The Department of Defense's Report on Strategic Seaports Addressed All Congressionally Directed Elements
GAO-13-511R, May 13, 2013
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What GAO Found
In the conference report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, Congress directed DOD to provide an updated report on strategic seaport facilities used for military purposes, specifying that DOD must include (1) an assessment of the structural integrity and deficiencies of the port facilities and determination of the infrastructure improvements needed to directly or indirectly meet national security and readiness requirements; (2) an assessment of the impact on operational readiness if the improvements are not undertaken; (3) an identification of potential funding sources for the needed improvements from existing authorities; and (4) an opinion as to whether DOD has the necessary authority to support section 50302 of Title 46 of the United States Code. DOD issued that report in January 2013. In summary, we found that DOD addressed all four of the elements directed by Congress, as follows:
- First, DOD provided a detailed assessment of the structural integrity and deficiencies of the port facilities and the infrastructure improvements needed to meet national security requirements, providing both an explanation of its assessment and supporting data in its response. The report rated 15 of the 22 strategic seaports as having minor deficiencies, with negligible impact; 4 as having some deficiencies, with limited impact; 1 as having significant deficiencies that impair the capability to support required missions; and 2 as having major deficiencies presenting significant obstacles to mission accomplishment. We found some areas where the report could have been more explicit, such as citing the sources of cost estimates for port improvement projects and defining "national security and readiness requirements." We also note that the report relied on self-reported information from the ports. DOD officials told us that they believe the information is reliable because it is in the ports' interests to correct any deficiencies in order to support their commercial activities, and because DOD conducts periodic visits that serve as a visual check of port infrastructure conditions.
- Second, DOD included an assessment of the impact on operational readiness if the improvements were not undertaken. The report noted that available alternatives to strategic ports include alternate seaports.
- Third, DOD included an identification of potential funding sources for the needed improvements from existing authorities. The report identified and discussed six primary sources of capital for U.S. commercial ports, and noted that military ports rely on military construction appropriations for large projects.
- Finally, the report included an opinion as to whether DOD has the necessary authority to support section 50302 of Title 46 of the United States Code. The report stated that DOD has the necessary authority, but also recommended that Congress consider amending the law to allow U.S. Transportation Command to coordinate directly with the Secretary of Transportation on port development issues.
Why GAO Did This Study
Over the past several years Congress has directed that a number of studies be conducted to ensure the readiness of the strategic seaports. Both the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 and the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 required GAO to conduct a sufficiency review of DOD's most recent report, and to report our findings to Congress within 90 days of receiving DOD's strategic seaports report. DOD's report was provided to Congress on January 7, 2013, and GAO received the report on January 9, 2013.
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