Improvement Continues in DOD's Reporting on Sustainable Ranges but Additional Time Is Needed to Fully Implement Key Initiatives

GAO-06-725R: Published: Jun 20, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 2006.

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Title III, section 366 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, required the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan for the sustainment of training ranges using existing authorities available to the Secretaries of Defense and the military departments to address training constraints caused by limitations on the use of military lands, marine areas, and airspace available both in the United States and overseas. Section 366 also required the Secretary to submit to Congress a report containing the comprehensive training range sustainment plan, the results of an assessment and evaluation of current and future training range requirements, and any recommendations that the Secretary may have for legislative or regulatory changes to address training constraints. It also directed the Secretary of Defense to develop and maintain an inventory of training ranges for each of the armed forces, which identifies all training capacities, capabilities, and constraints at each training range. The Department of Defense (DOD) was to submit both the report and the training range inventory to Congress at the same time the President submitted the budget for fiscal year 2004 and to provide status reports annually for fiscal years 2005 through 2008. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) submitted its first report--Implementation of the Department of Defense Training Range Comprehensive Plan--and its training range inventory to Congress on February 27, 2004, and its second annual report and inventory to Congress on July 14, 2005. OSD presented its current annual sustainable ranges report and inventory to Congress on February 17, 2006. Section 366 also required GAO to provide Congress with an evaluation of OSD's annual reports. In our prior reports, we found that OSD's training range reports and inventories provided to Congress did not fully address several reporting requirements. For example, both previous OSD reports did not meet requirements because they did not include an assessment of current and future training range requirements; an evaluation of the adequacy of current resources, including virtual and constructive assets, to meet current and future training range requirements; or recommendations for legislative or regulatory changes to address training constraints--although specifically required to do so by section 366. Nevertheless, as we pointed out in our prior report, there was a noteworthy change from 2004 to 2005 reporting--OSD's 2005 report included some elements of a plan, such as general goals, actions, and milestones, needed to address the long-term sustainability of ranges, but did not identify funding requirements for implementing planned actions, although specified by section 366, and did not assign responsibility for implementation of specific tasks or provide performance metrics to measure progress--critical elements for a meaningful plan. We also found that the inventories in both reports did not fully identify specific capacities, capabilities, and training constraints for all ranges as required by section 366. This letter, our third report, summarizes our observations on the extent to which OSD's 2006 sustainable ranges report and range inventory address the requirements specified by section 366, and the department's key initiatives to sustain its training ranges.

While still not fully addressing all elements of the congressionally mandated reporting requirements, such as providing an assessment of training range requirements and recommendations for legislative or regulatory changes, OSD has continued to improve its annual sustainable range reporting by better describing the encroachment challenges and their effects on training, identifying tools for range management, and focusing on key initiatives needed to address encroachment. This year's report provides a more complete picture of the impacts of encroachment on the operations of military installations and training ranges and of the challenges OSD and the services face in addressing the sustainability of their ranges than is available in other reports and documents. It also discusses in greater detail the department's efforts to promote compatible land use around military installations and ranges by partnering with local governments and other organizations to protect these areas from development that could potentially impact military operations and training activities. For example, each of the services has acquired restrictive easements governing development or entered into cooperative agreements with state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals to establish buffer zones around or near military installations to maintain and improve natural resources and protect against development that could affect their ability to operate and train. In addition, this year's report provides more information than prior years' reports about the multiple initiatives underway by the individual military services to sustain ranges, which over time could become key components of a long-term strategic plan that has broader applicability than these initial efforts. OSD reports that its ultimate goal is to integrate the various objectives and associated requirements of the services into one comprehensive planning process that can be maintained well into the future. Although specifically required by section 366, OSD's 2006 inventory does not identify specific capacities, capabilities, and constraints of all the ranges. OSD officials said that it is impractical to include such a large volume of data needed to identify capacities, capabilities, and constraints where they are known as, in most instances, these data only exist at individual ranges, and the department would have to expend significant time and resources to retrieve and centralize the information. Elsewhere in the 2006 report, OSD describes the department's efforts to develop a more integrated range information enterprise for range management and sustainment, and a more integrated and standardized range scheduling system. Each military service also has developed range inventories and is in the process of developing specific information on the capacities, capabilities, and constraints of its ranges.

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