Presidio base closure showed poor management

The Presidio of San Francisco closure was predictable when the Congressional Base Closure and Realignment Act (BRAC-88) was enacted. Successful military and base closure efforts would require skill in intervention, a systems view to management support and intervention, an open and shared technology and value system and a long-range perspective. 

Implementation promulgated the preparation of a highly controversial Presidio of San Francisco Closure and Realignment Study that continued for several years. The study was conducted by the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army staff to determine whether the Presidio Post was cost-effective or even required as a U.S. Army installation according to closure criteria.  

The historical and political reasoning that closed the Presidio of San Francisco is presented in an attempt to adjudicate an understandable Post closure decision. What remained unanswered was the question why the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army staff did not take positive action to invite federal government agencies in the city of San Francisco and the Bay Area to physically move onto the Presidio of San Francisco, since the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army considered to be the only possible solution and justification for the Presidio Post to remain operational as a U.S. Army installation. 

However, research has revealed that the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army staff never requested formal authority from the U.S. Army Forces Command to propose or implement such a decision, nor did the research provide any information that suggested mutual benefit realignment was even discussed with several federal government agencies located in San Francisco and the Bay Area where ample office space was available. Therefore, the history of events that occurred would suggest that it was a result of resistance or lethargy by the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Amy staff. That is, the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army staff took little or no action to satisfy the goals and objectives of keeping the Presidio Post operational as a military installation. 

It appeared the final decision to close the Presidio Post and to discontinue the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army and the Presidio Garrison was made to avoid further embarrassment to the U.S. Army. 

Since 1991, when the former airstrip was torn up and converted to wetlands, dunes and a bayside promenade, some four million people have come to San Francisco to revel in the big sky vista each year. You can pick up Presidio maps and schedule ranger-led walks and participate in seasonal programs — and get a cappuccino, sandwiches, guide books and eco-themed gifts at the popular Warming Hut between Crissy Field and Torpedo Wharf at the former Garrison’s Northern edge. Every day, anglers haul in crab or bass from the pier, and foghorn calls with passing ships. Ambling couples pull each other closer as blustery turfs of fog drift through the Golden Gate Bridge toward a glittering downtown San Francisco. 

This is the San Francisco visitors leave in their hearts. And it almost did not happen. 

When the U.S. Army turned over the Presidio of San Francisco to the U.S. National Park Service in 1994, the gift carried an unprecedented catch. Congress insisted that the new national park become financially self-sufficient by 2013 or risk being sold at auction. Since this period, the Presidio Trust, the Presidio National Park’s governing board, has had to walk a tricky line while trying to get the park to pay for itself without destroying itself. 

In sum, the Presidio of San Francisco post closure portrayed a running account of a crisis action precipitated by insensitive and irresponsible higher headquarters management decisions made by federal government officials who did not have valid information to make a proper decision. These administrative decisions resulted in political pressure being put on the Headquarters Sixth U.S. Army staff to conform to its initial evaluation to close the Presidio Post. The final decision, however, would cost the U.S. Army one of the most beautiful U.S. Army military posts in the country, and cost the city of San Francisco a reduced tax base through the elimination of military personnel and civil service employees and the immediate protection of the U.S. Army during a civil emergency or earthquake.

Robert William Curtis is a retired US Air Force management engineering superintendent and human resource officer for the US Mission to the United Nations. He is a former personnel management consultant for the commanding general of the U.S. Army that was based at the Presidio of San Francisco prior to its closure. He was a heavy machine gun soldier during World War II at the age of 15, and also served in the Vietnam War and Korean War.

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