcement Administration
  DOD - Department of Defense
  JTF-B - Joint Task Force-Bravo
  USMILGP - U.S.  Military Group
  USSOUTHCOM - U.S.  Southern Command

Letter
=============================================================== LETTER


B-259044

February 8, 1995

The Honorable Herbert H.  Bateman
Chairman
The Honorable Norman Sisisky
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommitte on Military Readiness
Committee on National Security
The Honorable John R.  Kasich
Member, Committee on National Security
House of Representatives

Since 1983, the United States has maintained a semipermanent military
presence at Honduras' Soto Cano Air Force Base.\1 The U.S.  presence
was established there to support U.S.  military and political
interests in Central America, which were threatened by communist
expansion in the region.  With the end of the Cold War and political
changes that have occurred in the region, we examined the continuing
need for a semipermanent U.S.  military presence in Honduras. 
Specifically, we assessed whether this U.S.  military presence is
critical to current U.S.  activities and objectives in the region. 
The cost to maintain the U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano is
projected to be about $38 million in fiscal year 1994.  In light of
budget constraints and current efforts to increase the
cost-effectiveness of the Department of Defense's (DOD) worldwide
operations, we believe this report will be of interest to the
Subcommittee. 


--------------------
\1 A combination of conditions have contributed to describing the
U.S.  military presence in Honduras as semipermanent.  These include
the early congressional concerns that facilities not be
permanent-type construction, the short-term assignments at Soto Cano,
and the use of semipermanent facilities for more than 10 years. 


   RESULTS IN BRIEF
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1

The U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano provides useful and
convenient support to some U.S.  government activities but is not
critical to these activities or current U.S.  policy objectives in
the region--which are now oriented toward economic growth and
democratic reform.  U.S.  military and embassy officials in the
region agree that the military's contribution to the new objectives
is incidental and not reason enough to maintain the presence. 
Moreover, the United States has underway a range of official programs
to achieve economic and democracy objectives in Latin America, which
are being carried out by several civilian agencies. 

With the end of the Cold War and political changes that have occurred
in the region, the major missions of U.S.  personnel at Soto Cano are
to support military training exercises, humanitarian and civic
assistance exercises, and U.S.  counterdrug activities.  However, the
U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano is not essential to training
exercises.  Similar training is routinely conducted in other Central
American countries without this type of semipermanent arrangement. 
The U.S.  Army has recently acknowledged that training can be
conducted in the region without a semipermanent logistics support
base. 

Soto Cano is located in the center of the drug transit area, and U.S. 
military personnel there assist the U.S.  Customs Service, the U.S. 
Navy, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in counterdrug
operations.  However, this support is minimal.  Officials from the
three agencies characterized the support they received as convenient,
but not critical, and said they could continue their operations in
the region without support from the U.S.  military at Soto Cano. 

The pending withdrawal of U.  S.  forces from Howard Air Force Base
in Panama was also ascribed as a reason for the continuing U.S. 
presence at Soto Cano.  Some U.S.  government officials believe that
the U.S.  presence at Soto Cano provides the U.S.  military with
needed flexibility as it draws down assets in Panama and in the event
of a future crisis in the region.  However, the current arrangement
with the Honduran government does not guarantee that the United
States could have full access for future U.S.  missions.  A
significant expansion of U.S.  assets at Soto Cano and access for
future military missions would likely be encumbered by a number of
factors, including the absence of a base rights agreement, limited
capacity, and political issues.  DOD and State Department officials
acknowledged it was unlikely the United States would become involved
in a major military conflict in Latin America. 

The original reasons for the establishment of U.S.  presence at Soto
Cano no longer exist.  The elimination of this arrangement would have
minimal impact on current U.S.  missions and objectives in the region
and would potentially result in budgetary savings.  However, we did
not attempt to establish firm estimates of cost savings that would
result from discontinuing the U.S.  presence because there were too
many unknowns, including how current activities at Soto Cano would be
dispersed to other DOD installations or whether they would be
eliminated. 


   BACKGROUND
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2

In August 1983, DOD established a joint task force called Joint Task
Force-Bravo (JTF-B) of about 1,100 Army and Air Force personnel at
Soto Cano (formerly, Palmerola Air Base), the Honduran military
installation that houses the Honduran Air Force Academy.  The
presence was established to support various U.S.  political and
military objectives that demonstrated U.S.  commitment to its allies
against the increasing communist threat in the region.  JTF-B and the
other U.S.  military units at Soto Cano were assigned missions to
coordinate and support U.S.  counterinsurgency and intelligence
operations, and military training exercises in the region.  When
directed, JTF-B provides support for disaster relief, search and
rescue, and contingency-type missions in Central America.  JTF-B was
established as a subordinate unit of the U.S.  Southern Command
(USSOUTHCOM), headquartered in Panama. 

The United States funded construction projects and infrastructure
upgrades at Soto Cano, such as a F-16 capable runway, semipermanent
barracks, offices and recreational facilities, 22 miles of roads, and
upgrades of the water, sewer, and electrical systems.  The annual
cost for the United States to maintain the U.S.  military presence at
Soto Cano has grown steadily from about $24 million annually in the
mid-1980s to a projected $38 million for 1994.  (See table 1 for a
breakdown of the costs.) Since 1991, the average annual cost of new
construction and upgrades has been about $2.5 million.  U.S. 
operations at Soto Cano are funded from the Army's and the Air
Force's Operations and Maintenance accounts. 

In addition to JTF-B, other U.S.  military units are stationed at
Soto Cano to support JTF-B's missions, such as an aviation battalion
and a military police platoon.  About two-thirds of the U.S. 
military personnel assigned to Soto Cano are on temporary duty,
usually from 4 to 6 months.  The remainder serve a 1-year tour. 

In April 1994, authorized U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano was
reduced to 780 (see app.  I).  At the time of our fieldwork, DOD
officials told us that the level of personnel was scheduled to
increase to about 900 in October 1994 due to the relocation of
helicopter personnel and three helicopters stationed in Panama.  DOD
officials informed us that this move was being made to keep aircraft
assets in the theater due to the drawdown of U.S.  forces in Panama. 
However, during discussions on a draft of this report, DOD officials
told us that the level is now scheduled to decrease to about 500
personnel in October 1995 due to the deactivation of a helicopter
battalion, which will reduce the number of helicopters from 31 to 11. 
In addition, all U.S.  aviation operations and support at Soto Cano
will be consolidated with JTF-B facilities, and the current main air
facility, Camp Pickett, will be closed. 

According to DOD documents, the U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano
contributes about $14 million annually to the Honduran economy in the
form of contracts and services to support the U.S.  military
presence.  This includes the U.S.  military personnel estimated
spending on the Honduran local economy. 


   MILITARY PRESENCE AT SOTO CANO
   NOT ESSENTIAL TO NEW STRATEGIC
   INTERESTS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3

With the resolution of military conflicts and greater political
stability in Central America, the focus of U.S.  interest in the
region has shifted from political/military objectives to economic
growth and democracy building.  The U.S.  government officials we met
with said that the continuing U.S.  military presence contributed to
U.S.  democracy objectives, but that the contribution was incidental
to their presence to perform other missions. 

Since 1990, Central America has experienced new political stability
as the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua have been resolved, and
the overall threat of communist expansion has diminished.  As a
result, U.S.-directed counterinsurgency and intelligence activities
have ended.  The changed political condition from the time that JTF-B
was established is reflected in the April 1994 congressional
testimony of the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American
Affairs.  The Assistant Secretary stated "the United States is no
longer compelled to base foreign policy strategy on defending the
United States and its neighbors from external aggression.  Instead,
foreign policy can now be focused on encouraging democracy and
promoting economic growth."

When questioned about the continuing need for a military presence in
light of new U.S.  goals and the relative stability in the region,
military officials at Soto Cano and the Southern Command said that
the military presence at Soto Cano contributes to U.S.  efforts to
promote democracy.  According to these officials, the military
personnel at Soto Cano serve as an example of a military force that
is subordinate to civilian control, a main tenet of democracy. 
However, the officials stated that the influence exerted by the U.S. 
military at Soto Cano was incidental and difficult to quantify. 

According to State Department officials, the principal U.S.  programs
to promote democratic initiatives and military professionalism are
administered by other U.S.  agencies such as the State Department,
the Agency for International Development, the Department of Justice,
and the Defense Security Assistance Agency.  Further, the continuing
U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano appears inconsistent with the
current goal of the U.S.  Embassy in Honduras--which is to reduce the
overall size and scope of U.S.  activities in Honduras in recognition
of declining U.S.  funding and increased political stability in the
region.  Moreover, the United States is also encouraging the
government of Honduras to implement military reforms, which include
reducing its armed forces. 


   U.S.  MILITARY PRESENCE IS NOT
   NEEDED TO SUPPORT MILITARY
   TRAINING ACTIVITIES
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4

Since the end of the Cold War, the primary missions of JTF-B are to
support joint, combined and interagency operations, and provide
logistical support for military training exercises, and to maintain
and operate an all-weather, C-5 capable airfield.  While the U.S. 
military presence at Soto Cano is useful and convenient, it is not
essential to support military training activities in the region. 
U.S.  military personnel are routinely deployed throughout Latin
America for training missions without a dedicated, semipermanent U.S. 
logistics and support base like Soto Cano.  According to DOD records,
in 1993 over 60,000 U.S.  active and reserve military personnel were
deployed from the United States and other locations to conduct a
variety of training and civic assistance activities throughout Latin
America.  About 5,500 of the 60,000 participated in training
activities conducted in Honduras.  In discussions on a draft of this
report, DOD officials provided us with figures for fiscal year 1994
training.  These figures show that JTF-B provided support to 10,665
personnel, which is 89 percent of the total deployed in Central
America.  However, the types and levels of support provided by JTF-B
to the various training exercises were not available.  According to
DOD officials, the number of personnel trained in Central America is
approximately 17 percent of all personnel deployed from the United
States and other locations to Latin America. 

Training activities conducted in Latin America included engineering
exercises to drill wells, build roads, schools, and medical clinics;
medical exercises to provide basic medical, dental, and veterinary
care; and combined exercises with host nation forces, such as
computer-simulated war exercises and counterterrorist training. 

JTF-B and the other U.S.  military units stationed at Soto Cano
provide support to these types of training exercises conducted in
Honduras.  For example, in support of an engineering exercise
conducted in Honduras in 1993, U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano

performed liaison functions with Honduran military and local
government officials,

assisted U.S.  reserve units in awarding contracts to procure
services and supplies on the local economy, and

transported and accompanied advance teams to identify suitable
locations for base camps and inspected training sites during the
exercise. 

The U.S.  military at Soto Cano also often provides limited support
(such as supplies and communication support) to training exercises in
Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  For example, military personnel
at Soto Cano provided and transported tents to a National Guard
training site in Guatemala when the Guard's shipment of tents was
delayed. 

Currently, assets from Soto Cano are being used to support demining
training under the operational control of the U.S.  Military Group
(USMILGP) in Honduras for Brazilian, Costa Rican, and Honduran
troops.  JTF-B also recently provided assistance to the USMILGP in El
Salvador in the coordination of air operations for the Fuertes
Caminos exercise. 

Officials from the U.S.  Army Reserve and National Guard said that
the support they receive from U.S.  military forces at Soto Cano
makes training more convenient but that the training can be
accomplished without a U.S.  military presence.  Since 1992, the Army
National Guard and Army Reserve have increased their training
deployments to other Central American countries, especially El
Salvador and Guatemala.  In these countries, intergovernmental
coordination for logistical support is provided by U.S.  military
personnel attached to the Embassy; personnel deployed in advance of
the training; post-exercise evaluation teams; and in some cases, the
host nation military, according to U.S.  Army Reserve and National
Guard officials. 

In a March 1994 memorandum on the review of the requirement for
JTF-B, to the Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA), the Army staff
concluded that training activities in the region could continue
without support from U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano. 
According to the memorandum training exercises in the region can be
supported from bases located in the United States without the support
of an "expensive, semi-permanent, logistics base." The memorandum
states that the costs to support training exercises in Honduras
exceed the benefits and the resources could be better used elsewhere
to meet other Army operational requirements.  Further, the Army Chief
of Staff indicated to the Commander in Chief (CINC), USSOUTHCOM, and
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a message, that
reducing or eliminating the Army's support requirement for JTF-B
would represent an important savings to the Army.  Furthermore, we
reported in November 1993 and testified in April 1994 that some DOD
humanitarian and civic action projects were not designed to
contribute to foreign policy objectives, did not appear to enhance
U.S.  military training, and either lacked the support of the country
or were not used.\2

According to DOD officials, the CINC, USSOUTHCOM, considered the
CSA's concerns about the need for JTF-B.  The CINC's position is that
JTF-B could be reduced, but that access to Soto Cano, with its C-5
capable airfield and a U.S.  presence, is needed to accomplish
USSOUTHCOM's mission, which includes conducting various military and
humanitarian operations, training, and providing support for
exercises in the Central American region. 


--------------------
\2 Department of Defense:  Changes Needed to the Humanitarian and
Civic Assistance Program (GAO/NSIAD-94-57, Nov.  2, 1993) and
Department of Defense:  Weaknesses in Humanitarian and Civic
Assistance Programs (GAO/T-NSIAD-94-158, Apr.  19, 1994). 


   U.S.  MILITARY SUPPORT AT SOTO
   CANO TO COUNTERDRUG ACTIVITIES
   IS MINIMAL
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5

U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano provide support to the U.S. 
Customs Service, the U.S.  Navy, and the DEA counterdrug programs in
the region.  However, the level of support is minimal and involves
only a small portion of the U.S.  military personnel and equipment at
Soto Cano.  U.S.  Customs, U.S.  Navy, and DEA officials
characterized the support they receive from the U.S.  military at
Soto Cano as useful and convenient, but not critical to their
counterdrug programs. 


      MINIMAL SUPPORT TO CUSTOMS
      COUNTERDRUG ACTIVITIES
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.1

Honduras is an ideal location for U.S.  Customs to intercept and
track suspect drug-trafficking aircraft.  The U.S.  Customs Service
has two airplanes and eight personnel stationed at Soto Cano to
intercept and track planes suspected of carrying drugs in the Central
American region and over the eastern Pacific Ocean.  Customs provides
housing for its personnel at the base and its mechanics maintain
their counterdrug planes, but receives utilities and other support
services through the U.S.  military and can use U.S.  military
facilities, such as the dining hall. 

In addition, Customs purchases airplane fuel from U.S.  military
supplies and receives ground and air operations support, such as air
traffic control and weather reports from U.S.  military at Soto Cano. 
The U.S.  military presence at the base provides Customs with a
secure environment and operational capability 24 hours a day, 7 days
a week.  According to the U.S.  Air Force commander at the base,
about 130 personnel are involved in airfield operations.  However,
Customs counterdrug flights accounted for only a small percentage of
the total flights handled by these personnel.  For example, Customs'
aircraft accounted for about 8 percent of total U.S.  fixed-wing
flights from Soto Cano between July 1993 and May 1994--an average of
16 times per month.  During the 9-month period, April to December
1993, Interagency Counterdrug Assessment data shows that Customs'
aircraft based at Soto Cano participated in intercepting/tracking 32
trafficking aircraft, which resulted in 13 cocaine seizures. 

Customs officials said their counterdrug operations could continue at
Soto Cano without assistance from the U.S.  military if support were
obtained from the Honduran military and/or contractors. 
Additionally, Customs officials told us that if they did not have
access to Soto Cano, they could use aircraft based in Panama, Mexico,
or other locations to monitor areas now covered by the aircraft at
Soto Cano.  However, the officials also said that this option would
decrease the effectiveness of operations because Customs' aircraft
would always be in a "catch-up" mode rather than an intercept mode. 
We note that Customs carries out similar activities in Mexico and
other locations without a U.S.  military presence.  Notwithstanding
the current Customs' arrangement with USSOUTHCOM\3 for use of the
Soto Cano Base facilities, arrangements to provide for Customs use of
civilian airport facilities for antidrug activities--without a U.S. 
military presence--may be possible as has been done in Mexico
according to Customs officials.  This would require the governments
of the United States and Honduras to negotiate and establish
appropriate arrangements. 


--------------------
\3 The arrangement is based upon a memorandum of understanding
between the U.S.  Customs Service and USSOUTHCOM, dated September 14,
1990.  The purpose of this memorandum is to facilitate and implement
cooperation and coordination for the detection and monitoring of
maritime and aerial transit of illegal drugs through the USSOUTHCOM's
area of responsibility into the United States. 


      NAVY USES SOTO CANO
      INFREQUENTLY
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.2

The Navy uses Soto Cano in its counterdrug operations, which involve
detecting and monitoring suspected drug planes.  U.S.  military
flight records at Soto Cano showed that Navy counterdrug planes
landed at Soto Cano on average 11 times a month from July 1993
through May 1994.  Two Navy P-3 counterdrug planes based in Panama
sometimes use Soto Cano for refueling or as a temporary base for
their operations.  The aircraft refuel at Soto Cano and receive
ground and air operations support similar to the support provided to
Customs.  Navy personnel are sometimes housed at Soto Cano during 2-
to 3-day stopovers. 

Navy officials said that due to intercept geometry limitations, in
order for the Navy P-3 aircraft to provide a constant air intercept
capability, they must be staged at a Central American site.  The
optimum location for staging is north of Costa Rica but south of
Mexico.  Currently, Soto Cano is the only air base with U.S. 
aviation support that fits that description.  These officials further
added that due to excessive transit distance from other P-3 bases, a
Central American base is required to conduct maritime patrols in the
southwestern Caribbean and eastern Pacific.  When Howard Air Force
Base closes, Soto Cano will be the only base in Central America that
has U.S.  aviation support.  According to DOD officials, if the U.S. 
presence at Soto Cano is discontinued, P-3s could potentially
continue to stage out of there or other bases in the region if the
appropriate operating agreement can be made with the host nation. 
However, in considering options associated with the possible
elimination of the U.S.  presence at Soto Cano, the effectiveness of
the Navy's P-3 interdiction efforts should be considered.  Our prior
work has raised serious questions about the cost-effectiveness of
DOD's surveillance efforts in the drug war.\4


--------------------
\4 Drug Control:  Heavy Investment in Military Surveillance Is Not
Paying Off (GAO/NSIAD-93-220,
Sept.  1, 1993). 


      DEA RECEIVES LIMITED SUPPORT
      FROM U.S.  MILITARY AT SOTO
      CANO
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.3

A part of DEA's mission is to assist local law enforcement agencies
with counterdrug investigations, intelligence, and other activities. 
The 4th Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, at Soto Cano occasionally
provides helicopter transport to DEA agents and Honduran law
enforcement officers for counterdrug operations.\5 These missions
have involved transporting agents to investigate drug seizures
(post-seizure investigation), reconnaissance, drug eradication, and
training for Honduran law enforcement officers. 

At the time of our fieldwork, the helicopter battalion had 33
helicopters: 
15 Blackhawk, 10 Huey, and 8 Chinook helicopters.  From October 1992
through March 1994, the battalion provided transportation support to
DEA about once a month, typically transporting two DEA and three
Honduran agents.  This accounts for only a small portion of the
helicopter battalion's total flying hours.  For example, during
fiscal year 1993, DEA air transport totaled 91.3 flying hours, or
only 1.2 percent of the helicopter battalion's total flying hours. 
The remaining 98.8 percent of the helicopter flying hours went for a
variety of missions such as pilot proficiency training, humanitarian
and civic action exercises, and general support for U.S.  military
groups and embassies in the region. 

DEA officials characterized the helicopter battalion's flight support
as convenient.  They said that DEA operations in Honduras could be
conducted with one Chinook and two Blackhawk helicopters.  However,
DEA officials noted they have other options to meet their needs for
air transportation.  These include chartering planes, which they have
done in the past, or using U.S.  helicopters based in Guatemala. 


--------------------
\5 DEA is authorized to request DOD assistance for its counterdrug
operations by section 1004 of the fiscal year 1991 National Defense
Authorization Act, as amended (P.L.  101-510). 


   SOTO CANO NOT A VIABLE OPTION
   TO HOWARD AIR BASE
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6

U.S.  military and diplomatic officials told us that another reason
to maintain a U.S.  presence at Soto Cano is the pending U.S. 
withdrawal from Panama by the end of 1999, that will result in the
loss of Howard Air Force Base.  These officials stated that it is
important to retain access to an airfield in the region that is
operated by U.S.  military personnel.  Without a U.S.  military
presence at Soto Cano or Panama, officials said the United States
would no longer control or have immediate access to an airfield in
Latin America for contingency purposes.  They stated, however, that
this is not reason enough to justify continuing the U.S.  presence. 
They also acknowledged that it was unlikely that the United States
would become involved in a major military conflict in Latin America. 

Maintaining a U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano does not guarantee
continued access to the base because the United States has no base
rights or status of forces agreements with the government of
Honduras.  According to some Honduran officials we met with, the
Honduran constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign
troops in Honduras, which would limit U.S.  options with respect to
future missions at Soto Cano.  The 1954 Military Assistance Treaty
between the United States and Honduras was the basis for military
cooperation and assistance during the Cold War.  Subsequent annexes
and protocols to the 1954 agreement provided for the establishment of
U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano.  U.S.  and Honduran officials
characterize the agreement allowing a U.S.  military presence at Soto
Cano as a "handshake" agreement, which either side could decide to
break at any time. 

In fact, the current U.S.  presence has become a source of political
controversy.  Some Honduran government officials question the need
for the U.S.  military at Soto Cano and the adequacy of the
arrangement for this presence.  The Honduran President, the Chief of
the Armed Forces, and leaders of the Honduran Congress have called
for an examination of the terms and conditions of the U.S.  presence
because the reasons for its establishment no longer exist. 

Finally, continuation of the U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano
will require recurring renovation and upgrade construction of some
facilities and environmental issues will need to be addressed.\6 For
example, the waste water treatment system is not adequate for the
current U.S.  presence. 


--------------------
\6 JTF-B envisions providing proactive environmental leadership and
began using environmental compliance assessment system inspections in
April 1993 to establish a baseline program.  They have begun to
identify and prioritize requirements and funding sources.  Additional
full-time staffing is required for this program. 


   COST TO MAINTAIN U.S.  PRESENCE
   AT SOTO CANO BASE
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7

We did not attempt to establish firm estimates of cost savings that
would result from discontinuing the U.S.  presence at Soto Cano
because there were too many unknowns.  For example, we did not know
how current activities at Soto Cano would be dispersed to other DOD
installations and whether they would continue at the same level. 
Similarly, we did not have a firm basis for estimating the costs that
Customs would incur with a different support arrangement for its
mission.  However, since about 83 percent of training exercises in
the region take place without assistance from U.S.  forces at Soto
Cano, there are other DOD units and bases that provide similar
support and they could take on the support role currently performed
by JTF-B.  Thus, we infer that DOD resources (i.e., human, financial,
supplies and equipment, and contracts and fees) associated with base
operations and maintenance could be eliminated and costs would either
decline and/or shift to other agencies.  Table 1 shows the direct
costs associated with maintaining the U.S.  military presence for
fiscal year 1994. 



                           Table 1
           
              Costs to Operate and Maintain U.S.
             Military Presence at Soto Cano Base
               (Projected for Fiscal Year 1994)

                    (Dollars in thousands)

Cost elements                                        FY 1994
------------------------------------------------  ----------
Contracts and fees\a                                $9,510.9
Army Flying Hours Program\b                          7,900.0
Supplies and equipment\c                             6,075.6
Per diem and transport\d                             6,000.0
Travel and transportation\e                          1,012.2
Civilian salaries\f                                  1,003.2
U.S. Air Force costs\g                               6,790.0
============================================================
Total                                              $38,291.9
------------------------------------------------------------
\a Base operations contract, telephone and electrical service costs,
and design fees for U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers projects. 

\b Fuel, repair and replacement parts, and travel expenses for the
4th Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment. 

\c Office, medical and maintenance supplies, repair parts, and data
processing purchases. 

\d Transportation costs for initial deployment and return to home
base for U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano, and per diem and
separation allowance costs while stationed at the base. 

\e Costs to transport equipment to the base, and for U.S.  military
personnel stationed at Soto Cano to travel from the base to other
locations on official duty. 

\f Salaries for 39 Honduran clerks at Soto Cano and for 45
staff-years of personnel in Panama providing administrative support
to U.S.  military at Soto Cano. 

\g Air Force shares the cost of all cost elements except Army Flying
Hours Program.  However, Air Force costs are shown in total because
Air Force personnel were unable to separate its costs by the
individual cost elements. 

Source:  GAO analysis of data provided by U.S.  Army and Air Force. 


   RECOMMENDATION
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :8

The reason that the U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano was
established no longer exists and this presence is not critical to
current missions.  In light of budget constraints and current efforts
to increase the cost-effectiveness of DOD's worldwide operations, we
question whether the U.S.  military presence at Soto Cano is
justified.  Therefore, we recommend that

the Secretary of Defense reduce U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano
to the level necessary to support counterdrug activities, pending the
development of other arrangements to support those counterdrug
activities;

the Commissioner of the U.S.  Customs Service, the Administrator of
DEA, the Secretaries of State and Defense, in conjunction with the
Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, develop a
plan to conduct their operations without U.S.  military units at Soto
Cano; and

the Secretary of Defense withdraw the remaining U.S.  military
personnel at Soto Cano once the interagency plan is developed and
implemented. 


   AGENCY COMMENTS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :9

In its comments on a draft of this report, DOD stated that they have
already begun reducing U.S.  military personnel at Soto Cano to the
levels necessary for USSOUTHCOM to carry out JTF-B's restructured
mission, which was formally approved on November 18, 1994, after the
completion of our audit work.  DOD plans to reduce the number of
helicopters from 33 to 11 and personnel from the April 1994 level of
780 to 499 by October 1995.  DOD said that if JTF-B were eliminated,
it would cost units deploying to the region about $8.2 million per
year to provide the command and control and logistics support for
most exercises in the Central American countries at the fiscal year
1993-94 level.  No details were provided as to how the $8.2-million
estimate was established or its relevance to the total cost of the
U.S.  presence at Soto Cano.  DOD stated that continued U.S. 
military operations at Soto Cano are important to ensure effective
forward presence and to execute peacetime operations in the Central
American region.  They responded that any further restructuring of
DOD activities at Soto Cano should await decisions that are pending
on the relocation of USSOUTHCOM headquarters.  DOD's response and
comments are in
appendix II. 

The Department of State generally agreed with the information in the
draft report but expressed concern about its timing and the political
signal that might be perceived by the Latin American region if JTF-B
were to be terminated.  The U.S.  Customs Service, DEA, and the
Office of National Drug Control Policy generally agreed with the
information contained in the draft report.  Informal comments
received from the agencies during discussions on a draft of this
report have been included where appropriate. 


   SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10

We interviewed officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense,
the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, the
U.S.  Customs Service, DEA, and the Army National Guard Readiness
Bureau, all in the Washington, D.C., area.  We also met with the Army
Reserve Command Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and the U.S. 
Atlantic Command in Norfolk, Virginia.  We obtained additional
information related to the costs of maintaining the presence at the
base from Air Force Air Combat Command Headquarters in Langley,
Virginia, and the Army Forces Command Headquarters in Atlanta,
Georgia. 

In Panama, we met with officials from the USSOUTHCOM, including U.S. 
Army South, and the U.S.  Customs Service and DEA.  In Honduras, we
visited the U.S.  military installation at Soto Cano and interviewed
the Commander, JTF-B; the Commander, 4th Battalion, 228th Aviation
Regiment; and other military personnel assigned to the base.  We also
met with the U.S.  Ambassador to Honduras and other embassy
officials, including the Commander of the USMILGP, the Defense
Attache, and the DEA Country Attache.  Additionally, we interviewed
former and present Honduran government and military officials
regarding the U.S.  military presence in Honduras.  We did not assess
the effectiveness of the programs that are supported by JTF-B and the
other U.S.  military units at the base. 

We conducted our review between October 1993 and June 1994 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 


--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10.1

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of Defense,
State, and Treasury; the Attorney General; the Commissioner of U.S. 
Customs; the Administrator of DEA; the Directors of the Office of
National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Management and Budget;
and interested congressional committees.  Copies will also be made
available to others upon request. 

Please contact me at (202) 512-4128 if you or your staff have any
questions concerning this report.  Major contributors to this report
are listed in appendix III. 

Joseph E.  Kelley
Director-in-Charge
International Affairs Issues


AUTHORIZED LEVEL OF U.S.  MILITARY
PERSONNEL AT SOTO CANO BASE (AS OF
APRIL 1, 1994)
=========================================================== Appendix I

Military unit                               Authorized level
----------------------------------------  ------------------
Joint Task Force Bravo
------------------------------------------------------------
Command group and joint staff                            153
Air Force forces                                         136
Medical element                                           79
Joint security force                                      51
Army forces                                               38
============================================================
Subtotal                                                 457

Other military units
------------------------------------------------------------
4th Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment                   263
Military police platoon                                   48
Armed Forces Radio and Television                          3
 Service
Criminal investigation unit                                1
Other small support units\a                                8
============================================================
Subtotal                                                 323
============================================================
Total                                                    780
------------------------------------------------------------
\a Includes five personnel in the power plant and three personnel in
an equipment diagnostic and measurement unit. 




(See figure in printed edition.)Appendix II
COMMENTS FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF
DEFENSE
=========================================================== Appendix I



(See figure in printed edition.)



(See figure in printed edition.)

<apnote:15> Now on p.  12. 



(See figure in printed edition.)


MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS REPORT
========================================================= Appendix III

NATIONAL SECURITY AND
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS DIVISION,
WASHINGTON, D.C. 

Benjamin F.  Nelson, Associate Director
Andres C.  Ramirez, Assistant Director

ATLANTA REGIONAL OFFICE

Mario L.  Artesiano, Regional Assignment Manager
Nancy T.  Toolan, Evaluator-in-Charge
Daniel E.  Ranta, Evaluator
Sara L.  Bingham, Reports Analyst