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Additional Information Is Needed to Better Explain the Proposed 100,000-Acre Expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site

GAO-09-171: Published: Jan 13, 2009. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2009.

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In 2007, the Army announced that the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) had approved its request to expand its Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado, by acquiring up to an additional 418,577 acres. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 required the Army to address 29 provisions related to the expansion in a report to Congress. In July 2008, the Army reported that, although it had revalidated the requirement for at least 418,577 additional acres at the maneuver site, in response to community, cost, and other concerns it now proposed to limit the acquisition of additional training land to 100,000 acres. The act also required GAO to review the Army's report and the justification for the proposed expansion. This report examines the extent to which the Army's report (1) addresses the provisions of the mandate and (2) explains the selection of the 100,000-acre site. GAO compared the mandate requirements with the responses in the Army's report, met with Army officials to discuss the expansion, and visited the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site and Fort Carson.

While the Army's 2008 report on the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site generally addresses the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, the report is lacking certain information that would help clarify six of the Army's responses to the mandate. For example, the Army provided a list of all the training activities that occurred at Pinon Canyon from May 2007 to April 2008, but this information does not indicate how much of the training area was used, nor does it indicate whether any of these exercises were performed simultaneously. Therefore, the report is not clear regarding how much of the maneuver site was used for training in a given month or annually and whether the units could train simultaneously. It is also unclear how this information was used to support the required analysis of the maximum annual training load without the proposed expansion of the site. Without additional information on the mandated provisions, it is difficult for Congress and the public to fully understand six of the Army's responses to the mandated provisions. The Army's report does not fully explain the current selection of the 100,000-acre site. Following are examples of specific issues not addressed in the Army's report: (1) The Army reported that it has reduced the amount of land it intends to purchase from 418,577 to 100,000 acres but did not explain its basis for selecting fewer acres or the specific site. (2) The estimated cost per acre used for internal planning to acquire additional land at the maneuver site has increased since 2007 but the Army's report does not discuss this increase. (3) The Army completed the required analyses when requesting OSD's approval for the up to 418,577-acre expansion, but has not completed an analysis for the current 100,000-acre proposal that would help to understand, among other items, how much of the 100,000 acres would actually be used for training, what type of training can be conducted, and what are the estimated costs to maintain the 100,000 acres. Army officials said that these questions and others would be difficult to address without the analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Although the Army issued the mandated report, Army officials stated that, to date, the Army has voluntarily declined to spend other appropriated funds to begin the National Environmental Policy Act process due to congressional concerns about the potential effects of the proposed expansion. The officials further stated that uncertainty over congressional support for the potential expansion made a delay in expending funds to start the National Environmental Policy Act process appear to be prudent. Without the benefit of the analyses and information on how the Army identified the 100,000 acres currently being proposed for acquisition, especially in light of the growth in the estimated price per acre, it is difficult for Congress and the public to evaluate the full benefits and costs associated with the proposed 100,000-acre expansion.

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 better inform congressional decision makers and facilitate congressional oversight, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to provide Congress with additional information explaining the six responses about whether existing training facilities are sufficient to support the training needs and about alternatives for enhancing economic development opportunities for southeastern Colorado, which were lacking in the Army's 2008 report on the maneuver site.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In comments on a draft of this report, OSD and the Army generally agreed with our recommendation, although they did not indicate what, if any, specific steps they would take to implement it. In its comments, the Army stated that it strongly believes that the best way to provide this information to Congress is through the NEPA process. It also stated that NEPA is a critical part of the decision process and much of the information that we recommended the Army provide Congress will be determined through the NEPA process. Even though the Army had not started the NEPA process by the time of our report, Army's comments provided some of the additional information regarding the six responses that we concluded were lacking. Nonetheless, more detailed information would further clarify these responses. For example, the Army provided a list of workaround scenarios in its comments and provided one detailed example of a workaround, but it still does not explain the difference between minor and major workarounds, the amount of workarounds needed to meet current training requirements, or how these workarounds impact the training load at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. At the same time however, nothing in our recommendation prevents the Army from using the NEPA process to provide the additional information still lacking if the Army determines that this would be the most appropriate approach and would provide the information to Congress in a timely manner. Therefore, we continue to believe that providing more detailed information on the six responses would help Congress and the public to fully understand the Army's report.

    Recommendation: To better inform congressional decision makers and facilitate congressional oversight, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to provide Congress with additional information explaining the reasons the Army selected the current 100,000-acre site for the proposed expansion and the growth in the estimated price per acre, as well as how much of the 100,000 acres would actually be used for training, what benefits would be gained from adding the 100,000 acres to the existing maneuver site, what effect sustainment and maintenance activities would have on training on the 100,000 acres, and what the future costs would be for sustaining and maintaining the 100,000 acres.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In comments on a draft of this report, OSD and the Army partially agreed with our recommendation to provide the rationale for selecting the 100,000 acres for the proposed expansion but did not state what actions they plan to take, if any, to address the recommendation. The Army stated that it believes that it adequately explained in the report why it preferred a smaller land acquisition. Specifically, the Army stated that from the outset it has placed a priority on the acquisition of area A, the 100,000 acres proposed in the initial expansion. While we are aware that the Army preferred the 100,000 acres initially, our recommendation was focused on the usability and sustainability of the 100,000-acre parcel and not why the Army chose to start with the 100,000 acres. We continue to believe that the Congress needs this information to assist in its oversight of the proposed expansion and therefore stand by our recommendation.

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