Military Housing:

Further Improvement Needed in Requirements Determinations and Program Review

GAO-04-556: Published: May 19, 2004. Publicly Released: May 19, 2004.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) plans to spend about $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2004 to provide housing for about 711,000 families of activeduty military personnel in the United States. DOD's policy for some time has been to rely on housing in the local communities and provide military-owned or privatized military housing when the communities cannot satisfy requirements. Historically, DOD has viewed private sector housing as more cost-effective. In January 2003, DOD approved a revised housing requirements determination process designed to provide a solid basis for justifying on-base family housing needs. GAO looked at whether (1) reliance on community housing remains costeffective, (2) the revised process has resulted in consistent and reliable needs assessments, and (3) DOD's top-level review of military housing construction proposals could be improved.

DOD's policy of relying primarily on local community housing to meet military family housing needs has been and continues to be cost-effective for the federal government. GAO's analysis of DOD's fiscal year 2004 estimated housing costs showed that the annual costs to provide housing for a typical military family were about $13,600 for local community housing, $16,700 for privatized military housing, and $19,000 for military-owned housing. Although DOD's revised housing requirements determination process represents a significant step in the right direction, the process has not resulted in consistent and reliable estimates of military installation housing needs and does not require the services to maximize reliance on local community housing--the least costly housing option. Because DOD has not provided the services with timely detailed guidance addressing the particulars of performing housing requirements assessments, the services often used inconsistent methodologies, questionable assumptions, and outdated information in performing these assessments. Further, although the use of military-owned or privatized family housing is clearly justified when local community housing is not acceptable or available, or to meet military mission requirements, the process provides the services with several exceptions to community housing use that may allow the services to build or retain more military housing than necessary. It is also unclear whether servicemembers' housing preferences have changed in view of recent changes, such as increases in housing allowances and the increase in the number and length of deployments. DOD could improve the top-level review of proposed military housing construction projects. DOD has different top-level review and approval processes for service proposals for military housing construction and housing privatization projects with the process for privatization proposals including additional steps, for example, a top-level review of the adequacy of the associated housing requirements analyses

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2007, DOD initiated a Housing Choice Study to survey service member housing preferences both on and off base and evaluate how accurate DOD is in determining its housing requirements. Part of the study incorporates the Defense Manpower Data Center Status of Forces survey that also evaluates service member housing choices. DOD expects the survey results will add greater insight into the housing choices that service members make.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to survey service members with dependents to update information on the current preferences for family housing given recent changes, such as the increase in housing allowances and the increase in the number and length of troop deployments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with this recommendation to review the rationale supporting each of the exceptions to using local community housing provided in the revised housing requirements determination process. DOD indicated it would review the rationale supporting each of the exceptions to using local community housing but was less clear as to what extent it plans to assess its collective effect of relying on local community housing to minimize family housing costs. DOD decided in 2007 to eliminate one of the exceptions--targeted economic relief. This action should help DOD to minimize family housing costs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to review the rationale supporting each of the exceptions to using local community housing provided in the revised housing requirements determination process in an effort to reduce or narrow the scope of the exceptions and help minimize family housing costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSD officials told us that the department is in the process of revising its housing policy and procedures manual and that the revised manual currently provides detailed guidance on the requirements determination process to help ensure that future military family housing projects are supported by consistent and reliable needs assessments. The draft manual also provides suggestions on information sources, assumptions, and methodology to be used and reemphasizes management oversight of the process. Recently, an OSD official said the manual should be finalized near the end of calendar year 2006. Until then, the military services are using the draft manual as a guide for managing their housing projects.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to expedite efforts to provide the military services with more detailed guidance on implementing the revised housing requirements determination process to help ensure that housing investments, whether through military construction or privatization, are supported by consistent and reliable needs assessments. This guidance should include specifics on (1) the information sources, assumptions, and methodology to be used in each installation housing requirements determination analysis and (2) the appropriate service-level oversight of the requirements determination process to help ensure reliability and compliance with the guidance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with GAO's recommendation to apply a more consistent top-level review and approval process for both military housing construction and privatization project proposals. At that time, DOD indicated that it would apply a top-level review process to the decision on whether to privatize or use traditional military construction as part of its master planning process. It did not state to what extent it intended to add a top-level review of the housing requirements analyses supporting proposed housing construction projects to help ensure that proposed housing construction projects are adequately justified. In October 2007, OSD officials said that the Army was considering making some changes in the amount of housing needed at Forts Carson, Bliss, Lewis, Bragg and Drum because of recent changes in its force and base structure. More recently, DOD stated that it conducted a review of the military housing program and project justifications as part of its normal budget process. However, DOD has not made any changes to its decision process and considers this recommendation closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to apply a more consistent top-level review and approval process for both military housing construction and privatization project proposals to help ensure that proposed housing construction projects are adequately justified and appropriate consideration has been given to privatization options and plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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