DOD Support Infrastructure Management
The Department of Defense (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 more than 5,000 sites worldwide and covering more than 28 million acres. With a replacement value of about $850 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 long-term challenges DOD faces in managing its portfolio of facilities, such as reducing excess infrastructure, sustaining facilities, providing facilities needed to support several simultaneous force structure initiatives, and achieving cost savings and efficiencies in base support through its joint basing initiative. Because DOD has made significant progress in addressing issues regarding planning and funding to sustain facilities, we narrowed the defense infrastructure high-risk area in our 2011 high risk update to focus on two remaining areas: (1) reducing excess infrastructure and (2) achieving cost savings and efficiencies in base support through eliminating duplication of support services where bases are in close proximity to or adjacent to one another. In our 2013 high-risk update, we reported that DOD continued to have significant excess capacity relative to its planned force structure and had not made significant progress in realizing the anticipated cost savings and efficiencies envisioned to be gained through joint basing. Therefore, DOD needs to take additional actions to address these two areas, based on our criteria for removing areas from the High Risk List.
 Excess infrastructure is property under the control of a federal agency that the head of the agency determines is not required to meet the agency’s needs or responsibilities. 40 U.S.C § 102(3). DOD disposes of the majority of its excess infrastructure in two ways. First, DOD can demolish, sell, or otherwise dispose of individual facilities on its installations when the facilities are determined to be excess or surplus. Second, DOD can close entire bases under the Base Realignment and Closure process. In addition, according to DOD officials, DOD’s joint basing initiative is its primary vehicle for consolidating base support services: DOD expected to eliminate duplicate base support services where bases are adjacent to or in close proximity to one another.
Since our 2013 high-risk update, DOD has made progress in addressing the reduction of excess infrastructure; however, it has shown limited improvement in achieving cost savings and efficiencies in base support. In reducing excess infrastructure, DOD has demonstrated leadership commitment and produced a number of action plans, but work remains to fully address the three remaining criteria of capacity, monitoring, and demonstrated progress for removal from the High Risk List. In achieving cost savings and efficiencies in base support, DOD has shown some improvements in capacity, monitoring, and demonstrated progress through the joint bases, but more needs to be done to fully address these criteria. Further, DOD needs to demonstrate leadership commitment by providing clear direction for the goals and priorities of joint basing and the impetus to achieve cost-saving measures at joint bases, and DOD needs an action plan with measurable goals linked to savings and efficiencies attributable to joint basing.
Reducing Excess Infrastructure
Leadership Commitment: With respect to reducing excess infrastructure, DOD demonstrated leadership commitment by requesting additional rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure process (BRAC), which is DOD’s primary method for reducing excess infrastructure. In 2013 and 2014 DOD requested additional rounds of BRAC for 2015 and 2017, respectively. In addition, as we reported in September 2011, DOD has shown leadership commitment in reducing excess infrastructure by implementing its demolition program for fiscal years 2008 through 2013 and by directing the military services and certain defense organizations to determine targeted amounts of excess facilities to be disposed of. DOD’s efforts to reduce excess infrastructure since fiscal year 2013 have included working with the military services to develop and implement more effective and efficient methods to reduce excess infrastructure, such as more proactively managing DOD’s processes to meet historic preservation and environmental requirements, and working with host nations to avoid prolonged negotiations over the return of excess infrastructure in foreign countries. Continued leadership commitment by DOD will be important to sustain efforts to reduce excess infrastructure.
Capacity: In past BRAC rounds, DOD demonstrated that it has the capacity to dispose of excess infrastructure; however, moving forward DOD needs to take action to manage the reduction of long-standing excess facilities and to improve the accuracy and completeness of its utilization data. DOD officials stated that they would have the resources to execute additional BRAC rounds. Also, in past BRAC rounds DOD was successful in disposing of excess infrastructure. Under the 2005 BRAC round DOD closed 24 major bases and under the 1995 BRAC round it closed 33 major bases, along with other major realignments. In September 2011, we projected that by the end of fiscal year 2013 DOD would exceed its overall target to reduce excess square footage through its demolition program. However, officials have stated that the department does not have sufficient resources to continue its rate of reducing excess infrastructure through demolition or consolidation of excess space. DOD decreased its funding for demolition based on its plans for significantly smaller amounts of demolition in fiscal years 2013 through 2015.
Further, we reported in September 2011 that long-standing excess facilities—excess infrastructure identified prior to the start of the demolition program in fiscal year 2008—remain in DOD’s inventory, and according to DOD officials, may be more costly to eliminate. Our analysis of DOD’s real property inventory found that more than half of the excess facilities in fiscal year 2010 were long-standing excess, some of which date back to the 1960s. DOD officials stated that several external factors may delay or complicate future disposal, such as requirements for historic preservation, environmental restrictions, and contingent actions to dispose of facilities in international settings. DOD has been more proactively managing processes to meet historic preservation and environmental requirements and has been working with host nations to avoid prolonged negotiations over the return of excess infrastructure in foreign countries; however, the smaller amount of demolition that DOD anticipates to complete in future years is not consistent with its need to demolish long-standing excess facilities.
In addition, we reported in September 2011 and September 2014 that DOD is limited in its ability to identify potentially excess facilities because it does not maintain complete and accurate data concerning the utilization of its facilities. Over the past 4 fiscal years, DOD has shown some improvement in collecting utilization data for its real property assets—increasing from 46 to 53 percent collected; however, even where utilization data are reported in certain military service databases, data entry anomalies raise questions about the reliability of the data. For example, the Army’s records indicate 41 percent, or almost 119,000 facilities, were inspected for utilization rates in such years as 0012, 0013, 1012, 1776, and another 10 percent, or just over 10,000 facilities, were inspected between the years 2020 and 3013. Continuing to manage the reduction of long-standing excess facilities and to improve the accuracy and completeness of its utilization data may help improve DOD’s capacity to reduce excess infrastructure.
Action Plan: DOD developed a number of action plans to reduce infrastructure under various initiatives, which together provide for corrective measures and solutions to reduce excess infrastructure. We reported in March 2013 that to implement each of the BRAC 2005 recommendations DOD developed detailed business plans, which included required actions, time frames, resources needed to complete those actions, and a method for resolving disagreements among stakeholders. In addition, to address an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandum for all federal agencies to maintain the amount of fiscal year 2012 infrastructure government-wide (i.e., the Freeze the Footprint policy), DOD directed the military services that any new construction to be considered must have an equivalent reduction of excess space. DOD identified specific time frames and methods to monitor and report results of the policy. Moreover, some services have plans for reducing excess infrastructure. These plans outline solutions and corrective measures to implement the goals of their initiatives. For example, the Air Force has a plan to reduce its infrastructure by 20 percent by fiscal year 2020, and the Army incorporated reducing its footprint and decreasing excess infrastructure into its Army Facility Strategy 2020.
Monitoring: DOD has some procedures in place to monitor the reduction of excess infrastructure from the previous 2005 BRAC round, under the Freeze the Footprint policy, and under each service’s efforts; however, more can be done to improve monitoring of costs and savings from a future BRAC and from service efforts to better identify excess infrastructure. DOD established a process to track the progress of implementing the 2005 BRAC round. In addition to the business plans noted above, DOD developed and used a quantitative model known as the Cost of Base Realignment Actions (COBRA), which we found in March 2013 to be a reasonable estimator for comparing potential costs and savings among candidate alternatives to estimate the costs and savings associated with BRAC 2005 recommendations. However, we also found that DOD’s process for providing the BRAC Commission with cost and savings estimates was hindered in many cases by underestimating certain requirements that were entered into the COBRA model.
We made a number of recommendations in March 2013 to improve monitoring of the BRAC process, such as ensuring that all anticipated costs for relocating personnel and equipment were included in the model and limiting the practice of bundling realignments and closures, with which DOD did not concur. DOD officials have stated that, should there be another BRAC round, they expect to establish similar procedures for monitoring the implementation of the BRAC recommendations and any resulting reduction of excess infrastructure. But unless DOD improves its monitoring of BRAC-related costs and savings, DOD will be limited in its ability to track its progress in implementing the goals of future BRAC rounds.
In addition, each service has its own efforts and methods for identifying and reducing excess infrastructure. For example, the Air Force set a target date of fiscal year 2020 for meeting its 20 percent reduction goal and is in the process of updating facility information in its electronic database, called the S-File, which tracks space utilization. However, the Army has not set specific reduction goals and according to officials has not fully transitioned from a system of tracking entire facilities based on usage (e.g., administrative offices, warehouses) to a system that monitors detailed space utilization within facilities. Also, as stated previously, DOD is limited in monitoring its reduction of excess infrastructure because it does not maintain complete and accurate data concerning utilization of its facilities. Without continuing to monitor service-level efforts to reduce excess facilities and improving the utilization data in its facility database, DOD will continue to be limited in its ability to monitor its reduction of excess infrastructure.
Demonstrated Progress: DOD has demonstrated some progress in reducing excess infrastructure but needs to improve its capacity and monitoring. If Congress authorizes future rounds of BRAC, based on past experience with the 1995 and 2005 BRAC rounds during which DOD closed a total of 57 major bases, we expect that DOD will continue to demonstrate progress in reducing infrastructure. The military services have also demonstrated some progress in reducing excess infrastructure. For example, the services have disposed of and demolished excess facilities through their individual efforts, and under the Freeze the Footprint policy DOD has limited construction of new facilities with an equivalent reduction of square footage. Further, for fiscal year 2013, DOD reported a net reduction of 7.7 million square feet, which is about 75 percent of the total reduction across the federal government under this policy. However, officials stated that they are restricted in some consolidation of space by decreased funding for military construction. Also, DOD’s progress in reducing excess infrastructure is limited by challenges with long-standing excess facilities and incomplete and inaccurate data related to utilization of facilities. Until DOD improves its capacity and monitoring in its efforts to reduce long-standing excess facilities and to improve the reliability of its data related to the use of facilities, the department cannot fully demonstrate progress in reducing excess facilities.
Achieving Cost Savings and Efficiencies in Base Support
Leadership Commitment: In November 2012 we reported that DOD had not demonstrated sufficient leadership commitment through its joint basing initiative because it had not developed guidance for the joint bases to achieve the initiative’s goal of cost savings or efficiencies. We further reported in September 2014 that DOD had not conducted a mid-program review of the purpose and goals of the joint basing initiative and that DOD’s lack of direction had hindered the joint bases’ progress in achieving goals. As a result, we recommended that DOD evaluate the purpose of the program and determine whether its current goals, as stated in the 2005 BRAC Commission recommendation, are still appropriate, or whether the goals should be revised; communicate these goals to the military services and joint bases and adjust program activities accordingly; provide direction to the joint bases on requirements for meeting program goals, including determining reporting requirements and milestones; and determine any next steps for joint basing, including whether to expand it to other installations. DOD did not concur with the recommendations, stating that the goal of the joint basing program remains to increase the efficiency of delivering installation support and that the program has generated savings. However, as we also reported in November 2012 and September 2014, DOD’s estimates for savings stemming from the implementation of the joint bases cannot be distinguished from savings derived from military service-wide budget cuts. Further, in our September 2014 report joint base officials stated that they were unclear to what extent achieving greater efficiencies and costs savings were still appropriate for joint basing in an environment where priority is placed on getting the mission complete, and not on investing resources to assess the feasibility of cutting redundancies and gaining efficiencies.
Given the continued confusion at the joint bases over the goals of the program, as well as DOD’s inability to isolate cost savings resulting from consolidation versus service-wide budget cuts, there is a continuing need to review the goals of the program and provide direction to the services and joint bases. Thus, we suggested that Congress consider directing the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment), in collaboration with the military services and joint bases, to evaluate the purpose and goals of the program and provide guidance to the services and the joint bases on requirements for meeting the goals. Without evaluating the purpose and goals and providing associated direction to the services and joint bases, DOD will risk losing focus or priority on enhancing efficiencies and reducing redundancies.
Capacity: DOD has shown some capacity to consolidate installation services at the joint bases, but may not have all of the resources it needs to fully achieve the goals of the joint basing program. When the joint bases were consolidated in fiscal year 2010, DOD directed that funding for operating the joint bases was not subject to department-wide cuts, and resources were provided at full authority. However, beginning in fiscal year 2014 DOD removed this stipulation and joint basing funds became subject to budget cuts like any other base. While such cuts in funding at the joint bases may reflect lower obligations, they represent cost reductions not attributable to joint basing.
In addition, we reported in November 2012 that the joint base common standards required the services to fund installation support at higher-than-previous levels. We found that some supported components and tenants experienced changed expectations and increased costs under the joint base structure because the supporting service had a different interpretation of the work provided. The difference in how the military services conduct snow removal is one example of how the joint base common standards changed expectations and increased costs. A supported service expects the base to remove snow and ice on roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and building paths because its service’s bases previously provided that level of work. However, the supporting service clears only roads and parking lots on its service’s bases, so it provides the lower level of work at its joint bases. The supported service personnel were surprised when they had to clear snow and ice from sidewalks surrounding their buildings. Thus, because the base did not expect to provide snow removal on sidewalks and building paths, officials needed to spend additional money to contract for snow removal on sidewalks or use other personnel to remove snow. We recommended that DOD review and prioritize the common standards in all functional areas to ensure a shared framework of management and planning of base support services. DOD partially concurred, stating that it already had a process for review of the standards; however, we found that officials at the joint bases still needed clarification of what was being measured in the standards and the prioritization of the standards.
Despite cuts in funding and increased costs, DOD has shown some capacity to consolidate installation services at the joint bases. We found in November 2012 that the joint bases reported meeting common standards more than 70 percent of the time in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Also, in September 2014, we found that the joint bases reported partially consolidating 80 percent of their installation functions. However, with a better understanding of the standards and its priorities, DOD would have insight into its capacity requirements for further consolidation of base support services at the joint bases and for potentially expanding the program to other military bases.
Action Plan: DOD has not established an action plan for achieving cost savings and efficiencies through joint basing that provides for corrective measures or a timeline to show progress. As a result, joint base commanders are responsible for determining to what extent they will pursue initiatives to reduce redundancy and achieve potential cost savings or efficiencies, and the extent to which such initiatives have been pursued varies by joint base.
Further, DOD cannot demonstrate that the savings the department is attributing to the joint bases were achieved through consolidation of support services and not through unrelated actions such as hiring freezes and sequestration-driven budget cuts. We recommended in November 2012 that DOD develop and implement a plan that provides measureable goals linked to achieving savings and efficiencies at the joint bases and provide guidance to the joint bases that directs them to identify opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies. DOD did not concur with the recommendation, stating that such targets would restrict the authority of joint base commanders and burden them with implementing new organizational structures which would risk negative impacts to support services and operational effectiveness.
In November 2012 and September 2014, we concluded that DOD’s justification for joint basing—realizing savings and reducing duplication of services—could be better managed and monitored by developing a plan including guidance and encouraging appropriate practices, goals, and timeframes. Without such an action plan, the joint bases lack direction and DOD is limited in its ability to demonstrate that the joint bases have shown progress toward meeting goals for achieving savings and reducing duplication of services.
Monitoring: DOD is able to monitor some of the joint bases’ performance in consolidating support functions, but needs to improve cost reporting that isolates savings from the efforts of the joint bases to implement efficiencies. In November 2012, we reported that DOD is not effectively monitoring the extent to which it is achieving cost savings or efficiencies derived from the consolidation of support services on the joint bases. Through DOD’s data collection tool, called the Cost and Performance Visibility Framework, joint bases report installation support performance data, including annual reports on funds obligated to provide base support services.
We recommended that DOD continue to develop and refine the framework in order to eliminate data reliability problems, facilitate comparisons of joint basing costs with the costs of operating separate bases, and isolate costs and savings from the joint basing initiative. DOD partially concurred with our recommendation, acknowledging that there were inconsistencies in the data, and stated that it was working to improve the data’s reliability but found it impractical to isolate and distinguish joint basing cost savings from the savings that result from DOD- or service-wide actions using the data contained in its framework. DOD officials stated that with the improved data they planned to compare current obligations with prior years and perform a separate analysis to compare joint basing operating costs with the costs of operating the separate bases prior to the creation of the joint bases. DOD provided guidance to the joint bases to correct baseline data: as a result, the quality of the data improved for fiscal year 2012. In 2013, DOD performed an analysis comparing the improved operating cost data with the projected costs of operating separate installations. This analysis showed that the joint bases cost less to operate relative to the costs of operating the separate installations. Together, these actions partly met the intent of our recommendation and provided DOD with an improved picture of the cost of operating the joint bases.
However, we found that the data reported include costs and savings which are not specific to joint basing. For instance, DOD officials stated that some of the savings were attributable to DOD’s efforts to cap the number of civilian positions. Other savings were attributable to budget cuts that DOD stated stem from actions taken to implement the Budget Control Act and sequestration actions. Thus, while cost reporting improved, without a reliable method to collect information on net costs, estimated savings, or efficiencies specifically from joint basing, DOD cannot fully exclude other influences on the bases’ budgets unrelated to joint basing. Nor can it monitor achievement of cost savings and efficiencies through joint basing. As previously stated, evaluating the joint basing program’s goals and having better visibility over its capacity would better position DOD to determine whether to expand the program to other military bases to consolidate services. These actions would also help DOD achieve efficiencies and cost savings.
Demonstrated Progress: Partly in response to our recommendations, DOD has demonstrated some progress in the consolidation of base support services through the joint bases; however, as stated above, DOD still needs to provide clear direction to the services and the joint bases on the steps to implement the goals of joint basing. DOD also needs to improve monitoring of the achievement of cost savings and efficiencies. DOD instituted mechanisms to facilitate routine communication between the joint bases and between the joint bases and the office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense to encourage joint resolution of common challenges and sharing of best practices and lessons learned. For example, beginning in February 2013 DOD held annual meetings for joint base commanders to discuss issues at the joint bases and potential ways to address identified issues. Further, according to a DOD official, DOD is developing guidance to ensure that the joint bases provide training materials to incoming personnel on how installation services are provided on joint bases.
However, as previously discussed, DOD has not yet fully demonstrated that the joint basing program has resulted in reduction of duplication of efforts that would generate cost savings and increase efficiencies. We reported in September 2014 that joint base officials, in response to survey questions and interviews, did not report significant achievements in reaching these goals. For example, 12 percent of respondents stated that they were able to reduce redundant funded positions, 25 percent were able to reduce redundant contracts or to increase contract efficiencies, and 24 percent were able to consolidate redundant procedures related to joint basing. DOD has data that indicate that joint bases are obligating less funding than they would have as stand-alone bases, but it is not clear to what extent the savings are attributable to the consolidation of installation support services because DOD does not have a method to collect cost savings information specific to the joint base program. Without providing clear direction to the services and joint bases on the actions to achieve consolidation goals and better monitoring of the achievement of cost savings and efficiencies, DOD is limited in demonstrating progress through the consolidation of base support services.
 The policy requires that agencies not increase the size of domestic real estate inventory, for space predominately used for offices and warehouses or offset any growth with corresponding reductions. Office of Management and Budget, Implementation of OMB Memorandum M-12-12 Section 3: Freeze the Footprint (Mar. 14, 2012).
Reducing Excess Infrastructure
DOD needs to take a number of actions to satisfy the three high-risk criteria (capacity, monitoring, and demonstrating progress) that have been partially met. Specifically, DOD needs to
- establish a plan, including goals and timelines, to update utilization data to maintain its currency;
- continue to manage the reduction of long-standing excess facilities;
- if Congress authorizes a future BRAC round, improve the fidelity of initial cost estimates by working with military services and other appropriate stakeholders to fully identify requirements, such as the cost of military construction, information technology, and relocating personnel and equipment;
- continue to periodically track service-level efforts to reduce excess infrastructure; and
- improve capacity and monitoring through the actions described above to fully demonstrate progress in reducing excess infrastructure.
Achieving Cost Savings and Efficiencies in Base Support
DOD needs to take a number of actions to satisfy the two high-risk criteria (leadership commitment and action plan) that have not been met, and the three criteria (capacity, monitoring, and demonstrated progress) that have been partially met. Specifically, DOD should
- evaluate the purpose of the program and determine whether DOD’s current goals are still appropriate or should be revised;
- provide clear direction to the joint bases about the goals, time frames, and measures in consolidating base support services;
- work with the military services to determine what reporting requirements and milestones should be in place to increase support and commitment for the program’s goals;
- review and prioritize the common standards in all functional areas to ensure a shared framework of management and planning of base support services;
- establish an action plan with measureable goals to track progress toward meeting the cost savings and efficiency goals; and
- continue to develop an approach to identify and isolate costs and savings resulting from actions and initiatives from consolidating support services at joint bases, excluding DOD- or service-wide actions and initiatives which may lead to reduced expenditures but could have been achieved without the initial investment and are consequently unrelated to joint basing.
GAO-14-577: Published: Sep 19, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2014.
GAO-14-538: Published: Sep 8, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 8, 2014.
GAO-13-645: Published: Jun 27, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2013.
GAO-13-535: Published: Jun 20, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 2013.
GAO-13-149: Published: Mar 7, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2013.
GAO-13-134: Published: Nov 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2012.
GAO-12-709R: Published: Jun 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2012.
GAO-11-814: Published: Sep 19, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2011.