Climate Resilience:

DOD Needs to Assess Risk and Provide Guidance on Use of Climate Projections in Installation Master Plans and Facilities Designs

GAO-19-453: Published: Jun 12, 2019. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 2019.

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Diana Maurer
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maurerd@gao.gov

 

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DOD’s global property holdings are worth nearly $1.2 trillion. Since 2010, DOD has identified climate change as a threat to its operations and installations.

We found that DOD's preliminary assessment of extreme weather and climate change effects at installations relied on past experience rather than an analysis of future vulnerabilities based on climate projections. Also, DOD’s designs for new construction at facilities generally did not consider climate projections, because DOD lacks guidance on how to do so.

We made 8 recommendations, including that DOD issue guidance on incorporating climate projections into facilities project designs.

Photo of cars partially submerged in flood waters

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Diana Maurer
(202) 512-9627
maurerd@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Department of Defense (DOD) installations have not consistently assessed risks from extreme weather and climate change effects or consistently used projections to anticipate future climate conditions. For example, DOD's 2018 preliminary assessment of extreme weather and climate effects at installations was based on the installations' reported past experiences with extreme weather rather than an analysis of future vulnerabilities based on climate projections. Fifteen of the 23 installations GAO visited or contacted had considered some extreme weather and climate change effects in their plans as required by DOD guidance, but 8 had not. For example, Fort Irwin, California, worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve stormwater drainage after intense flash flooding caused significant damage to base infrastructure. By contrast, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, did not include such considerations in its plans, although it is located in an area subject to tropical storms and where further sea level rise is anticipated.

Flooding at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia

Flooding at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia

GAO also found that most of the installations had not used climate projections, because they lack guidance on how to incorporate projections into their master plans. Not assessing risks or using climate projections in installation planning may expose DOD facilities to greater-than-anticipated damage or degradation as a result of extreme weather or climate-related effects.

Eleven of the 23 installations we reviewed had designed one or more individual facilities projects to increase the resilience of the facilities to extreme weather and climate change effects. However, project designs generally did not consider climate projections, according to installation officials. These officials told us that DOD lacks guidance on how to use climate projections that involve multiple future scenarios and different time periods. Until DOD updates its facilities design standards to require installations to consider climate projections in project designs, identify authoritative sources for them to use, and provide guidance on how to use projections, installation project designers may continue to exclude consideration of climate projections from facilities project designs, potentially making investments that are planned without consideration of climate-related risks.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD manages a global real-estate portfolio with an almost $1.2 trillion estimated replacement value. Since 2010, DOD has identified climate change as a threat to its operations and installations. In January 2019, DOD stated that the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to the department's missions, operational plans, and installations. GAO was asked to assess DOD's progress in developing a means to account for potentially damaging weather in its facilities project designs.

GAO examined the extent to which DOD has taken steps to incorporate resilience to extreme weather and climate change effects into (1) selected installation master plans and related planning documents, and (2) selected individual installation facilities projects.

GAO reviewed DOD documents related to increasing climate resilience, conducting installation master planning, and designing facilities projects. GAO visited or contacted a non-generalizable sample of 23 installations that had been associated with one or more climate vulnerabilities.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making eight recommendations, including that the military departments work together to update master planning criteria to require an assessment of extreme weather and climate change risks and to incorporate DOD guidance on the use of climate projections into facilities design standards. GAO also recommends that DOD issue guidance on incorporating climate projections into installation master planning and facilities project designs. DOD concurred with all eight of GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In October 2019, the military departments implemented this recommendation by updating the Unified Facilities Criteria document for installation master planning to require that each installation identify and assess the risks to the installation from the effects of extreme weather and climate change, and develop plans to address those risks as appropriate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment; the Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command; and the Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to update the Unified Facilities Criteria standard on installation master planning to require that master plans include (1) an assessment of the risks from extreme weather and climate change effects that are specific to the installation and (2) plans to address those risks as appropriate. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In October 2019, the military departments implemented this recommendation by updating the Unified Facilities Criteria document for installation master planning to require that each installation identify and assess the risks to the installation from the effects of extreme weather and climate change, and develop plans to address those risks as appropriate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command works with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to update the Unified Facilities Criteria standard on installation master planning to require that master plans include (1) an assessment of the risks from extreme weather and climate change effects that are specific to the installation and (2) plans to address those risks as appropriate. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In October 2019, the military departments implemented this recommendation by updating the Unified Facilities Criteria document for installation master planning to require that each installation identify and assess the risks to the installation from the effects of extreme weather and climate change, and develop plans to address those risks as appropriate.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should ensure that the Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center works with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment; the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command to update the Unified Facilities Criteria standard on installation master planning to require that master plans include (1) an assessment of the risks from extreme weather and climate change effects that are specific to the installation and (2) plans to address those risks as appropriate. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it is in the process of developing guidance to incorporate projections for sea level change into DOD's Unified Facilities Criteria standard for installation master planning, using a DOD-vetted source of data. DOD also stated that it will continue to tailor additional sources of climate projections data to other planning requirements and integrate these into departmental criteria as appropriate. In February 2020, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment issued a memorandum with guidance on incorporating sea level change projections in installation master planning, and as of April 2020, was researching additional sources of climate projection data to tailor to other planning requirements. DOD estimated that it would complete implementation of this recommendation in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should issue guidance on incorporating climate projections into installation master planning, including—at a minimum—what sources of climate projections to use, how to use projections involving multiple future scenarios, and what future time periods to consider. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it is in the process of developing guidance to incorporate projections for sea level change into Unified Facilities Criteria for facilities design, using a DOD-vetted source of data. DOD also stated that it will continue to tailor additional sources of climate projections data to other engineering requirements and integrate these projections into its criteria as appropriate. In February 2020, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment issued a memorandum with guidance on incorporating sea level change projections into facilities designs, and as of April 2020, was researching additional sources of climate projection data to tailor to other planning requirements. DOD estimated that it would complete implementation of this recommendation in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. We will continue to monitor the status of these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should issue guidance on incorporating climate projections into facilities project designs, including—at a minimum—what sources of climate projections to use, how to use projections involving multiple future scenarios, and what future time periods to consider. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of April 2020, DOD stated that the update of Unified Facilities Criteria to implement this recommendation was pending the issuance of additional guidance by DOD on the use of such projections in project designs, as recommended by GAO. DOD estimated it would complete the actions to implement this recommendation in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021. We will continue to monitor the status of this effort.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment; the Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command; and the Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to update relevant Unified Facilities Criteria to require that installations consider climate projections in designing facilities projects and incorporate, as appropriate, DOD guidance on the use of climate projections in facilities project designs—including identification of authoritative sources of such projections, use of projections involving multiple future scenarios, and what future time periods to consider. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of April 2020, DOD stated that the update of Unified Facilities Criteria to implement this recommendation was pending the issuance of additional guidance by DOD on the use of such projections in project designs, as recommended by GAO. DOD estimated it would complete the actions to implement this recommendation in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021. We will continue to monitor the status of this effort.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command works with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to update relevant Unified Facilities Criteria to require that installations consider climate projections in designing facilities projects and incorporate, as appropriate, DOD guidance on the use of climate projections in facilities project designs—including identification of authoritative sources of such projections, use of projections involving multiple future scenarios, and what future time periods to consider. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of April 2020, DOD stated that the update of Unified Facilities Criteria to implement this recommendation was pending the issuance of additional guidance by DOD on the use of such projections in project designs, as recommended by GAO. DOD estimated it would complete the actions to implement this recommendation in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021. We will continue to monitor the status of this effort.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should ensure that the Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center works with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment; the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command to update relevant Unified Facilities Criteria to require that installations consider climate projections in designing facilities projects and incorporate, as appropriate, DOD guidance on the use of climate projections in facilities project designs—including identification of authoritative sources of such projections, use of projections involving multiple future scenarios, and what future time periods to consider. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

 

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