Military Housing:

Opportunities That Should Be Explored to Improve Housing and Reduce Costs for Unmarried Junior Servicemembers

GAO-03-602: Published: Jun 10, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2003.

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Each year, the Department of Defense (DOD) spends billions of dollars to house unmarried junior enlisted servicemembers, primarily in military barracks. Over the next several years, the Army, Navy, and Air Force plan to spend about $6 billion to eliminate barracks with multi-person bathroom facilities and provide private sleeping rooms for all permanent party members. Given the cost of the program, GAO looked at (1) the status of efforts to examine the potential for private sector financing, ownership, operation, and maintenance of military barracks; (2) the opportunity to reduce the construction costs of barracks through widespread use of residential construction practices; and (3) whether opportunities exist to make better use of existing barracks.

GAO found three areas where DOD could potentially reduce costs in its unmarried servicemember housing program. DOD and the services have not determined whether "privatization," or private sector financing, ownership, operation, and maintenance of military barracks is feasible and cost-effective. Barracks privatization involves a number of unique challenges ranging from the funding of privatization contracts to the location of privatized barracks. Recently, each service has independently given increased attention to developing privatization proposals. A collaborative, rather than independent, approach could minimize duplication and optimize lessons learned. DOD could reduce the construction costs of government-owned barracks through the widespread use of residential construction practices rather than traditional steel frame, concrete, and cement block. The Army estimated that residential type construction could reduce barracks construction costs by 23 percent or more. However, concerns about barracks durability and unanswered engineering questions have prevented widespread use of these practices. DOD's full use of required existing barracks space could reduce the cost of housing allowances paid to unmarried junior members to live off base in local communities. GAO found that the services have authorized housing allowances for unmarried members to live off base even when existing barracks space was available. This occurred because of lenient barracks utilization guidance, which in some cases does not require full use of existing barracks, and possible noncompliance with guidance. The Air Force could have potentially reduced annual housing allowances by about $20 million in fiscal year 2002 by fully using available barracks space.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In comments on a draft of this report, OSD partially concurred with the recommendation. Also, since our report, each of the services reviewed their barracks occupancy requirements and made changes as deemed appropriate. The Army changed its requirements and now allows E-6s to live off base. The services are also currently programming for new needs and divesting excess infrastructure.

    Recommendation: To capitalize on opportunities for reducing housing costs for unmarried servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to issue guidance directing that the services maximize use of required existing barracks space--defined as utilization that routinely approaches 100 percent--before authorizing unmarried junior members to live off base with a housing allowance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2006, the Protective Design Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a technical policy paper that provides the blast capabilities of wood and steel stud walls typically used in residential construction practices. The analysis indicated that, by adding limited mass to the walls, wood and steel stud walls were acceptable in certain instances. Also, DOD revised its policies to generally allow use of residential construction practices.

    Recommendation: To capitalize on oppurtunities for reducing housing costs for unmarried servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to direct the military services to adopt residential construction practices for future barracks construction projects to the maximum extent practical, providing that the engineering studies show that barracks built with residential construction practices can economically meet all force protection requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2006, the Protective Design Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its technical policy paper on the structural design of type V construction for antiterrorism measures. The paper provides the blast capabilities of wood and steel stud walls typically used in residential construction practices at various standoff distances and levels of protection. The analysis indicated that, by adding limited mass to the walls, wood and steel stud walls were acceptable in certain instances. DOD policies now generally allow use of residential construction practices.

    Recommendation: To capitalize on opportunities for reducing housing costs for unmarried servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to direct the Army Corps of Engineers and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command to jointly undertake an engineering study to resolve questions about use of residential construction practices for barracks and compliance with antiterrorism force protection requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSD noted that, like family housing, there are common issues that affect all services with respect to barracks privatization. OSD has been very receptive and extremely supportive of a number of initiatives to energize barracks privatization efforts amongst the services. Specifically, OSD said that it has been working with the Departments of the Army and Navy in its efforts in this regard, and noted that the Navy plans to build on the lessons learned from its pilot project to encourage barracks privatization in all the military services.

    Recommendation: To capitalize on opportunities for reducing housing costs for unmarried servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to promote a coordinated, focused effort among the military services to determine the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of barracks privatization by addressing the associated challenges and facilitating the development of pilot project proposals. This effort should support the Navy's use of the pilot housing privatization authority provided to the Navy in the Fiscal Year 2003 Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act, with lessons learned applied to the other services' efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In comments on a draft of this report, OSD concurred with GAO's recommendation and added that establishing a common requirements process for barracks consistent with individual service missions is the first step to maximizing use of existing assets, programming for new needs, and divesting of excess infrastructure. Also, since our report, each of the services reviewed their barracks occupancy requirements and made changes as deemed appropriate. The Army changed its requirements and now allows E-6s to live off base. The services are also currently programming for new needs and divesting excess infrastructure.

    Recommendation: To capitalize on opportunities for reducing housing costs for unmarried servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to direct the military services to identify and eliminate excess barracks infrastructure if, by reviewing the rationale behind their barracks occupancy requirements, they determine that more unmarried junior members should be permitted to live off base with a housing allowance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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