Overseas presence provides operational capabilities and demonstrates a commitment to our allies. In addition to the costs of supporting ongoing combat operations, the Department of Defense (DOD) spends billions of dollars annually on its network of installations around the world. For example, according to data provided by the military services, between fiscal years 2006 and 2009 the military services obligated $17.2 billion for the installations they manage in Europe. These obligations do not include funds obligated by other DOD organizations that use those facilities, overseas contingency funding, or personnel costs. Further, the military services estimated a requirement of $24 billion through fiscal year 2015 to build, operate, and maintain these installations. In light of current fiscal challenges facing the country, questions have arisen about the magnitude of overseas basing projects and costs, and whether DOD's planned investments support a coherent and affordable strategy. GAO's prior work has shown that DOD has taken positive steps to improve its planning for overseas infrastructure, but continues to devote insufficient attention to costs or analysis of alternatives.
Having U.S. troops stationed overseas provides benefits, such as deterring aggression against U.S. allies, but permanent stationing may come at significantly higher costs than other alternative approaches such as deploying domestically stationed forces when needed. GAO's work since 2006 has found a systemic lack of cost information used to inform DOD's planning for its overseas infrastructure. As a consequence, DOD and Congress lack reasonable assurance that overseas presence is being planned and implemented in a cost-effective and financially sustainable way. Reliable and complete cost estimates are critical to allow analyses of alternatives and oversight by decision makers.
Since 2008, DOD has taken steps to develop regional plans for its overseas infrastructure, but department guidance regarding these posture plans has not required comprehensive cost information to support this emerging process. Recognizing the considerable costs involved with stationing forces overseas, in August 2010 the Secretary of Defense identified DOD's overseas presence as an area for review. Among other concerns, the Secretary of Defense questioned the growth in the number of general and flag officers across the department, highlighting that the U.S. European Command maintains four-star service component headquarters more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War and the vast majority of their fighting forces have departed from the region. Recent GAO reports have identified several evolving elements of DOD's global infrastructure, which have the potential to costor possibly savethe department billions of dollars depending on decisions DOD and Congress make. For each of these decisions, reliable, complete cost data will be invaluable to the ability of decision makers to choose among available options. For example:
GAO has made recommendations since 2006 that DOD gather more comprehensive cost data and report it to Congress; in general, DOD has generally agreed with these recommendations but has yet to implement them in full. As a result, initiatives are proceeding without assurance that the efforts are being undertaken in a cost-effective way.
Given the significant resources being dedicated to building and maintaining DOD's global presence, DOD needs to ensure it is routinely assessing the benefits of its overseas presence relative to the cost of maintaining that presence. Specifically, DOD should conduct a comprehensive reassessment of its overseas presence, including the costs and benefits of various alternatives.
To address the specific regional issues in Europe and Africa, GAO has issued a number of recommendations that DOD generally agreed with including reassessing:
The financial stakes are high for DOD, since according to DOD data the department has obligated billions of dollars annually to build and maintain its global network of installations. A thorough consideration of alternatives and an assessment of their costs and benefits could help DOD shape its future overseas investments and ensure long-term affordability. Savings or cost avoidances would be dependent upon the nature of changes made to DOD's plans and how DOD implements its chosen options.
The information contained in this analysis is based on the related GAO products listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab.
Jump to another area below related to this mission.