Military Housing:

Opportunity for Reducing Planned Military Construction Costs for Barracks

GAO-03-257R: Published: Jan 7, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 7, 2003.

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Barry W. Holman
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We are reviewing the Department of Defense's (DOD) management of its unaccompanied enlisted permanent party housing, commonly referred to as barracks for unmarried servicemembers. We understand that over the next few years the services plan to eliminate barracks with gang latrines and provide private sleeping rooms (meet DOD's 1+1 barracks design standard) for all permanent party servicemembers. The Navy has an additional goal to provide barracks for sailors who currently live aboard ships when in homeport. To implement these goals, the services plan to spend about $6 billion over the next 7 years to construct new barracks. In addition to reviewing the services' plans and exploring opportunities for reducing costs, one of our objectives is to assess the consistency of and the rationale behind the services' barracks occupancy requirements. While we expect to complete our review of DOD's management of military barracks early in 2003, the purpose of this interim report is to bring to the attention Secretary of Defense the widely varying standards among the services regarding who should live in barracks, the effect this can have on program costs and quality of life, and the apparently out-of-date policy guidance on this subject. Timely resolution of these matters could potentially affect future budget decisions.

The DOD Housing Management manual, which provides policy guidance about who should live in barracks, appears to be out of date and is under revision, and the military services have adopted different barracks occupancy requirements. The rationale for the services' requirements, and in particular for the requirement that more experienced junior service members live in barracks, appears to be a matter of military judgment and preference with less emphasis on systematic, objective analyses. The differences among service requirements have significant implications. Requiring more personnel (more pay grades) to live in barracks than is justified results in increased barracks program and construction costs and may be inconsistent with DOD's policy to maximize reliance on civilian housing to the extent this policy is applied to barracks. There are also quality-of-life implications because most junior service members prefer to live off base.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2003, GAO reported that the rationale for the military's requirement that more experienced unmarried junior service members live in barracks appears to be a matter of military judgment and preference with less emphasis on systematic, objective analyses. The report noted that: (1) requiring more personnel (more pay grades) to live in barracks obviously resulted in increased barracks requirements; and (2) with the services planning extensive barracks improvement programs and with barracks construction costing as much as $80,000 to $100,000 per sleeping space, increased requirements translated into higher barracks program costs. GAO specifically noted that the Air Force, which planned to spend over $420 million during the next several years to construct new barracks to house all unmarried personnel in paygrades E1 through E4 on base, could reduce barracks requirements and construction costs by allowing more experienced junior service members to live off base. In December 2003, the Air Force announced that it was changing its barracks occupancy policy effective January 1, 2004. The new policy permits unmarried junior service members in pay grade E4 with three or more years of service to live off base with a housing allowance. According to an Air Force official, this change reduced the Air Force's barracks requirements, thereby reducing planned barracks construction costs by $335 million between fiscal years 2005 and 2009. The Air Force did not estimate net savings from its policy change after considering other costs associated with the two housing options. For example, by not building the dormitories, the Air Force will pay members housing allowances to help cover the cost of off base housing. On the other hand, if the Air Force built the additional dormitories, it would pay annual costs for operations, maintenance, and utilities in addition to costs of dormitory construction. On the basis of a limited cost comparison of the two housing options using information obtained during GAO's DOD housing review and in accordance with GAO guidance that accomplishment reports consider net savings over a 5-year period, GAO estimated that the net savings from using the housing allowance option over a five year period would be about 76 percent of dormitory construction costs. Also, the Air Force barracks construction master plan did not show planned barracks construction by fiscal year. Thus, in order to discount the reduction in planned barracks construction costs to present value and to be conservative, GAO assumed that the entire net cost reduction over a 5-year period (76 percent of $335 million or $254.6 million) would occur in 2008 (the last year available in GAO's web-based spreadsheet for calculating present values). This resulted in a present value estimate of $234 million.

    Recommendation: While the department updates its DOD Housing Management manual, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to work together to revise the department's guidance regarding permanent party enlisted servicemembers who are required to live in barracks. In doing so, the rationale behind the department's barracks policy revision and the services' barracks occupancy requirements should be based, at least in part, on the results of objective, systematic analyses that consider the contemporary needs of junior servicemembers, quality-of-life issues, the services' mission requirements, and other relevant data that would help provide a basis for the services' barracks occupancy requirements. Although military judgment may play an important role in setting barracks requirements, the soundness of those judgments could be validated and unnecessary requirements mitigated if those judgments were undergirded by objective qualitative and quantitative data where available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD officials said that the department's revised housing policy manual directs the military services to seek greater consistency in requiring their servicemembers to live in barracks, or provide justification. These officials said the manual should be finalized around the end of calendar year 2006. Until then, the services and other DOD components are using the draft manual as guide for managing their military family housing and barracks programs. Since our 2003 report, the Army and the Air Force have changed their requirements to allow a larger number of unmarried service members that were required previously to live in barracks to live off base in local community housing.

    Recommendation: Whether a "one size fits all" policy would be practical is not clear at this point, but greater consistency among the services appears warranted. Accordingly, the Secretary of Defense should seek to ensure greater consistency among the services in implementing this guidance and ensuring that the basis for significant variances includes consideration of objective data and analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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