Defense Infrastructure:

Army's Approach for Acquiring Land Is Not Guided by Up-to-Date Strategic Plan or Always Communicated Effectively

GAO-09-32: Published: Jan 13, 2009. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2009.

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Recently, the Army forecast that it would experience a 4.5-million-acre training land shortfall by 2013 and proposed to purchase additional land adjacent to certain existing training ranges. In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Army's approach for acquiring training land. This report (1) evaluates the Army's approach to the acquisition of training land, (2) describes the Army's consideration of alternatives and assessment of the environmental and economic effects, and (3) analyzes the Army's effectiveness in communicating its approach for making decisions to pursue these acquisitions before the Office of the Secretary of Defense's (OSD) approval. GAO reviewed the Army strategic plan for training lands and other relevant documents, and focused on all five land acquisitions since 2002 at Fort Irwin, California; three training sites in Hawaii; and the proposed expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in Colorado.

The Army has established an extensive, analytical approach to making decisions regarding training land acquisitions, but has not ensured that its strategic plan remains current. The Army's approach uses as its basis a strategic plan for training ranges and an analytically based range requirements model. In addition, the Army has a process during which training land shortfalls and capabilities are analyzed in multiple ways, by multiple parties, and at multiple times. However, the Army has not updated its strategic plan since it was developed in 2004. As a result, new initiatives that affect training land needs, such as base realignment and closure actions, are not explained in the plan. This is because the Army does not have a mechanism to ensure that the strategic plan is updated at regular intervals to reflect up-to-date training land requirements resulting from new initiatives. As a result, the training land needs articulated in the strategic plan are now 4 years out of date. To support the Army's requests to pursue major land acquisitions to support training, it conducted initial conceptual analyses in which it identified potential alternatives and assessed environmental and economic effects of its proposed land acquisitions at Fort Irwin, three sites in Hawaii, and Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. After OSD approved the Army's land acquisition proposals, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and Council on Environmental Quality regulations required the Army to conduct additional assessments, which it did at Fort Irwin and in Hawaii. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, stated that none of the funds made available in the act may be used for the expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. Army officials stated that they did not start the National Environmental Policy Act process at Pinon Canyon because of uncertainly over congressional support for the expansion and redirected their efforts to respond to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which required the Army to submit a report containing an analysis of the existing facilities at Fort Carson and Pinon Canyon. The Army delivered the required report in July 2008. Because of a lack of specificity in OSD and Army communication strategies, the Army has not been consistent or always effective in communicating its approach to acquire training land. According to OSD's policy, no major land acquisition proposal may be made public through official notice until OSD has approved the acquisition. The policy is unclear what public notification, such as informal community outreach, is permissible prior to approval. While the Army's strategic plan emphasizes that it is important to engage the public early in the process, it lacks specificity as to when and in what form this outreach should take place. In California and Hawaii, the Army followed the strategy articulated in its plan, openly explaining why it was acquiring land, which helped ease the start of the acquisition process. Army officials and community groups said that the Army did not adequately explain its reasoning for the proposed expansion at Pinon Canyon. In this case, the public at times relied on rumors and leaked documents. These information sources often did not provide clear, complete, or accurate data. Without a consistent and clear DOD-wide practice that both addresses concerns about early disclosure of land acquisitions and permits some flexibility to engage the public, the Army and other services are likely to experience communication problems similar to those encountered at Pinon Canyon.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Army is currently scheduled to complete the draft Range and Training Land strategy which includes a provision to implement updates every two years. The plan was recently renamed the Army Training Land Strategy and will be finalized by the end of the year.

    Recommendation: To help planning and budgeting officials prioritize their efforts to mitigate training land shortages and to improve the effectiveness with which the military services communicate their approach for deciding whether to pursue major training land acquisitions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and implement a process to update periodically its strategic plan--the Range and Training Land Strategy--to reflect current training land needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In comments on a draft of this report, the Department of Defense generally agreed with our recommendation, although it did not indicate what, if any, specific steps it would take to implement it. The Army has since reported that they understand the flexibility contained in the Department of Defense policy to accommodate early public engagement and that no further corrective actions are planned.

    Recommendation: To help planning and budgeting officials prioritize their efforts to mitigate training land shortages and to improve the effectiveness with which the military services communicate their approach for deciding whether to pursue major training land acquisitions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment to jointly review their strategies for communicating potential major land acquisitions to the public prior to OSD waiver approval and agree upon a common practice that would address OSD's concerns about early disclosure and, at the same time, permit the Army and the other military services some flexibility to engage key stakeholders--people living near the proposed land acquisition site, elected officials, nongovernmental groups, and others--earlier in the decision-making process. Such a common practice should specifically address what kinds of public outreach, if any, are permissible prior to OSD's waiver determination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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