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Defense > 13. Defense Facilities Consolidation and Disposal

To help identify opportunities for saving costs by consolidating or disposing of unutilized or underutilized facilities, the Department of Defense should ensure that data on the utilization of DOD facilities—which were collectively valued at around $850 billion in fiscal year 2013—are complete and accurate.

Why This Area Is Important

The Department of Defense (DOD) manages a global real property portfolio that, according to DOD, consisted of more than 562,000 facilities located at over 4,800 sites worldwide as of fiscal year 2013. These facilities cover more than 24.7 million acres and have a replacement value of about $850 billion.[1] Operating and maintaining unutilized (i.e., vacant) and underutilized (i.e., partially vacant) facilities consumes valuable resources that could be eliminated from DOD’s budget or used by DOD for other purposes.[2] To the extent that DOD is able to identify unutilized or underutilized facilities, additional cost savings might be realized through facilities’ consolidation or disposal.

DOD’s Real Property Management Program is governed by statute,[3] as well as by DOD regulations, directives, and instructions that establish real property accountability and financial reporting requirements. These laws, regulations, directives, and instructions require DOD and the military departments to maintain a number of data elements, such as utilization rate and status, about their facilities to help ensure efficient property management and thus help identify potential facility consolidation or disposal opportunities.[4] The military departments maintain databases to track their real property assets and upload their property inventory records to the overall DOD database called the Real Property Assets Database.[5]



[1] Department of Defense, Base Structure Report—Fiscal Year 2014 Baseline. For more information on the number of assets and the plant replacement value by military service, see table 9 in appendix V.

[2] Operating facilities incur costs, such as maintenance and repair costs, utilities, pest control, and grounds maintenance, some of which continue regardless of the use of the facility, according to a DOD official.

[3] Section 2721 of Title 10 of the United States Code directs the Secretary of Defense to prescribe regulations, to, among other things, have the records of fixed property of the military departments maintained on a quantitative and monetary basis, to the extent practical.

[4] According to a DOD official, the utilization rate shows the percentage of a facility that is used (0 to 100) and is based on information such as occupancy, square footage being used, and various mission functions being performed within the facility. The status of a facility indicates whether it is needed to perform the installation’s mission. For example, an active status indicates that the facility is needed for 6 months or more a year to perform a mission, and inactive status indicates that the facility is not currently needed to perform a mission.

[5] The military departments consist of the Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force, and the Department of the Navy, with the Navy including the military service of the Marine Corps.

What GAO Found

In September 2014 GAO reported that DOD’s Real Property Assets Database contained utilization data for only 53 percent of DOD’s facilities. Previously, GAO had found that DOD did not maintain complete and accurate data concerning the utilization of its facilities. The Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) guidance requires that up-to-date utilization rates be maintained for all categories of its real property asset records.  In September 2014, GAO found that the percentage of total real property assets with a reported utilization rate had increased from 46 percent to 53 percent since fiscal year 2010, reflecting some improvements DOD made to the accuracy of the data. However, DOD continues to collect incomplete and inaccurate utilization data and may be missing opportunities to realize cost savings from identifying excess space among almost a quarter of a million facilities that could potentially be consolidated or disposed of.

In addition to incomplete utilization data, GAO reported in September 2014 that DOD’s Real Property Assets Database contained inaccurate utilization data that did not reflect the actual usage rate of the facilities, although DOD subsequently made some improvements in the data. In reviewing DOD’s Real Property Assets Database, in September 2014 GAO found a number of buildings reporting a zero utilization rate (indicating the facility was not used) while in an active status (indicating that the facility was needed for its current mission), which may indicate inaccurate records or opportunities for facility consolidation or disposal.[1] For example, as of September 30, 2013, OSD reported 7,596 buildings across the four military services with inconsistent or inaccurate reported utilization, 6,391 of which were Army buildings. OSD and Army officials stated that the reason for this large amount of unused buildings in an active status may be that many of the Army’s building utilization rates were erroneously changed to zero when the Army uploaded its real property records into the Army’s current database for managing its real property.

Military service officials acknowledged at the time of GAO’s September 2014 review that data errors exist in the databases and said that because the utilization data are often missing, out of date, or inaccurate, the installations rely on physical verifications of facilities’ utilization to identify consolidation or disposal opportunities. However, physical verifications are performed as a result of requests for space or other common real property management processes, such as changes to mission or personnel at the installation, rather than being used to proactively identify excess space that can be disposed of or consolidated. Real property inventories are required to be conducted every 5 years under DOD Instruction 4165.14 Real Property Inventory (RPI) and Forecasting (Jan. 17, 2014). In September 2014 GAO found that the services’ real property inventory databases did not always have accurate information on when real property inventories were completed—for example, some showed invalid inspection dates, such as prior to 1775 or after 2015. During the course of GAO’s September 2014 review, GAO told Army officials’ about these inaccurate dates, and they responded that they would explore why the dates were incorrect and correct them.

In September 2011, GAO recommended, and reiterated in September 2014, that DOD develop and implement a methodology for calculating and recording utilization data for all types of facilities, and modify processes to update and verify the accuracy of reported utilization data to reflect a facility’s true status. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, stating that it had already begun some efforts to improve utilization data. DOD also recognized the need for further improvements in the collection and reporting of utilization data across the department. However, we noted in response that DOD did not specify what actions it had completed to date or the time frames for completing efforts to improve the collection and reporting of utilization data. Without complete and accurate utilization data, use of the military departments’ databases to identify consolidation or disposal opportunities could result in missed opportunities for potential cost avoidance or cost savings.

In addition, in September 2014, GAO found that OSD does not have a strategic plan, with goals and metrics, to manage DOD’s real property efficiently and facilitate identifying opportunities for consolidating unutilized or underutilized facilities. According to a DOD directive, it is DOD policy that DOD real property be managed to promote the most efficient and economic use of DOD real property assets, and in the most economical manner consistent with defense requirements. In addition, GAO’s prior work has shown that organizations need sound strategic management planning in order to identify and achieve long-range goals and objectives. GAO’s prior work also identified critical elements that should be incorporated into strategic plans to establish a comprehensive, results-oriented management framework, such as long-term goals, strategies to achieve the goals, and metrics or performance measures to gauge progress.[2] However, OSD officials stated at the time of GAO’s September 2014 review that there was no OSD strategic plan to manage DOD’s real property nor had OSD established department-wide goals, strategies to achieve the goals, or metrics to gauge progress for how it intended to manage its real property in the most efficient manner, noting that DOD had been focused on other priorities. GAO concluded that, among other things, such real property management goals could focus on correcting inaccurate and incomplete facility utilization data to provide better visibility on the status of facilities and to identify opportunities for consolidating unutilized or underutilized facilities and reducing operations and maintenance costs. Without a strategic plan, it will be difficult for OSD to effectively manage its facilities and utilize them efficiently.



[1] DOD facilities can be buildings, structures, or linear structures. Buildings are roofed and floored facilities enclosed by exterior walls and consisting of one or more levels that is suitable for single or multiple functions. Structures are facilities other than a building or linear structure constructed on or in the land (e.g., tower, storage tank, wharf, and pier). Linear structures are facilities whose function requires that they traverse land (e.g., runway, road, rail line, pipeline, fence, pavement, and electrical distribution line).

[2] See, for example, GAO, Depot Maintenance: Improved Strategic Planning Needed to Ensure That Army and Marine Corps Depots Can Meet Future Maintenance Requirements, GAO‑09‑865 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 2009); Depot Maintenance: Improved Strategic Planning Needed to Ensure That Air Force Depots Can Meet Future Maintenance Requirements, GAO‑10‑526 (Washington, D.C.: May 14, 2010); and Depot Maintenance: Improved Strategic Planning Needed to Ensure That Navy Depots Can Meet Future Maintenance Requirements, GAO‑10‑585 (Washington, D.C.: June 11, 2010).

Actions Needed

To better identify consolidation or disposal opportunities and manage utilization of its facilities, in September 2011, GAO recommended that DOD take the following action:

  • Modify processes to update and verify the accuracy of reported utilization data to reflect a facility’s true status.

GAO reiterated this recommendation in its September 2014 report and stated that the action would help provide reasonable assurance that the utilization data are complete and accurate and better position the department to use the databases to identify consolidation or disposal opportunities.

In addition, to better enable DOD to manage its real property inventory effectively and efficiently, GAO recommended in September 2014 that DOD take the following action:

  • Establish a strategic plan as part of a results-oriented management framework that includes, among other things, long-term goals, strategies to achieve the goals, and use of metrics to gauge progress to manage DOD’s real property and to facilitate DOD’s ability to identify all unutilized and underutilized facilities for potential consolidation or disposal opportunities.

Without a way to better collect complete and accurate utilization data and without a strategic plan to help manage DOD’s efforts in improving its utilization data, DOD may be limited in their ability to achieve the full potential of cost savings. Moreover, GAO was not able to ascertain financial benefits of taking this action because DOD lacks reliable data to identify facilities that are unutilized and underutilized. DOD also does not have reliable data on how much it costs to operate and maintain individual facilities. Therefore, even if data were available to identify which facilities were actually unutilized or underutilized, GAO would not be able to provide a reliable cost savings estimate of how much DOD would save from not operating or maintaining these facilities. For these reasons, GAO cannot quantify the potential financial benefits associated with the recommended actions. Nevertheless, the cost of operating and maintaining unutilized and underutilized buildings could potentially be reduced with improvements to the completeness and accuracy of utilization data, which may assist DOD in identifying consolidation or disposal opportunities. Thus, without fully implementing the September 2011 recommendation, DOD may not have reasonable assurance that the utilization data are complete and accurate, which could limit the military services from identifying consolidation opportunities and realizing potential cost avoidance from no longer operating and maintaining more facility space than needed. Further, without a strategic plan, OSD and the military services will be challenged in managing their real property in an efficient and economical manner, and in identifying opportunities for consolidation and disposal.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the reports listed in the related GAO products section and additional work GAO conducted. To determine the extent to which DOD has improved the accuracy and completeness of facility utilization data in the Real Property Assets Database and the military services have improved the data contained in their respective real property inventory databases to identify potential consolidation or disposal opportunities, GAO analyzed selected data fields containing the military services’ real property records from OSD’s Real Property Assets Database. In September 2014, GAO selected the same data fields it had used as part of its methodology and analysis for its September 2011 report and determined a revised number of unutilized facilities. In addition, GAO reviewed prior GAO reports that discuss the accuracy and reliability of DOD’s real property assets database and the military department real property databases that supply inventory records to the real property assets database.

Table 9 in appendix V lists the programs GAO identified that might have opportunities for cost savings.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on GAO’s September 2011 report on which this analysis is based, DOD partially concurred with the recommendation. DOD recognized the need for further improvements in the collection and reporting of utilization data across the department and stated that it had begun some efforts to improve utilization data, as discussed above. However, DOD did not specify what actions it had completed to date or the time frames for completing efforts to improve the collection and reporting of utilization data. In commenting on GAO’s September 2014 report, DOD concurred with the recommendation to establish a strategic plan. Further, in November 2014, DOD responded to a requirement in Section 2814 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 to submit a report to include, among other things, DOD’s strategy, progress, and obstacles for maximizing efficient utilization of existing facilities and current efforts to systematically collect, process, and analyze data on efficient utilization. DOD submitted a report that identified military service plans for efficient utilization but does not provide information on a strategic plan to identify all underutilized and unutilized facilities, as GAO recommended. According to a DOD official, as of February 2015, DOD has developed a strategic plan for identifying underutilized and unutilized assets and is currently coordinating with the military services to establish an implementation approach.

GAO provided a draft of this report section to the Department of Defense for review and comment. The department did not provide comments on this report section.

For additional information about this area, contact Brian J. Lepore at (202) 512-4523 or leporeb@gao.gov.

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