Military Training:

DOD's Report on the Sustainability of Training Ranges Meets Annual Reporting Requirements but Could Be Improved

GAO-12-13R: Published: Oct 19, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2011.

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Realistic training ranges are one of the most valued assets the military has in preparing its personnel for their missions. Realistic training requires access to areas and environments that closely match the locations where the military may face combat or complex situations. International events, changes in strategy, force structure, base closures, and population growth are increasing the challenges the military faces in training its personnel to be prepared to defend the nation. Moreover, the military services report that they have increasingly lost training range capabilities because of factors such as encroachment. To respond to these challenges and increase the sustainability of military ranges, the Department of Defense (DOD) has launched a number of efforts aimed at preserving training ranges while also minimizing adverse environmental effects of training activities. As required by section 366(a) of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 (as amended), DOD was to submit a comprehensive plan for using existing authorities available to the department to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of worldwide military lands, marine areas, and airspace to Congress at the same time as the President submitted his budget for fiscal year 2004 with annual progress reports for fiscal year 2005, extending through fiscal year 2013. To address these requirements, DOD has submitted its sustainable ranges report annually since 2004. In addition, we are required to submit annual evaluations of DOD's reports to Congress within 90 days of receiving these reports from DOD. In addition to the sustainable ranges report, DOD provides Congress the "Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative Report." This report is required separately under 10 U.S.C. 2684a and describes, among other things, certain projects and other actions undertaken as part of a long-term strategy to ensure sustainability of military test and training ranges, military installations, and associated airspace. As such, this report complements the sustainable ranges report in addressing some actions taken by DOD to mitigate encroachment on military installations and ranges that require, or may reasonably require, safety or operational buffer areas. Both reports respond to statutory reporting requirements but target different aspects of DOD's efforts to capture mission requirements, current asset capability, and current and future risks to these capabilities from encroachment. In our prior reviews of DOD's sustainable ranges reports, we noted that DOD had not addressed certain required elements when it initially submitted its comprehensive plan in 2004. Over time, we concluded that DOD had increasingly improved its report submissions and had reported on actions taken on our prior recommendations. This report is our evaluation of DOD's 2011 sustainable ranges report. In this report, we summarize our observations on the extent to which DOD's 2011 sustainable ranges report meets the requirements specified by section 366 and identify opportunities for improving future report submissions. We also discuss DOD's plans for its 2012 report submission. In accordance with the mandate, we are submitting this report to Congress within 90 days of receiving DOD's 2011 sustainable ranges report on July 21, 2011.

DOD's 2011 sustainable ranges report meets the annual reporting requirement, that DOD describe the progress made in implementing its sustainable ranges plan and any additional actions taken, or to be taken, to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace. However, opportunities exist to improve future report submissions. DOD's 2011 report provides updates to the following four elements that section 366 required be included in DOD's original submissions in response to section 366. 1. Adequacy of resources: DOD has continued to improve the section of its report that evaluates the adequacy of existing range resources to meet requirements by (1) providing a brief description of the mission for each of DOD's ranges; (2) adding a section on historical information, results, and future projections to the individual range assessments; and (3) providing comments explaining how a range complex's capabilities or encroachment issues are affecting training and any planned actions to remedy the situation. 2. Updates of actions and milestones: The 2011 report includes a common framework of goals and updated actions and milestones for the services to measure past performance and progress toward achieving their training and range sustainability objectives; however, the updates do not fully explain the progress made. We found that there is insufficient information presented in the 2011 report to effectively track and measure the overall progress of each action and related milestones based solely on the information presented for the respective milestone's description and estimated completion date. 3. Projected funding requirements: DOD made continued progress in its 2011 report toward reporting its sustainable range funding requirements, but opportunities exist to improve future report submissions. For example, in its 2009 report DOD used the administration and support of the Army's Compatible Use Buffer program as an example of the type of projects that should be captured in the funding projections for the encroachment category. 4. Planned improvements to DOD's readiness system: DOD has continued to make progress in reporting on its plans to improve the Defense Readiness Reporting System (DRRS) by incorporating training range assessment data into the system. According to a senior official in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), additional funding has been received and the planned completion date for full implementation of the range assessment module into DRRS is June 2012. To improve the visibility of progress in achieving DOD's stated sustainability goals and milestones, we are recommending that DOD include a brief narrative in its next report that (1) describes the progress for each action and milestone in the goals, actions, and milestones section of the report; (2) explains the omission of funding associated with the Army's Compatible Use Buffer program; and (3) explains all fluctuations in funding projections greater than 10 percent. In written comments on a draft of this report, DOD concurred with our first recommendation and partially concurred with the remaining two recommendations, as discussed more fully later in this report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our report "Military Training: DOD's Report on the Sustainability of Training Ranges Meets Annual Reporting Requirements but Could Be Improved" (GAO-12-13R, October 19, 2011), we found that additional information regarding changes to planned actions and milestones would improve DOD's sustainable ranges report. To improve the visibility of progress in achieving DOD's stated planned actions and milestones, we recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), in consultation with the Secretaries of the military departments, to include in the goals, actions, and milestones section a brief narrative that describes the progress made since the prior year's report for each action and milestone. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Readiness) concurred with our recommendation and indicated that actions would be taken in preparing their 2012 sustainable ranges report to address this issue. DOD subsequently issued their 2012 sustainable ranges report in May 2012 and in our review of that report, we found that DOD had expanded the tables that show the current status of the actions and milestones. Each table now includes two additional columns, one that identifies the status of each action and milestone and another to provide additional service comments on progress made on many of the actions and milestones since the 2011 report. The implementation of this recommendation helps clarify for congressional decision makers and DOD the progress that each service has made in meeting its planned actions and milestones, thereby improving the usefulness of the report.

    Recommendation: To improve the visibility of progress in achieving DOD's stated sustainability goals and milestones, and to assist congressional decision makers in determining future range sustainment fiscal needs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), in consultation with the Secretaries of the military departments, in the goals, actions, and milestones section of its 2012 sustainable ranges report, to include a brief narrative that describes the progress made since the prior year's report for each action and milestone.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our report "Military Training: DOD's Report on the Sustainability of Training Ranges Meets Annual Reporting Requirements but Could Be Improved" (GAO-12-13R, October 19, 2011), we found that while DOD's 2011 sustainable ranges report shows funding projections for a 5-year budget cycle, it does not provide the rationale for omitting funding associated with the Army's Compatible Use Buffer Program. To assist congressional decision makers in determining future range sustainment fiscal needs, we recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), in consultation with the Secretaries of the military departments, provide in the funding requirements section an explanation for excluding the funds required to execute buffer projects under the Compatible Use Buffer program from the Army funding projections. DOD partially concurred with our recommendation, but later implemented the recommendation in its 2012 sustainable ranges report. In the 2012 sustainable ranges report, we found that the Army was able to provide projected funding for the encroachment category of $6.4 million per year for fiscal years 2012 through 2016. The Army reported this funding projection as an increase from the 2011 report and attributed the funding projections in part to being able to estimate manpower funding associated with centralized Army Compatible Use Buffer program administration and management. The implementation of this recommendation helps clarify for congressional decision makers and DOD the funding projections in DOD's comprehensive sustainable ranges plan, thereby improving the usefulness of the report.

    Recommendation: To improve the visibility of progress in achieving DOD's stated sustainability goals and milestones, and to assist congressional decision makers in determining future range sustainment fiscal needs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), in the funding requirements section of its 2012 sustainable ranges report, to provide an explanation for excluding the funds required to execute buffer projects under the Compatible Use Buffer program from the Army funding projections for the encroachment category.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our report "Military Training: DOD's Report on the Sustainability of Training Ranges Meets Annual Reporting Requirements but Could Be Improved" (GAO-12-13R, October 19, 2011), we found that DOD's 2011 sustainable ranges report did not consistently explain fluctuations in the funding projections or identify the impact the difference in funding may have on DOD's comprehensive sustainable ranges plan. To assist congressional decision makers in determining future range sustainment fiscal needs, we recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), in consultation with the Secretaries of the military departments, to include in the funding requirements section, an explanation for significant fluctuations in funding projections. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation but later implemented it in its 2012 sustainable ranges report. In the 2012 sustainable ranges report, we found that DOD had expanded the funding requirements section to include a summary of significant funding fluctuations observed across the reporting years and between the 2011 and 2012 sustainable ranges report. In the 2012 sustainable ranges report, each military service presented a summary of the extent of changes in all four funding categories--even those that remained relatively stable across the reporting years and since the previous DOD report--and provided more detailed explanations of any significant changes in funding. The implementation of this recommendation has provided readers of the report with more clarity on the changes in funding projections between the current and previous year's report, thereby improving the usefulness of the report.

    Recommendation: To improve the visibility of progress in achieving DOD's stated sustainability goals and milestones, and to assist congressional decision makers in determining future range sustainment fiscal needs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), in the funding requirements section of the 2012 sustainable ranges report, for each funding category, to provide an explanation for significant fluctuations in funding projections. For example, these explanations could align with DOD's direction to the services to explain fluctuations greater than 10 percent. This would include fluctuations reported between fiscal years that are included in the current report, and fluctuations that would otherwise only be apparent by comparing the prior report to the current report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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