Pentagon Still Lacks Accurate Property Inventory, Says Watchdog

By Ivan Cholakov / Shutterstock.com

Defense facility planners have made progress on behalf of the armed services toward accurate projections of needed infrastructure.

But a reliance on old, inconsistent methodology confined to generalities continues to prevent the Defense Department from providing Congress with inventory data specific enough for a practical analysis of where cost-saving cuts may be made, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

The mandatory report analyzes the Pentagon’s own infrastructure and force structure plan delivered last October for consideration in the ongoing debate over whether Congress should accept the Pentagon’s recommendation for another round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission first launched in 1990.

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Defense successfully addressed four of the five elements required under the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization act in that it included a force-structure plan, a categorical inventory of worldwide military installations, a discussion of categories of excess infrastructure and an assessment of the value of retaining certain excess installations, GAO said.

But department officials' stab at describing the infrastructure capacity required to support the force structure was incomplete, auditors found. “Specifically, DoD's report did not provide a complete picture of the infrastructure needed," the report said. "For example, infrastructure at Air Force large aircraft installations was described by square yards of apron space, but did not include other infrastructure needs such as aircraft hangars and maintenance facilities.”

In another example addressing Army maneuver installations, “the needed infrastructure was described in terms of maneuver acres needed, but did not describe other infrastructure necessary to support assigned units. Consequently, the description of infrastructure needed does not provide DoD and Congress with a complete picture of the infrastructure needed to support the force structure at these major installations.”

Chief reasons for the inaccuracy of Defense's estimate of needed infrastructure lie in department officials' reliance on a 1989 baseline that “does not reflect updates in DoD facility standards and requirements or requirements associated with new weapon systems,” GAO noted, citing a built-in tendency to conclude that no excess capacity exists. “DoD's analysis identifies no excess capacity in nearly half (14 of 32) mission categories. However, most installations support more than one mission and have more infrastructure present than the installation category metric measures.”

Citing a lack of consistency and detail, GAO concluded that “neither DoD nor Congress will have the necessary information to make decisions concerning the management of excess infrastructure capacity across the department.” Defense’s issues with infrastructure management are a key reason managing federal real property remains on GAO’s high-risk list, the report noted.

GAO recommended that Pentagon facilities planners update the baseline; use reasonable assumptions; and develop guidance to improve methods for estimating excess capacity.

Department managers generally agreed, but noted that they must rely on general categories rather than detail for fear of tipping off a debate over another BRAC. “We agree the methodology has limitations,” wrote Assistant Defense Secretary Lucian Niemeyer, repeating past Defense reactions. However, he said, these limitations “are a necessary element of a pre-Base Realignment and Closure analysis that is parametric in nature so as to avoid identifying specific installations as being at risk for closure. Such identification would negatively affect local communities and potentially prejudice a detailed BRAC analysis.”

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