Communities Need Additional Guidance and Information to Improve Their Ability to Adjust to DOD Installation Closure or Growth
GAO-13-436: Published: May 14, 2013. Publicly Released: May 14, 2013.
What GAO Found
The 21 communities surrounding the 23 Department of Defense (DOD) installations closed in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round have used strategies such as forming a local redevelopment authority and seeking federal grants to deal with the closures. Some economic data for these communities are comparable to national averages, with some variation. For instance, GAO found that 52 percent (11 of 21) of communities had unemployment rates lower than the national average of 8.9 percent, although the rates ranged from a low of 6.1 percent to a high of 16.8 percent. Sixty-two percent (13 of 21) of the closure communities had real per capita income growth rates higher than the national average of 0.14 percent for the period from 2006 through 2011. Since 2005, 23 other installations have experienced population increases that have resulted in net growth of about 191,000 military and civilian personnel (a 36 percent increase), and their corresponding communities have used several strategies to accommodate this growth, including forming a regional working group composed of representatives from affected jurisdictions.
Community representatives stated that DOD's Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) provides good support to communities facing base closure, but some representatives from communities surrounding closed Army installations stated that facilities were not maintained at a high enough level for reuse. An Army official told GAO that the Army makes an effort to maintain closed facilities in accordance with their planned usage and that local redevelopment authorities have unrealistic expectations of maintenance levels. DOD guidance states that the services have developed specific maintenance levels for facilities during the transition process. The Air Force and the Navy have published this specific guidance, but the Army has not and instead relies upon DOD's guidance, which does not describe specific levels of maintenance. Without clear guidance on the expected levels of maintenance for closed facilities, the communities may not have a clear understanding of what maintenance the Army will provide.
Community representatives indicated that OEA provides good support to communities facing base growth, but that additional data and a civilian point of contact at the installation could improve their ability to respond to future growth. DOD has issued guidance that states communities should be provided maximum advance information to plan, and service guidance states that services will give communities information including military and personnel changes. However, community representatives told GAO that they would like additional aggregate information on where servicemembers live while stationed at the installation to facilitate planning for the impact of installation growth. Installations currently do not provide communities with this information because they do not have a system to track it, but officials noted that existing systems could potentially be modified to provide it. Installation officials and community representatives also stated that establishing a long-term civilian point of contact at the installation would help the community effectively plan for growth. Accurate and timely information on personnel residence areas and a civilian point of contact at the installation could better facilitate communities' efforts to accommodate installation growth.
Why GAO Did This Study
Through BRAC and other growth initiatives, DOD has made significant changes to its force structure, affecting communities around DOD installations. To help transition toward a smaller, more agile force, DOD has requested new BRAC authority. House Report 112-479, accompanying the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, directed GAO to study the practices and strategies that communities have used to cope with installation closure or growth. This report (1) describes the practices and strategies communities have used in dealing with base closures and growth since 2005 and economic and population data in those communities and (2) presents information on communities' needs in adjusting to installation closure and growth. GAO interviewed DOD, service, and installation officials; interviewed and surveyed community representatives; reviewed relevant guidance; and visited select installations.
What GAO Recommends
DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation that the Army issue guidance on maintenance levels to be provided during the base closure process. DOD partially concurred that it should establish procedures for sharing additional information with growth communities and designate a civilian point of contact at growth installations. GAO believes action by DOD prior to future installation growth will help forestall future challenges.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: In DOD's comments on our report, it stated that it concurred with our recommendation and that the Army agrees to publish property maintenance guidance prior to closing installations in the event of future base closures. In July 2015, DOD stated that the Army has agreed to publish property maintenance guidance prior to closing installations in the event of future base closures. There have been no additional base closures since the date of the report.
Recommendation: To improve the ability of the Army and local communities to manage future base closures, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to issue, consistent with DOD guidance, guidance on specific levels of maintenance to be followed in the event of a base closure based on the probable reuse of the facilities.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation and stated that it agrees that information pertaining to the physical location of installation personnel helps affected communities plan for housing, schools, transportation and other off-post requirements in support of installations. It further stated that existing policy requires the military departments to provide planning information, including base personnel, to states and communities to support the establishment or expansion of a military base. In the event of future basing decisions affecting local communities, DOD stated that it will work with the military departments to assess and determine the best means to obtain, aggregate, and distribute this information to help ensure adequate planning information is made available. In July 2015, DOD stated that per current budget pressures, and the Army's publicly stated intent to reduce force structure, there is not an immediate need to undertake these efforts.
Recommendation: To improve the ability of DOD and the local communities to respond to future growth actions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to consider developing a procedure for collecting service members' physical addresses while stationed at an installation, annually updating this information, and sharing aggregate information with community representatives relevant for local planning decisions, such as additional population per zip code, consistent with privacy and force protection concerns.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: DOD partially agreed with this recommendation. It stated that it agrees with the need for a designated position at the installation level to work with the community and will ensure this requirement is being met through current practices and in accordance with each military department's personnel system. In many of the growth impacted communities, installation officials serve as ex-officio members of the community's growth management organization and relevant installation staff, including those engaged with public works, housing, education, and land use planning, and coordinate as needed with their civilian community counterparts. In July 2015, DOD stated that in the event the Department of Defense proceeds with future realignments that could result in a reduced footprint, there are provisions for Base Transition Coordinators (BTCs) to be designated as a liaison with the affected community. In the event these future realignments result in an expanded footprint or personnel growth, the Department would consider this recommendation at that time.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force to consider creating or designating a civilian position at the installation level to be the focal point and provide continuity for community interaction for future growth installations and to consider expanding this position to all installations. This position may be a collateral duty.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense