Defense Infrastructure: Risk Assessment Needed to Identify If Foreign Encroachment Threatens Test and Training Ranges

GAO-15-149 Published: Dec 16, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 2014.
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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has not conducted a risk assessment that includes prioritizing test and training ranges based on mission criticality, determining their vulnerabilities to foreign encroachment (i.e., foreign entities acquiring assets, such as mines or energy projects, or otherwise conducting business transactions near test and training ranges), and assessing the degree to which foreign encroachment could pose a threat to the mission of the range. Some DOD officials stated that they are concerned about foreign encroachment, which may provide an opportunity for persistent surveillance of DOD test and training activities. However, DOD has not prioritized its ranges or assessed such threats because, among other things, there is no clear guidance on how to conduct assessments of the risks and threats posed by foreign encroachment. Some DOD officials told GAO they have considered conducting such assessments, but DOD has not issued guidance directing the services to conduct these assessments. Officials from the Navy and the Air Force stated that given the unique nature of each range, it would be difficult to assess their criticality. However, Navy officials stated that they had expected to issue guidance for conducting risk assessments sometime in 2015. Without clear guidance from DOD for the services to follow in conducting a risk assessment, DOD may not be able to determine what, if any, negative impact foreign encroachment may be having on its test or training ranges.

Elements of a Risk Assessment

Elements of a Risk Assessment

DOD has not obtained sufficient information on commercial activity being conducted near test and training ranges in the level of detail officials say they need—such as if a U.S.-based entity is owned or controlled by a foreign entity—to determine if specific transactions on federally owned or managed land in proximity to ranges pose a threat to the range. Such information is generally not collected by other agencies with responsibilities for these transactions because, in some cases, legal, regulatory, or resource challenges may prevent them from collecting information that is unrelated to their agencies' missions. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration collects information about proposed structures that are more than 200 feet in height to support the agency's mission of maintaining a safe and efficient aerospace system, but does not collect information on the ownership of the companies building the structures because it is beyond the scope of its mission. DOD has identified some potential sources of information, but it has not formally collaborated with other federal agencies on how to gather this information. Leading practices state that agencies can enhance and sustain collaboration by engaging in several practices, including addressing needs and leveraging resources and agreeing on roles and responsibilities. Without engaging potential sources of information on commercial activities near its ranges, DOD is hindered in its efforts to determine if a project could present a threat to test or training range activities.

Why GAO Did This Study

For many years, DOD has reported that it faces challenges in carrying out realistic training because of the cumulative result of outside influences—such as urban growth and endangered species habitat—that DOD refers to as encroachment. In January 2014, DOD reported concerns with security encroachment by foreign entities conducting business near its test and training ranges.

GAO was mandated by the House Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 to review encroachment on DOD's test and training ranges. This report examines the extent to which DOD has (1) conducted a risk assessment to identify the existence and extent of any threats of foreign encroachment and (2) obtained information needed on specific transactions to determine if they pose a threat. GAO reviewed statutes, regulations, and guidance on federal agency oversight of transactions on federal land. GAO interviewed DOD and service officials, as well as officials from other federal agencies identified by DOD as having a role in such transactions.

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GAO recommends that DOD (1) develop and implement guidance for conducting a risk assessment on foreign encroachment and (2) collaborate with other federal agencies to obtain additional information on transactions near ranges. In written comments on a draft of this report, DOD concurred with both recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To improve the ability of the Department of Defense and the military departments to manage the potential for foreign encroachment near their test and training ranges, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the military departments, should develop and implement guidance for assessing risks to test and training ranges from foreign encroachment in particular, to include: (1) determining the criticality and vulnerability of DOD's ranges and the level of the threat; and (2) a time frame for completion of risk assessments.
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation and has taken several steps toward meeting the intent of our recommendation. First, in February 2017, DOD began to collect information from the services to identify test and training range mission essential locations and subsequently developed a list of these locations. Second, since the passage of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) of 2018 in August 2018, according to DOD officials, DOD has been working closely with the Department of the Treasury on implementing rules that would assist DOD in the management of the land surrounding these mission essential locations. According to DOD officials, FIRRMA has expanded the role of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which should help DOD more effectively deal with foreign encroachment. For example, DOD is working with Treasury to implement a buffer that would limit development around these installations. As the new rules are being developed to implement this legislation, DOD officials stated that they will work on developing guidance that implements the changes made under FIRRMA. However, given this new expanded legislation, DOD-specific guidance is not appropriate at this time. Therefore, DOD's actions taken to date effectively address the intent of our recommendation and have improved the department's ability to manage concerns about foreign encroachment surrounding test and training ranges.
Department of Defense To identify potential foreign encroachment concerns on federally-owned land near test and training ranges, the Secretary of Defense should collaborate with the secretaries of relevant federal agencies, including at a minimum the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation, to obtain additional information needed from federal agencies managing land and transactions adjacent to DOD's test and training ranges. If appropriate, legislative relief should be sought to facilitate this collaborative effort.
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. DOD has met with several agencies to discuss obtaining information on commercial activity near test and training ranges including the Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Transportation. In addition, DOD has worked with the Department of Agriculture on draft legislation to address this issue. DOD's coordination with these agencies has improved the department's ability to manage concerns about foreign encroachment surrounding test and training ranges.

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