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Military Depots: DOD Strategy for Addressing Deteriorating Facilities and Equipment Is Incomplete [Reissued with revisions on May 10, 2022]

GAO-22-105009 Published: May 09, 2022. Publicly Released: May 09, 2022.
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Fast Facts

DOD maintains, overhauls, and repairs weapons systems and equipment in its depots. We previously found the poor condition of these facilities reduced their performance, increased costs, and impeded military readiness.

Depot infrastructure generally remains in fair to poor condition. Some facilities improved, but the backlog of projects grew by $3.1 billion since 2017. Most depot equipment is past its service life.

The military services have met spending requirements and put $20 billion into the depots since 2007. However, they don't report what's needed to prevent more deterioration. Our recommendations address this issue and more.

USS Albany Undergoing an Extended Maintenance Period at Norfolk Naval Shipyard Dry Dock

A ship in a dry dock surrounded by maintenance equipment

Reissued with Revisions May 10, 2022
This report was revised on May 10, 2022 to include DOD’s signed cover letter on page 63.
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What GAO Found

Since fiscal year 2016, the condition of the depots' infrastructure—their facilities and equipment—generally has remained in the fair-to-poor range and has not improved. Though facility condition ratings at some depots have increased, backlogs of facility projects grew by $3.1 billion. Further, most depot capital equipment remains past its service life (see figure).

Depot Capital Equipment Age as a Percent of Expected Service Life, FY 2020


To respond to the depots' infrastructure challenges, the military departments have met statutory investment levels since 2007 and developed improvement plans. In fiscal year 2007, a law was enacted requiring the military departments to invest a minimum amount in their depots every year. The departments have generally met this requirement and have invested $20 billion in their depots since then. However, the law measures investment by department, which allows some depots to remain under the minimum. For example, the Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, first reached the 6 percent level in fiscal year 2018, 11 years after the law was enacted. Further, the services do not report on investment needed to prevent further infrastructure deterioration. The services' improvement plans call for almost doubling investment over fiscal year 2020 levels, but it is too early to tell whether the services will be able to do so.

In 2019, DOD was required by statute to develop a depot infrastructure improvement strategy with three elements: (1) an assessment of depot conditions; (2) a business case analysis of investment scenarios; and (3) a plan to oversee improvements. However, GAO found that DOD's strategy addressed the assessment, but did not include the business case analysis or improvement plan. DOD expects to include the missing elements in future updates. However, officials do not expect the strategy to be fully complete until 2024. Without a completed strategy addressing all mandated elements, DOD will face difficulties in overseeing the services' efforts to address the depots' challenges.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Department of Defense (DOD) operates industrial installations known as depots to maintain, overhaul, and repair its weapon systems and equipment. Depots are crucial to supporting readiness by repairing critical systems and returning them to the warfighter. GAO found in 2019 that the poor condition of depot facilities and equipment contributed to a decline in depot performance. This adversely affected readiness and incurred hundreds of millions in extra costs.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to assess DOD and service depot improvement plans. This report (1) describes changes to the condition of depot infrastructure since 2017; and evaluates the extent to which (2) the military services address infrastructure challenges, and (3) the DOD depot improvement plan included all required elements. GAO analyzed depot metrics from fiscal years 2016 through 2020 and DOD and service guidance and plans. GAO also interviewed service depot, sustainment, and budget officials.

Reissued with revisions on May 10, 2022

This report was revised on May 10, 2022 to include DOD’s signed cover letter on page 63.


GAO recommends that DOD include the missing elements of its infrastructure strategy in a timely manner. DOD concurred. GAO also recommends that DOD annually report minimum investments needed to prevent further infrastructure deterioration. DOD partially concurred and stated it would provide this information via other, currently required actions. However, these actions do not require reporting amounts needed to prevent further deterioration. GAO stands by its recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense We recommend that the Secretary of Defense ensure that the military services identify in annual budget submissions the minimum level of annual investment needed to prevent further infrastructure deterioration. The minimum investment level should reflect a percentage of the 3-year rolling average of maintenance, repair, and overhaul workload funded at all of the covered depots of the respective military service. (Recommendation 1)
DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. While the Department concurs with the recommendation, DoD believes it is meeting the intent of the recommendation through: developing a business-case analysis and a plan to improve performance required by section 359 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, as well as by meeting its depot investment minimum under Title 10, section 2476. The department believes that having the services calculate the minimum level of investment needed to prevent further infrastructure deterioration would be duplicative. We still believe the recommendation is valid and does not duplicate other DOD efforts. Specifically, our recommendation would have the services calculate whether the minimum statutory investment was enough to stop further infrastructure deterioration, something that is not part of DOD current efforts.
Department of Defense We recommend that the Secretary of Defense ensure that the department completes the depot infrastructure strategy in a timely manner to fully address all required elements. (Recommendation 2)
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In August 2022, the department provided an action plan outlining the steps it would take to address the recommendation. These steps included: developing metrics dashboards, reviewing the service human capital plans, developing a framework for the business-case analysis, and using that framework to begin cost-benefit analysis. The department believes that it will need to wait until the individual service plans are complete before it can complete the OSD strategy. They estimate that this will be complete by the end of calendar year 2024.

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Capital investmentsCompliance oversightDepot maintenanceEquipment maintenanceFacility maintenanceMilitary departmentsMilitary materielMilitary readinessWeapon systemsMilitary forces