Defense Management:

Opportunities to Reduce Corrosion Costs and Increase Readiness

GAO-03-753: Published: Jul 7, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 2003.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) maintains equipment and infrastructure worth billions of dollars in many environments where corrosion is causing military assets to deteriorate, shortening their useful life. The resulting increase in required repairs and replacements drives up costs and takes critical systems out of action, reducing mission readiness. GAO was asked to review military activities related to corrosion control. Specifically, this report examines the extent of the impact of corrosion on DOD and the military services and the extent of the effectiveness of DOD's and the services' approach to preventing and mitigating corrosion.

Although the full impact of corrosion cannot be quantified due to the limited amount of reliable data captured by DOD and the military services, current cost estimates, readiness, and safety data indicate that corrosion has a substantial impact on military equipment and infrastructure. In 2001, a government-sponsored study estimated the costs of corrosion for military systems and infrastructure at about $20 billion annually and found corrosion to be one of the largest components of life-cycle costs for weapon systems. Corrosion also reduces readiness because the need to repair or replace corrosion damage increases the downtime of critical military assets. For example, a recent study concluded that corrective maintenance of corrosion-related faults has degraded the readiness of all of the Army's approximately 2,450 force modernization helicopters. Finally, a number of serious safety concerns have also been associated with corrosion, including Navy F-14 and F-18 landing gear failures during carrier operations and crashes of several Air Force F-16 aircraft due to the corrosion of electrical contacts that control fuel valves. DOD and the military services do not have an effective approach to prevent and mitigate corrosion. They have had some successes in addressing corrosion problems on individual programs, but several weaknesses are preventing DOD and the military services from achieving much greater benefits, including potentially billions of dollars in additional net savings annually. Each service has multiple corrosion offices, and their different policies, procedures, and funding channels limit coordination. Also, the goals and incentives that guide these offices sometimes conflict with those of the operational commands that they rely on to fund project implementation. As a result, proposed projects are often assigned a lower priority compared to efforts offering more immediate results. Together, these problems reduce the effectiveness of DOD corrosion prevention. While DOD is in the process of establishing a central corrosion control activity and strategy, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will effectively address these weaknesses.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To craft an effective strategy, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the department's strategic plan for corrosion prevention and mitigation include developing standardized methodologies for collecting and analyzing corrosion cost, readiness, and safety data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In DOD's Corrosion Prevention and Mitigation Strategic Plan dated November 2004, DOD noted that the working integrated product team for Specifications, Standards and Qualification Process established an objective to develop standardized methodologies for collecting and analyzing corrosion cost, readiness, and safety data. In 2005, the DOD corrosion office issued a report that described the proposed method and structure for developing the cost of corrosion throughout DOD. DOD officials also said that this method will also be used to develop standardized methodologies for readiness and safety issues related to corrosion.

    Recommendation: To craft an effective strategy, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the department's strategic plan for corrosion prevention and mitigation include developing clearly defined goals, outcome-oriented objectives, and performance measures that show progress toward achieving objectives (these measures should include such elements as the expected return on investment and realized net savings of prevention projects).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In DOD's Corrosion Prevention and Mitigation Strategic Plan dated November 2004, DOD stated that the working integrated product team for Metrics, Impact and Sustainment established as one of its objectives initiating studies and surveys to determine the impact of corrosion, pinpoint critical areas for concentration of prevention and mitigation efforts and to develop metrics to measure the effect of corrosion and results of prevention and mitigation efforts. In its 2005 update to the DOD corrosion strategic plan, DOD included a revised list of metrics for cost, readiness and safety and the associated outcomes that would result from the implementation of these metrics. In addition, the strategic plan included details of corrosion projects funded in 2005 and 2006 and the expected results of completing the projects in terms of achieving cost savings, increasing readiness, and enhancing safety.

    Recommendation: To craft an effective strategy, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the department's strategic plan for corrosion prevention and mitigation include identifying the level of resources needed to accomplish goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In its April 2007 update to Congress regarding its corrosion prevention and mitigation efforts to implement its strategic plan, DOD identified four objectives to the plan requiring 2005 funding: technology implementation, policy implementation, training and certification, and specifications and standards refinement. Total funding required to complete these efforts ($27 million) was identified, requested, appropriated and used for these purposes. The 2007 update also identifies total long-term funding required for fiscal years 2006-2011 (about $14 million each year). Most of the funding is planned for corrosion projects that have a potential return on investment of at least 10-1 (some already reported as having a high actual return on investment and some having an ROI exceeding 10-1).

    Recommendation: To craft an effective strategy, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the department's strategic plan for corrosion prevention and mitigation include establishing mechanisms to coordinate and oversee prevention and mitigation projects in an interservice and servicewide context.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In its May 2005 status update to its corrosion prevention and mitigation efforts to implement its strategy, DOD noted establishing a working integrated product team for Specifications, Standards and Qualification Process that has objectives to develop a listing of DOD-wide corrosion standards and specifications and to establish a standardized process qualification process for new corrosion-related products and services. This working group developed a composite listing of DOD-wide corrosion-related specifications and standards. In addition, the working group has included in DOD's corrosion exchange website this composite DOD-wide listing and a web-based assisted approach guiding DOD personnel and contractors through the process of getting potential products through the product qualification process.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurances that the department's strategic plan will be successfully implemented, the secretaries of each of the services should develop servicewide strategic plans that are consistent with the goals, objectives, and measures in the departmentwide plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report. ?The DOD corrosion office in 2006 completed a draft DOD Instruction that establishes policy and details the roles and responsibilities for all DOD components and all military services in respect to implementing the goals and objectives of the DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation strategic plan. Provisions of the Directive include for each military service to designate a service-wide focal point, consider and implement corrosion prevention and mitigation planning throughout the life-cycle of equipment and facilities, and establish and maintain a corrosion prevention and mitigation reporting system. In the April 2007 update to Congress regarding DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation efforts to implement the strategic plan, the Navy is noted as having representation on all working integrated product teams for DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation and participating in the funding and implementation of annual corrosion prevention and mitigation projects.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurances that the department's strategic plan will be successfully implemented, the secretaries of each of the services should develop servicewide strategic plans that are consistent with the goals, objectives, and measures in the departmentwide plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report. The DOD corrosion office in 2006 completed a draft DOD Instruction that establishes policy and details the roles and responsibilities for all DOD components and all military services in respect to implementing the goals and objectives of the DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation strategic plan. Provisions of the Directive include for each military service to designate a service-wide focal point, consider and implement corrosion prevention and mitigation planning throughout the life-cycle of equipment and facilities, and establish and maintain a corrosion prevention and mitigation reporting system. In the April 2007 update to Congress regarding DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation efforts to implement the strategic plan, the Air Force is noted as having representation on all working integrated product teams for DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation participating in the funding and implementation of annual corrosion prevention and mitigation projects.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurances that the department's strategic plan will be successfully implemented, the secretaries of each of the services should develop servicewide strategic plans that are consistent with the goals, objectives, and measures in the departmentwide plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." The DOD corrosion office in 2006 completed a draft DOD Instruction that establishes policy and details the roles and responsibilities for all DOD components and all military services in respect to implementing the goals and objectives of the DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation strategic plan. Provisions of the Directive include for each military service to designate a service-wide focal point, consider and implement corrosion prevention and mitigation planning throughout the life-cycle of equipment and facilities, and establish and maintain a corrosion prevention and mitigation reporting system. In the April 2007 update to Congress regarding DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation efforts to implement the strategic plan, the Air Force is noted as having representation on all working integrated product teams for DOD's corrosion prevention and mitigation participating in the funding and implementation of annual corrosion prevention and mitigation projects.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurances that the department's strategic plan will be successfully implemented, the secretaries of each of the services should establish procedures and milestones to hold major commands and program offices that manage specific weapon systems and facilities accountable for achieving the strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In February 2007, DOD issued a draft update to its Corrosion Prevention and Mitigation Strategic Plan. The plan establishes and provides specific details for the procedures and milestones for the secretaries of each of the services (including the Air Force) in respect to managing corrosion prevention and mitigation of their respective weapons systems and facilities.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurances that the department's strategic plan will be successfully implemented, the secretaries of each of the services should establish procedures and milestones to hold major commands and program offices that manage specific weapon systems and facilities accountable for achieving the strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In February 2007, DOD issued a draft update to its Corrosion Prevention and Mitigation Strategic Plan. The plan establishes and provides specific details for the procedures and milestones for the secretaries of each of the services (including the Army) in respect to managing corrosion prevention and mitigation of their respective weapons systems and facilities.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurances that the department's strategic plan will be successfully implemented, the secretaries of each of the services should establish procedures and milestones to hold major commands and program offices that manage specific weapon systems and facilities accountable for achieving the strategic goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with all recommendations for Executive Action in the report. DOD stated it "is committed to meeting the requirements of Congress and, to the extent compatible with its core mission, the positive recommendations of the GAO report." In February 2007, DOD issued a draft update to its Corrosion Prevention and Mitigation Strategic Plan. The plan establishes and provides specific details for the procedures and milestones for the secretaries of each of the services (including the Navy) in respect to managing corrosion prevention and mitigation of their respective weapons systems and facilities.

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