The Department of Defense manages infrastructure to support military operations the world over. It maintains a global real property portfolio of over half a million facilities, with a replacement value of nearly $1 trillion. Maintaining its facilities to withstand everything from regular wear and tear to the projected impacts of climate change is critical for military operations and servicemembers’ quality of life.
Infrastructure Week is a good time to take note of an aspect of DOD we don’t usually think about—its role as manager of a tremendous inventory of infrastructure. In today’s WatchBlog, we take a look at some of our recent work on DOD’s infrastructure, a GAO high-risk issue.
DOD’s infrastructure upkeep is expensive. Yet in 2016, we found that the military services had failed to request or spend the amount of money DOD set as a budgetary goal for maintaining infrastructure. Servicemembers we spoke with described poor conditions at some facilities, including heating and cooling system problems, leaking roofs and windows, and mold and mildew. Base officials told us that they prioritize repair work for mission-critical infrastructure, such as airfields and hangars.
Most servicemembers have the option to either live in privatized military housing or to live off base in the surrounding local communities. Servicemembers pay their rent—whether living on the installation or off—with their basic allowance for housing payments. Developers operate 99 percent of domestic military housing. They rely on servicemembers’ monthly basic allowance for housing payments, and it is the key source of funding for maintaining housing infrastructure. But DOD began reducing these payments in 2015. In 2018, we reported that DOD has not fully assessed the effects of those reductions on the financial condition of its housing projects.
DOD has recognized the increased importance of taking into account climate change projections in planning for the almost 600 sites it manages overseas. However, we recently reported that some planned construction projects funded by host nations—such as repairing seawalls to protect ammunition depots in the Pacific—do not account for a potential increase in average sea levels. Further, DOD, rather than host nations, pays for these facilities’ sustainment and maintenance—the types of costs often associated with climate change impacts. We recommended that DOD include climate change data and projections in building standards.
For more information on this and DOD’s management of other infrastructure, check out our high-risk list and full reports.