Defense Infrastructure:

Actions Needed to Strengthen Utility Resilience Planning

GAO-17-27: Published: Nov 14, 2016. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2016.

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What GAO Found

Based on GAO's survey of Department of Defense (DOD) owned utility systems, there were 4,393 instances of utility disruptions caused by equipment failure for fiscal years 2009 through 2015 and the results of our survey and interviews with DOD installation officials indicated that these disruptions have caused a range of financial and operational impacts. Survey respondents identified several factors that contributed to equipment failures that led to disruptions, such as equipment operating beyond its intended life; poor equipment condition; and equipment not being properly maintained. Survey respondents reported over $29 million in financial impacts for fiscal years 2009 through 2015. Installation officials reported experiencing operational impacts such as a week-long shut down of operations at an Army facility on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Information about utility disruptions is not consistently available to DOD utility owners and managers at the installation level. Specifically, 151 out of 364 survey respondents stated that they did not have information on utility disruptions for any fiscal year from 2009 through 2015. An overarching reason GAO found for disruption information not being available is that the services vary in the extent to which each has issued guidance to collect and retain utility disruption information at the installation level. The Army has some guidance to report utility disruptions, but we found that some installations did not consistently have this information available. The Air Force and Marine Corps do not have current guidance directing the installations to track utility disruption information. The Navy issued new guidance in 2015 which, if implemented as directed, may improve the collection of utility disruption information. According to installation and headquarters officials, there are benefits to collecting utility disruption information since it can be used to identify repairs and to prioritize funding for those repairs. However, without guidance directing installations to collect information about all types of utility disruptions, service officials may not have the information needed to make informed decisions or to compete effectively for limited repair funds.

DOD's implementation of the Sustainment Management System (SMS), a software tool to conduct standardized condition assessments, may not provide it with comparable and reliable facility condition index (FCI) data -- a metric used to make strategic investment decisions. In 2013, to improve the reliability of FCI data, DOD directed the services to use SMS which standardizes the way the services conduct condition assessments and calculate the FCI. According to officials, the SMS module for utility systems is still in development, but modules for other facilities, such as buildings, are complete and in use. While the SMS process is intended to provide DOD with credible FCI data, GAO found the process could result in differences in the FCI because the services are able to customize settings, called condition standards, within the process. Variation among the condition standards could result in facilities having differences in the FCI although the assessed physical conditions of the facilities are the same. As a result, the FCI data would not be comparable. Without taking steps to ensure that the services' condition standards for the utilities module, which is under development, will provide the department with comparable and reliable FCI data, the SMS utilities module may not provide DOD information that is comparable across the department.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD installations rely on utilities, such as electricity, to accomplish their missions and disruptions can hamper military operations. Senate Report 114-49 included a provision for GAO to report on DOD-owned utility disruptions. This report (1) describes the number, causes and impacts of utility disruptions caused by the failure of DOD-owned utility infrastructure for fiscal years 2009 through 2015; (2) assesses the extent to which owners and managers of DOD-owned systems have access to utility disruption information; and (3) assesses the extent to which the implementation of a standardized facility condition assessment process provides DOD consistent information about its utility systems.

GAO surveyed a representative group of 453 DOD-owned electric, water, wastewater, and natural gas utility systems, evaluated DOD policies and reports, interviewed officials, and conducted interviews with several survey respondents who experienced the most disruptions.

What GAO Recommends

To improve utility system information, GAO is recommending that the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps take steps or provide guidance to consistently collect disruption information, and that while the SMS utilities module is under development, DOD take steps to ensure that the services apply condition standards consistently. DOD concurred with the recommendations to collect disruption data and partially concurred with the other recommendation stating that it would determine if further consistent condition standards are needed.

For more information, contact Brian Lepore at (202) 512-4523 or leporeb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred and has taken action to address the recommendation. As of July 2019, the Army had reported that it updated its Army Energy and Water Reporting System to capture utility outages and that it provides annual training to the Energy Managers to disseminate clear guidance in their annual reporting requirements. By taking these actions, information on utility disruptions will be available to owners and managers of Army utilities and addresses the recommendation to the Army to take such steps.

    Recommendation: To improve the information that DOD, military service officials, and installation-level utility system owners and maintainers need to make maintenance or other investment decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to take steps to implement existing guidance so that disruption information is consistently available at the installation level.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred and has taken action to address the recommendation. According to an Air Force official, in March 2018, the Air Force launched the Utility System Outage Report Tracker. This tracker, according to an Air Force official, will likely meet the intent of the recommendation. As of July 2019, the Air Force had updated its guidance on providing utilities to Air Force Installations. Specifically, the updates require Air Force installation officials to document and report all unplanned utility system outages lasting for five minutes or longer on a monthly basis, among other things. Through these efforts, information on utility disruptions will be available to owners and managers of Air Force utilities.

    Recommendation: To improve the information that DOD, military service officials, and installation-level utility system owners and maintainers need to make maintenance or other investment decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to issue guidance to the installations to require the collection and retention of disruption.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred and has taken action to address the recommendation. According to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the military services receive annual guidance through the Annual Energy Management and Resilience Report on the collection of disruption data so that it is consistently tracked and reported by military installations. Specifically, guidance for the Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Energy Management and Resilience Report required details of all utility outages impacting energy resilience at military installations to be reported. In response to this guidance, the Marine Corps submitted details of all utility outages impacting its installations for the 2019 report.

    Recommendation: To improve the information that DOD, military service officials, and installation-level utility system owners and maintainers need to make maintenance or other investment decisions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to issue guidance to the installations to require the collection and retention of disruption information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation. In January 2020, DOD provided a corrective action plan noting that through the adoption of the Sustainment Management System (SMS), DOD worked to standardize the inspection criteria/process of utility systems. The department noted that it did not want to establish single condition standards by facility or subcomponent type because some assets depend on a greater degree of reliability, thus necessitating different condition standards. As such, the department noted that DOD Components must manage their assets accordingly and have the ability to adjust the condition standards as needed to meet mission requirements. Through SMS, the department noted that it has the flexibility of customized repair to address both varied mission requirements and levels of acceptable risk between and among components. We believe these actions address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To provide DOD with more consistent information about the condition of DOD-owned utility systems as DOD continues to develop the SMS module for utility systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment, in coordination with the military services, to take actions to govern the consistent use of condition standards of utility systems to be assessed using the SMS utilities module, and if applicable, for other facilities assessed using other SMS modules.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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