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DOD Support Infrastructure Management

This information appears as published in the 2017 High Risk Report.

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Since our 2015 high-risk update, the Department of Defense (DOD) has shown some improvement in managing its infrastructure to better achieve reductions and efficiencies, and has partially met each of the five criteria for removal from the High-Risk List. For this update, we are consolidating our evaluation of these two areas based on DOD officials’ assertion that achieving efficiencies in base support is integrated through numerous programs and efforts at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), military service, and installation levels, and is incorporated in DOD’s overall efforts to efficiently manage its infrastructure. Further, DOD officials stated that the joint basing program is no longer DOD’s primary effort for achieving efficiencies in base support services. For these reasons, we are reframing our evaluation to focus generally on DOD’s efforts to better align DOD’s support infrastructure with the needs of its forces and achieve efficiencies.

DOD manages a global real property portfolio that consists of more than 562,000 facilities—including barracks, commissaries, data centers, office buildings, laboratories, and maintenance depots—located on about 4,800 sites worldwide and covering more than 25 million acres. With a DOD-estimated replacement value of about $880 billion, this infrastructure is critical to maintaining military readiness, and the cost to build and maintain it represents a significant financial commitment.

Since designating this area as high risk in 1997, we have reported on various long-term challenges DOD faces in managing its infrastructure. Specifically, DOD has experienced obstacles reducing excess infrastructure, more efficiently using underutilized facilities, and reducing base support costs, as well as achieving efficiencies by consolidating or eliminating duplicate support services. In our 2015 high-risk update, we categorized the need for improvement into two areas: (1) reducing excess infrastructure, which included disposing of and consolidating facilities under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and improving how DOD uses facilities; and (2) achieving efficiencies in base support through joint basing—a program aimed at consolidating support services by combining bases that are in close proximity or adjacent to one another. We reported that DOD retained significant excess capacity relative to its planned force structure; needed to improve the completeness and quality of its information on how it uses facilities to better manage and use them; and had not realized the anticipated cost savings and efficiencies in reducing duplicative support services through its joint basing program.

DOD Support Infrastructure Management

As cited previously, since our 2015 high-risk update, DOD has shown some improvement in managing its infrastructure to better achieve reductions and efficiencies, and has partially met each of the five criteria for removal from the High-Risk List. Specifically, DOD has demonstrated leadership by requesting more rounds of BRAC—its primary method for reducing excess infrastructure not needed to support its forces. DOD has also showed some improvement in its leadership commitment, capacity, action plans, monitoring, and progress by increasing the completeness of utilization data, publishing an overarching Real Property Efficiency Plan, communicating and addressing issues on consolidating installation services at the joint bases, and reducing excess infrastructure through the Freeze the Footprint policy. However, DOD needs to take additional steps across all five of our high-risk criteria. For example, DOD has not committed to take action on some of our recommendations related to it implementing any future BRAC rounds, such as improving DOD’s ability to estimate potential liabilities, and savings to achieve desired outcomes. Further, DOD continues to maintain excess capacity in relation to its force structure, including long-standing excess facilities, and needs to ensure accuracy of its real property data to better identify potential areas to reduce and consolidate facilities. DOD also needs to address in its plans any actions geared toward achieving efficiencies in base support services, such as through consolidating services. By acting on our recommendations to strengthen its efforts in each of these areas, DOD will be better positioned to align its support infrastructure with the needs of its forces and achieve efficiencies.

In April 2016, we provided DOD with a letter that outlined 19 actions and outcomes that we believe it should address in order to correct long-standing weaknesses in its support infrastructure management efforts. Based on discussions with DOD officials and recent efforts across the department, as of January 2017, we believe that DOD has addressed 4 of the 19 actions and outcomes related to capacity, monitoring, and demonstrated progress. Specifically, DOD evaluated the purpose of joint basing and whether its goals are still appropriate, reviewed and prioritized standards to ensure a shared framework for managing base support, provided guidance to the joint bases that directs them to identify opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies, and continued to develop an approach to identify and isolate cost savings resulting from consolidating support services at the joint bases. We also added one action on improving the accuracy and completeness of lease data, which we believe will assist DOD in managing its facilities more efficiently. Going forward, DOD needs to show measureable and sustained progress in addressing the remaining 16 actions and outcomes across each of the 5 criteria for removal from the High-Risk List related to improving implementation of any future BRAC rounds, improving facility utilization data, reducing base support costs, and achieving efficiencies in base support.

In September 2016, we also provided DOD with a letter describing the overall status of DOD’s implementation of our recommendations, and noted specific open recommendations that we believe the department should give high priority to addressing. Included in the letter were 7 open priority recommendations related to improving initial cost estimates, limiting bundling of stand-alone realignments, developing baseline cost data, and establishing reduction targets for any future BRAC, which are also included in the 16 actions that are part of this high-risk update.

DOD needs to take the following 16 actions to satisfy the five high-risk criteria for DOD support infrastructure management:

Leadership Commitment: For any future BRAC rounds, DOD needs to commit to improve the process for identifying and entering into Cost of Base Realignment Actions (COBRA) requirements for

  • military construction,
  • information technology,
  • relocating personnel and equipment,
  • costs for alternatively financed projects, and
  • limiting the practice of bundling multiple stand-alone realignments or closures into single recommendations, or when bundling is appropriate, itemize the costs and savings associated with each major discrete action.

DOD should provide clear direction to the joint bases about goals, time frames, and measures in consolidating base support services.

Capacity: DOD needs to

  • implement guidance on improving utilization data; and,
  • continue to manage the reduction of long-standing excess facilities, such as proactively managing processes to meet historic preservation and environmental requirements and working with host nations to avoid prolonged negotiations over returning excess infrastructure in foreign countries.

Action Plan: DOD needs to include in its plans any actions geared toward reducing duplication or consolidating support services, such as providing measurable goals linked to achieving savings and efficiencies stemming from consolidation at the joint bases.

Monitoring: DOD needs to

  • improve the accuracy and completeness of data, including breaking out the cost and square footage information on multiple properties included in a single lease;
  • in any future BRAC round, commit to improving the fidelity of initial BRAC cost estimates by working with military services and other appropriate stakeholders to fully identify requirements—the cost of military construction, information technology, and relocating personnel and equipment, and alternatively financed projects—and limit bundling multiple stand-alone realignments or closures into single recommendations. When bundling is appropriate, itemize the costs and savings associated with each major discrete action;
  • direct the military departments to develop baseline cost data, including any consolidation resulting from a future BRAC round; and
  • continue to periodically track service-level efforts to reduce excess infrastructure, such as planned service targets to reduce or better use excess space, based on reliable real property data, including information on utilization and leased space.

Demonstrate Progress: DOD needs to

  • establish targets for eliminating excess capacity, consistent with the BRAC selection criteria chosen, for any future BRAC rounds;
  • assess—using better data on the use of space and better monitoring of DOD-level and service-level efforts— whether its goals and efforts need to be reviewed to align space utilization with mission needs; and
  • ensure its plans and programs to achieve reduction goals are implemented and progress monitored, in addition to other actions previously mentioned under the other high-risk criteria.

If Congress authorizes additional BRAC rounds, it may wish to consider amending BRAC legislation to require the Secretary of Defense to formally establish specific goals that the department expects to achieve from a future BRAC process and require DOD to implement our recommendations related to BRAC.1

[1] GAO, Military Bases: Opportunities Exist to Improve Future Base Realignment and Closure Rounds, GAO-13-149 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 7, 2013).
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    • Brian J. Lepore
    • Director, Defense Capabilities and Management
    • (202) 512-4523