Defense Infrastructure: Actions Needed to Enhance Oversight of Construction Projects Supporting Military Contingency Operations

GAO-16-406 Published: Sep 08, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 08, 2016.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since contingency operations began in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense (DOD) has not tracked the universe and cost of all U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) contingency construction projects supporting operations there. According to senior DOD officials DOD is not required to track all contingency construction projects separately from all other DOD projects, but DOD has been able to generate specific data on MILCON-funded contingency construction projects when requested. Senior DOD officials stated that they were unaware of the magnitude of their use of O&M funds because DOD has not tracked the universe and cost of O&M-funded unspecified minor military construction projects in support of contingency operations. GAO identified O&M-funded construction costs for fiscal years 2009-12 of at least $944 million for 2,202 of these projects in Afghanistan, costs that are significant compared with the $3.9 billion DOD reported as enacted for MILCON-funded projects there in the same period. DOD has routinely used O&M funding to more quickly meet requirements because the MILCON review process can take up to 2 years. However, DOD's use of O&M funding has posed risks. For example:

Financial risk: In 2010, DOD identified needed concrete shelters at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, staying below the O&M maximum by dividing a single requirement into separate projects. DOD reported in 2015 that it should have used MILCON funds for the shelters, determining that the obligations incurred had exceeded the statutory maximum for O&M-funded unspecified minor military construction projects, resulting in an Antideficiency Act violation.

Duplication risk : In 2015, officials at a base in the CENTCOM area of responsibility decided to use O&M funding for temporary facilities for a squadron while in the same year requesting MILCON funding for a permanent facility for the same squadron, which could result in providing the same service to the same beneficiaries.

For MILCON-funded contingency construction projects, DOD has guidance used for determining the appropriate level of construction, or building standard, based on the facility's life expectancy requirements, but as of July 2015 had not documented the rationale for such determinations for 11 of the 39 projects in fiscal years 2011-15 that cost over $40 million each. Further, for 8 of the 11 projects, senior DOD officials could not confirm what level of construction the projects represented based on DOD standards aimed at helping to match investments with requirements. Senior DOD officials acknowledged that an absence of such documentation could lead to DOD constructing facilities in excess of requirements because of the resulting lack of communication with those who design and construct the facilities.

DOD has not developed a formal process for reevaluating ongoing contingency construction projects when missions change. According to CENTCOM documentation, beginning in November 2011 DOD undertook five rounds of reviews of planned and ongoing projects in Afghanistan anticipating a change in the mission. However, without a requirement for such reviews, DOD risks constructing facilities that may be unneeded to support U.S. forces in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and in future contingencies worldwide.

Why GAO Did This Study

For about 15 years, DOD has funded “contingency construction” projects to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The range, complexity, and cost of construction vary (e.g., from concrete pads for tents to brick-and-mortar barracks). DOD funds the projects through MILCON or O&M appropriations. Base commanders can use O&M to fund lower cost projects.

Senate Report 113-174 includes a provision for GAO to review issues related to military construction in the CENTCOM area of responsibility in support of contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GAO evaluated, among other things, the extent to which DOD has (1) tracked the universe and cost of all contingency construction projects in support of contingency operations there, (2) developed a process to determine the appropriate level of construction for MILCON-funded contingency construction projects, and (3) developed a process for reevaluating contingency construction projects when missions change. GAO reviewed relevant guidance and project data.

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Recommendations

GAO made six recommendations including that DOD track the universe and cost of O&M-funded projects (DOD did not concur), review construction projects to ensure funds were properly used (DOD did not concur), examine approaches to shorten project approval times (DOD partially concurred), document level-of-construction determinations (DOD partially concurred), and require project reviews when missions change (DOD partially concurred). GAO maintains that its recommendations are valid.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To improve DOD's management and oversight of contingency construction in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and in other geographic combatant commands where applicable, and to improve DOD's awareness of how much O&M funding the department uses for construction projects to support contingency operations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the military departments, in coordination with the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), to track the universe and cost of ongoing and future contingency construction projects that are funded from O&M appropriations under section 2805 of Title 10, U.S. Code (unspecified minor military construction authority).
Closed – Not Implemented
DOD non-concurred with this recommendation and, as of September 2021, has not altered its position or taken action to address the recommendation. According to DOD officials, the department does not have the data systems that can track and report projects executed using O&M appropriations and that doing so is not cost effective and would not improve decision making. We continue to believe DOD could adapt an existing system or mechanism for recording and capturing these data in an automated form. For example, as we noted in our report, we believe through appropriate modifications, the cost of contingency construction projects could be readily available in the Army's existing accounting and finance system. Further, we continue to believe that knowing the universe and cost of all O&M-funded construction projects supporting contingency operations is important for decision making. However, in responses to GAO follow-up requests in August 2020 and 2021, DOD's position on the recommendation had not changed. Accordingly, GAO closed the recommendation as unimplemented.
Department of Defense To improve DOD's management and oversight of contingency construction in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and in other geographic combatant commands where applicable, and to improve DOD's ability to quickly fund contingency construction projects that are not ideally suited to the current standard Military Construction and Operation and Maintenance processes and time frames and reduce reliance on funding approaches that pose risks regarding the appropriate use of funding, negative operational impacts, and unnecessary duplication, DOD should evaluate and improve the use of existing processes and authorities to the extent possible; determine whether additional authorities are needed to support urgent construction needs; and revise existing departmental processes or seek additional authorities, as appropriate.
Open
DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In response to a GAO follow-up request in August 2020, DOD indicated that it continues to review current processes and authorities annually and submits legislative proposals and changes policies when appropriate. For example, DOD is working to revise authorities and designations for construction agents in Joint Operational Areas executing contingency construction to improve flexibility and responsiveness. According to the department, this change will be effective once DOD Directive 4270.5, Military Construction is completed. According to a DOD official in August 2021, this will be completed in the second quarter of fiscal year 2022. As DOD's process is continuous, there will be no end date for completion of all actions associated with this recommendation, according to a DOD official.
Department of Defense To improve DOD's management and oversight of contingency construction in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and in other geographic combatant commands where applicable, and to help ensure that DOD limits demands on available resources to those necessary to meet contingency construction project requirements and communicates those requirements effectively, the Secretary of Defense should, in coordination with the Secretary of the Army, direct the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a control activity for documenting level-of-construction determinations before the Army Corps of Engineers designs the projects and estimates their costs.
Open
DOD partially concurred with this recommendation stating that the appropriate level of construction is a function of required service life and mission requirements, both of which are determined by the facility user rather than the construction agent. The Department agreed that these parameters must be defined and documented during the facility planning process by the Component responsible for developing facility requirements, and then communicated to the appropriate construction agent (i.e. the Army Corps of Engineers, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, or the Air Force Civil Engineer Center). In response to a GAO follow-up request in August 2020, a DOD official stated that the department is revising DOD guidance to clarify that level-of-construction determinations are to be documented by construction agents once received from facility user. The revision will be included in an update of DOD Directive 4270.5, Military Construction, which in August 2021 a DOD official stated is to be completed in the second quarter of fiscal year 2022. Once completed, this should address the intent and close out GAO's recommendation as implemented.
Department of Defense To improve DOD's management and oversight of contingency construction in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and in other geographic combatant commands where applicable, and to ensure that DOD avoids constructing facilities that may be unneeded to support U.S. forces and to comprehensively document the results of its reviews of ongoing construction projects when changes in mission requirements occur, the Secretary of Defense should, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, direct the Secretaries of the military departments and the Commander of CENTCOM to develop implementing guidance for the review and verification of ongoing contingency construction projects when mission changes occur.
Open
DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In response to a GAO follow-up request in August 2020, a DOD official stated that the Department believes all combatant commanders involved in contingency operations should conduct periodic reviews of new or ongoing construction projects to ensure they still meet operational needs. As a result, the Secretary of Defense plans to, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, direct the Secretaries of the military departments and the Combatant Commanders to develop guidance for the review and verification of ongoing contingency construction projects when mission changes occur. According to the DOD official, the Secretary of Defense plans to provide this direction in the pending update of DOD Directive 4270.5, Military Construction for application in Joint Operational Areas and contingency operations. As of August 2021, according to a DOD official, this action is ongoing and the expected completion is during the second quarter of fiscal year 2022, at which point the intent of GAO's recommendation will have been addressed.
Department of Defense To improve DOD's management and oversight of contingency construction in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and in other geographic combatant commands where applicable, and to improve the awareness of the combatant and service component commands' responsibilities to record and share lessons learned and to ensure that important contingency-construction-related lessons are recorded, the Secretary of Defense should, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, direct the Commander of CENTCOM to revise Central Command Regulation 415-1 or issue other guidance as appropriate to specifically detail the role of the combatant command and service component commands in recording contingency construction lessons learned from the CENTCOM area of responsibility in the Joint Lessons Learned Information System.
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In August 2020, DOD stated that CENTCOM Regulation 525-4 chapter 10-3 establishes comprehensive reporting requirements for the Joint Lessons Learned program that encompass the contingency construction function. Further, while this information does not need to be repeated in CENTCOM regulation 415-1, DOD stated that the application of 525-4 to contingency construction would be reinforced by referencing it in 415-1. Accordingly, in February 2020, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense-Facilities Management DOD issued a memo directing the Commander, USCENTCOM, to revise CENTCOM Regulation 415-1 accordingly. As of September 2021, DOD had not yet provided documentation that the CENTCOM regulation has been revised. Accordingly, we will continue to monitor to evaluate whether the Commander, USCENTCOM completes this tasking and whether the resulting guidance addresses our recommendation.
Department of Defense In light of potential concerns regarding the appropriate use of funding raised by several of the examples identified in this report, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force to review these and, as appropriate, other construction projects in the contingency environment presenting similar circumstances to ensure that funds were properly used.
Closed – Not Implemented
DOD did not concur with this recommendation. At the time of our report, the department stated that the recommendation is redundant of current practice and referenced department processes to conduct periodic reviews to ensure compliance, among other processes, guidance, and training., However, as we noted in our report, our recommendation is not that DOD create new processes but instead that DOD use the periodic review processes it referenced to evaluate the examples in our report and ensure that funds were appropriately used. The examples in our report present instances where the department had developed multiple construction projects, each below the O&M maximum for unspecified minor military construction, to meet what may have been an overarching construction requirement. We noted a similar instance where the department had used its review process and found that an Antideficiency Act violation had occurred. In light of the concerns raised by the examples in our report, we believed that DOD should use its existing processes to review the facts and circumstances presented by these examples and determine whether funds were appropriately used. However, in responses to GAO follow-up requests in August 2020 and 2021, DOD's position on the recommendation had not changed. Accordingly, GAO closed the recommendation as unimplemented.

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