Key Issues > High Risk > DOD Support Infrastructure Management
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DOD Support Infrastructure Management

The Department of Defense (DOD) needs to better align its infrastructure capacity with its force structure needs and achieve efficiencies by reducing both excess infrastructure and base support costs, and maximizing the use of its underutilized facilities.

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DOD manages a portfolio of real property assets that, as of fiscal year 2017, reportedly included about 586,000 facilities—including barracks, maintenance depots, commissaries, and office buildings. The combined replacement value of this portfolio is almost $1.2 trillion and includes about 27 million acres of land at nearly 4,800 sites worldwide. 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.

DOD has used the BRAC process primarily to reduce excess infrastructure, readjust bases to accommodate changes in the size and structure of DOD’s forces, and produce cost savings. Since 1988, Congress has authorized five BRAC rounds, most recently in 2005. Based on our analysis of the 2005 BRAC round, we found that opportunities exist for DOD and the Congress to improve future BRAC rounds.

DOD Support Infrastructure Management

Since our 2017 High-Risk Report, DOD has made progress in two areas: meeting the criteria of leadership commitment and action plan. Our assessment of the other three criteria remains unchanged.

Leadership commitment: met. DOD has demonstrated leadership commitment by (1) agreeing to improve certain cost estimating processes in future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds by implementing, for example, our recommendation to better forecast initial BRAC costs for military construction; (2) committing to improve its excess capacity estimating method by implementing, for example, our recommendation to use reasonable assumptions in estimating excess capacity; (3) pursuing an effort to relocate from costly commercial leased space to nearby installations when possible; and (4) highlighting its need to dispose of unneeded infrastructure by requesting and completing BRAC rounds. As a result, the rating for the leadership commitment criteria for this high-risk area has improved from partially met in 2017 to met.

Between 2013 and 2017, DOD requested BRAC rounds to address excess capacity, which Congress did not authorize. DOD did not request a BRAC round in 2018. However, in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, Congress provided DOD with additional authority to realign or close certain military installations if the governor of the relevant state or entity (including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam) recommends that the Secretary carry out the military installation’s realignment or closure. This authority includes several requirements, including statements of support for the realignment or closure from the local government, a plan for reuse, and a cost cap of $2.0 billion. DOD also has authority to close or realign installations under other circumstances, subject to certain civilian personnel thresholds and other statutory requirements. It will be important for DOD and Congress to work together to determine infrastructure needs in light of any force structure changes and to take action to dispose of excess infrastructure, as appropriate.

DOD officials have also stated that they intend to address key recommendations we have made by, for example, (1) better forecasting the initial BRAC costs for military construction, information technology, and relocating military personnel and equipment; (2) better aligning infrastructure to DOD force structure needs by, for example, improving the accuracy and sufficiency of its excess capacity estimates; and (3) pursuing an effort to consolidate and standardize leases, which includes analyzing whether it is feasible to relocate functions from commercial leased space to existing space on an installation, thereby reducing leases and better utilizing excess space.

As the responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment are transferred to the recently established Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, it will be important for DOD to maintain its leadership commitment to aligning support infrastructure with the needs of its forces and achieving efficiencies.

Capacity: partially met. In 2017, we reported that DOD had demonstrated its capacity to align infrastructure with DOD force structure needs by disposing of excess infrastructure during past BRAC rounds and by consolidating some installation services at joint bases, among other efforts. However, we also reported that DOD needed to improve the accuracy of its real property data, including data on the utilization rates of its facilities.

In November 2018, we reported that DOD’s Real Property Assets Database contained inaccurate data and lacked completeness, although certain data that we reviewed had improved in accuracy. We found that the percentage of DOD facilities with missing utilization data improved in fiscal year 2016 (14.4 percent) compared to fiscal year 2014 (23.3 percent). However, DOD continues to be missing utilization data for about 93,600 facilities. To address incomplete and inaccurate data in DOD’s database, we recommended that the department fully monitor its data recording processes, develop and implement corrective actions for identified data discrepancies, and develop a strategy to address risk associated with data quality. DOD generally concurred with these recommendations and identified a series of steps the department would take to implement them.

Action plan: met. We reported in 2017 that DOD had developed plans, such as its Real Property Efficiency Plan, to better identify excess infrastructure and thus be positioned to dispose of it. This plan includes DOD’s goals for reducing the footprint of its real property inventory and metrics to gauge progress. The plan is scheduled to be implemented by the end of 2020. However, in 2018, the reduction numbers targeted for DOD under the Office of Management and Budget’s Reduce the Footprint Strategy could not be calculated because, according to Performance.gov (which tracks the goals and objectives of the President’s Management Agenda), the data that DOD submitted was not of sufficient accuracy to support the calculation of its Reduce the Footprint portfolio relative to its baseline.

In October 2018, we reported that DOD had begun using intergovernmental support agreements between military installations and local governments to obtain installation services, such as waste removal, grounds maintenance, and stray animal control. In our 2018 analysis of a sample of these agreements, we found that DOD was achieving cost savings and cost avoidances. DOD agreed to monitor whether installations are evaluating opportunities to use these agreements, stating that the military services will update their policies and procedures to include a process for conducting such monitoring.

In June 2017, DOD also directed the joint bases to stop using the higher cost joint base common standards for installation services and instead use the standards of the military service in charge of providing services at any given joint base. In March 2009, we had reported that joint base costs were likely to increase because the services had not routinely funded installation support at amounts needed to meet joint base common standards. Since DOD directed the joint bases to stop using common standards, these expected increased costs are less likely to occur. As a result these actions, the rating for the action plan criteria for this high-risk area has improved from partially met in 2017 to met.

Monitoring: partially met. We reported in 2017 that DOD had committed to improve its monitoring of any future BRAC rounds and had demonstrated some ability to monitor its efforts to achieve reductions and efficiencies in infrastructure. In May 2018, we reported that DOD needed to improve the accuracy of its excess capacity estimates. In response, the department agreed to update the baseline used for such estimates; clearly lay out any assumptions used and their rationale; and update guidance, definitions, and implementing instructions and apply them in a manner that ensures consistency, but with necessary flexibility.

We also reported in November 2018 that DOD still does not have fully reliable data in its Real Property Assets Database to effectively monitor its property needed for informed management decision-making. For example, we found that over 22 percent of DOD’s facilities (about 125,000 facilities) did not have a physical inspection date in the last 5 years, as required for properties not designated as historic.

Additionally, DOD has not yet committed to implementing some related prior recommendations for any future BRAC rounds. For example, DOD has not agreed to limit the practice of bundling multiple stand-alone realignments or closures into single BRAC recommendations. We reported in 2013 that such bundling did not itemize the costs and savings associated with each separate major action within the bundle, and thus limited the visibility into the estimated costs and savings for individual closures and realignments.

Demonstrated progress: partially met. DOD has demonstrated some progress in aligning its infrastructure to its force structure needs by reducing excess infrastructure through five BRAC rounds between 1988 and 2005, and by disposing of and demolishing excess facilities. DOD has also begun taking other actions that could demonstrate progress in more efficiently using underutilized facilities and reducing base support costs. For example, as of March 2017, DOD and the General Services Administration had begun sharing information about the potential use of available space on DOD installations by other federal agencies. Additionally, in December 2017, a DOD official told us that the department had begun reviewing opportunities to relocate DOD organizations currently in commercial leased space to nearby installations with available space, thereby ending lease payments by the tenant organizations. Finally, DOD has started to reduce some installation support costs by using intergovernmental support agreements to obtain installation services from local governments at lower costs.

However, DOD’s ability to demonstrate further progress continues to be challenged by unreliable real property data, as we reported in November 2018. For example, as of fiscal year 2016, nearly half of the facilities that have been identified as excess in DOD’s Real Property Assets Database do not have a date for when that determination was made, and thus their status cannot be verified as accurate.

Additionally, we found facilities that existed but were not recorded in the military services’ data systems, as well as disposed facilities that no longer existed but were still reflected as active in the database. DOD has also not committed to setting targets for eliminating excess capacity in any future BRAC rounds, which would help DOD measure its reduction of excess infrastructure. As DOD examines and adjusts its force structure, it is important that DOD also assess how its infrastructure capacity aligns with its infrastructure needs, and work with Congress, as needed, to reduce any excess infrastructure.

Over the years since we added this area to the High-Risk List, we have made numerous recommendations related to this high-risk issue, 17 of which were made since the last high-risk update in February 2017. As of December 2018, 23 recommendations are open.

DOD needs to:

  • fully identify the cost requirements for military construction, information technology, relocating personnel and equipment, and alternatively financed projects for any future BRAC round;
  • limit the practice of bundling multiple stand-alone BRAC realignments or closures into single recommendations;
  • establish targets for eliminating excess capacity for any future BRAC;
  • improve the accuracy of its excess capacity estimates by reliably updating the baseline for estimating excess infrastructure capacity, using reasonable assumptions in estimating excess capacity, and developing guidance to improve its analysis and ensure consistency;
  • implement processes for monitoring the benefits from intergovernmental support agreements and whether installations are evaluating opportunities to use those agreements; and
  • improve the accuracy and completeness of its real property data by fully monitoring its processes for recording all required real property information, developing and implementing corrective actions for identified data discrepancies, and developing a strategy to address risks associated with data quality and information accessibility.

DOD should continue to assess its infrastructure needs in light of ongoing changes in DOD force structure (including military service personnel numbers) and work with Congress, as needed, to reduce any excess infrastructure.

Congressional Actions Needed

If Congress were to authorize additional BRAC rounds, we have suggested that it consider amending BRAC legislation to require the Secretary of Defense to formally establish specific goals for a BRAC process. Congress may also want to consider requiring DOD to implement all our applicable recommendations related to BRAC.

We have also suggested that Congress consider directing DOD to evaluate the purpose of the joint basing program to help ensure it achieves its goals and leverages additional opportunities to reduce duplication of effort.

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.
  • portrait of Brian J. Lepore
    • Brian J. Lepore
    • Director, Defense Capabilities and Management
    • leporeb@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4523