Defense Infrastructure: Army's Approach for Acquiring Land Is Not Guided by Up-to-Date Strategic Plan or Always Communicated Effectively

GAO-09-32 Published: Jan 13, 2009. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2009.
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Highlights

Recently, the Army forecast that it would experience a 4.5-million-acre training land shortfall by 2013 and proposed to purchase additional land adjacent to certain existing training ranges. In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Army's approach for acquiring training land. This report (1) evaluates the Army's approach to the acquisition of training land, (2) describes the Army's consideration of alternatives and assessment of the environmental and economic effects, and (3) analyzes the Army's effectiveness in communicating its approach for making decisions to pursue these acquisitions before the Office of the Secretary of Defense's (OSD) approval. GAO reviewed the Army strategic plan for training lands and other relevant documents, and focused on all five land acquisitions since 2002 at Fort Irwin, California; three training sites in Hawaii; and the proposed expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in Colorado.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To help planning and budgeting officials prioritize their efforts to mitigate training land shortages and to improve the effectiveness with which the military services communicate their approach for deciding whether to pursue major training land acquisitions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and implement a process to update periodically its strategic plan--the Range and Training Land Strategy--to reflect current training land needs.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Army is currently scheduled to complete the draft Range and Training Land strategy which includes a provision to implement updates every two years. The plan was recently renamed the Army Training Land Strategy and will be finalized by the end of the year.
Department of Defense To help planning and budgeting officials prioritize their efforts to mitigate training land shortages and to improve the effectiveness with which the military services communicate their approach for deciding whether to pursue major training land acquisitions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment to jointly review their strategies for communicating potential major land acquisitions to the public prior to OSD waiver approval and agree upon a common practice that would address OSD's concerns about early disclosure and, at the same time, permit the Army and the other military services some flexibility to engage key stakeholders--people living near the proposed land acquisition site, elected officials, nongovernmental groups, and others--earlier in the decision-making process. Such a common practice should specifically address what kinds of public outreach, if any, are permissible prior to OSD's waiver determination.
Closed - Not Implemented
In comments on a draft of this report, the Department of Defense generally agreed with our recommendation, although it did not indicate what, if any, specific steps it would take to implement it. The Army has since reported that they understand the flexibility contained in the Department of Defense policy to accommodate early public engagement and that no further corrective actions are planned.

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