Defense Department still struggling to improve military facilities

Despite significant budget increases over the past five fiscal years, the Defense Department has been unable to shore up its deteriorating facilities, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

When broken pipes and leaky roofs at the Defense Department's 524,000 barracks, family housing, warehouses and other facilities grew more prevalent during the mid-1990s, Defense officials boosted maintenance and construction spending. From fiscal 1998 to fiscal 2001, the department's facility maintenance budget rose by 26 percent, from $3.8 billion to $4.8 billion, according to GAO, with appropriations for military construction rising from $2.1 billion in fiscal 1998 to $4.1 billion in fiscal 2002.

But that spending still fell short of what was needed to turn the situation around, officials at the department told GAO for its report, "Defense Infrastructure: Changes in Funding Priorities and Strategic Planning Needed to Improve the Condition of Military Facilities" (03-274). Though nearly 70 percent of its facilities are crumbling from age and disrepair, upkeep and construction of military facilities often have to take a back seat to other funding priorities, GAO said.

"Service headquarters and major commands withheld funds for other purposes, such as civilian pay, emergency needs and must-pay bills," GAO said in the report, which documented leaking roofs, rotting piers, moldy child development centers and administrative buildings and deteriorated warehouses at 10 different locations.

Exacerbating the problem are inconsistencies in information about the condition of facilities, GAO found. Though the Defense Department has a system for rating the condition of facilities, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force all have their own methods to compile information on the condition of their facilities, making it hard to get a clear idea of the overall status of Defense facilities.

"There is a lack of consistency in the services' information on facility conditions, making it difficult for DoD and the services to direct funds to facilities where they are most needed and to measure progress in improving facilities," the report said. "Congress may be relying on inconsistent data in its oversight responsibilities."

And while Defense officials have crafted a strategic plan to address facilities management, GAO determined the plan lacked "comprehensive information on the specific actions, time frames, assigned responsibilities and resources that are needed to meet that vision." Also, the services don't have measurable performance goals for meeting the objectives laid out by the Defense Department, the report concluded.

GAO recommended that Defense officials review the department's funding priorities, implement a departmentwide process for assessing the condition of military facilities and revise the current strategic plan by adding specific actions and designating time frames for accomplishing those actions. Defense officials should also develop performance measures for the different services that align with the department's strategic plan.

In a written response, Raymond DuBois, Defense's undersecretary for installations and environment, agreed with GAO's recommendations.

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