DOD Joint Bases:

Management Improvements Needed to Achieve Greater Efficiencies

GAO-13-134: Published: Nov 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has not developed or implemented a plan to guide joint bases in achieving cost savings and efficiencies. The Department of Defense (DOD) originally estimated saving $2.3 billion from joint basing over 20 years, but in the absence of a plan to drive savings, that estimate has fallen by almost 90 percent. OSD also does not yet have a fully developed method for accurately collecting information on costs, savings, and efficiencies achieved specifically from joint basing. GAO previously reported that organizational transformations such as merging components and transforming organizational cultures should be driven by top leadership, have implementation goals and a timeline to show progress, and include a communication strategy. Although the joint bases anecdotally reported achieving some savings and efficiencies, without an implementation plan to drive savings and a means to collect reliable information on the specific costs, estimated savings, and efficiencies from joint basing, DOD will not be able to facilitate achievement of the goals of cost savings and efficiencies, track the extent to which these goals have been achieved, or evaluate the continuation or expansion of joint basing.

The joint bases implemented common standards for installation support services developed by OSD, and in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 reported meeting the standards more than 70 percent of the time. However, three factors limited the usefulness of the reported standards as a common tool for managing installation support services: the lack of clarity in some standards, unclear standards that were not reviewed and changed in a timely manner, and data collection and reporting on the standards that in some cases adhered to individual service standards rather than the common standard. DOD guidance states that the purpose of the joint base common standards framework was to provide a common language to serve as a basis for planning and management across the joint bases, and GAO previously reported that performance measures should be clear and follow standard procedures. Without a consistent interpretation and reported use of the standards, OSD and the joint bases will not have reliable or comparable data with which to assess their service support levels.

OSD and the joint bases have various mechanisms in place to address challenges in achieving joint basing goals, such as a joint management oversight structure and annual OSD-joint base review meetings, but none of these routinely facilitates communication among the joint bases to identify solutions to common challenges. The reported challenges cover a wide range of issues, from different expectations among military services as to how base support services should be provided to incompatible information technology networks. However, the absence of a formal method to routinely share information on common challenges and possible solutions, or guidance on developing and providing training for new personnel on how joint bases provide installation support, means DOD is likely to miss opportunities to develop common solutions to common challenges. Federal internal control standards state that for an entity to control its operations, it must have relevant and timely communications, and information is needed throughout the agency to achieve objectives. In addition, without processes to identify common challenges and share information across the joint bases, DOD may miss opportunities for greater efficiencies and be unable to provide uniform policies across the joint bases.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO has designated DOD support infrastructure as an area of high risk and included one key related category--installation support--as an area for potential savings. In 2005, DOD recommended to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission combining 26 installations into 12 joint bases to generate efficiencies and cost savings and, in 2010, completed this consolidation. GAO assessed the extent to which (1) DOD developed and implemented a plan to achieve cost savings and efficiencies at the joint bases, (2) joint base common standards provide a common framework to manage and plan for installation support services, and (3) DOD has a process to consistently identify and address any implementation challenges. GAO reviewed DOD policies and guidance on joint basing, visited 3 joint bases and obtained answers to written questions from the other 9, interviewed OSD and military service officials, and analyzed performance data on joint base support services.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD take six actions, such as developing a plan to achieve cost savings, prioritizing review and revision of unclear common standards, and developing a strategy to share solutions to common challenges. DOD partially agreed with five recommendations and did not concur with the recommendation to develop a plan to achieve cost savings, because it stated that such goals are not appropriate at this time. GAO continues to believe that the recommendations are valid as discussed further in the report.

For more information, contact Brian J. Lepore at (202) 512-4523 or leporeb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD did not concur with this recommendation. The department stated that its "patient" approach to cost savings is working, and that the senior joint base working group decided against savings targets because of the complexity involved in setting up the bases. As of August 2014, this remained the case, according to an official of the Office of the Secretary of Defence's joint basing office.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to achieve cost savings and efficiencies and to track its progress toward achieving these goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) to develop and implement a plan that provides measurable goals linked to achieving savings and efficiencies at the joint bases and provide guidance to the joint bases that directs them to identify opportunities for cost savings and efficiencies. DOD should at a minimum consider the items identified in its recommendation to the 2005 BRAC Commission as areas for possible savings and efficiencies, including (1) paring unnecessary management personnel, (2) consolidating and optimizing contract requirements, (3) establishing a single space management authority to achieve greater utilization of facilities, and (4) reducing the number of base support vehicles and equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. DOD acknowledged that there were inconsistencies in the current data and that it was working to improve the data's reliability, and that it would then be able to compare current obligations with prior years, and be able to perform a separate analysis to compare joint basing operating costs with the costs of operating the separate bases prior to the creation of the joint bases. DOD provided guidance to the joint bases which resulted in improved quality of the data obtained for fiscal year 2012. Subsequently DOD performed an analysis comparing this improved operating cost data with what it projected would be the costs operating the separate installations if the joint bases had not been created. This analysis showed that the joint bases were saving money relative to the costs of operating the separate installations. Together these actions met the intent of our recommendation, and provide DOD with an improved picture of the cost of operating the joint bases as well as a comparison of the cost of operating the joint bases with the cost of operating the separate installations.

    Recommendation: To enable DOD to achieve cost savings and efficiencies and to track its progress toward achieving these goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) to continue to develop and refine the Cost Performance and Visibility Framework in order to (1) eliminate data reliability problems, (2) facilitate comparisons of joint basing costs with the cost of operating the separate installations prior to implementing joint basing, and (3) identify and isolate the costs and savings resulting from actions and initiatives specifically resulting from joint basing and excluding DOD- or service-wide actions and initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. It stated that the department already has a quarterly process to review its joint base common standards, and that reviewing all the standards simultaneously does not allow for the depth of analysis required to make sound decisions. As of August 2014, DOD had not taken any action on this recommendation. An official from the joint basing office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense stated that DOD believes its current review and update process for the joint base common standards is effective and does not need to be changed.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to provide a common framework for the management and planning of support services at the joint bases, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) to direct the joint bases to compile a list of those common standards in all functional areas needing clarification and the reasons why they need to be clarified, including those standards still being provided or reported on according to service-specific standards rather than the common standard.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with his recommendation. The department stated that it already has a quarterly joint base common standards review process, and that reviewing all the standards simultaneously does not allow for the depth of analysis required to make sound decisions. In addition, it noted that the current process incorporates input from the Joint Base commanders, Intermediate Command Summit, and service headquarters. As of August 2014, DOD had not taken any action on this recommendation. An official from the joint basing office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense stated that DOD believes its current review and update process for the joint base common standards is effective and does not need to be changed.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to provide a common framework for the management and planning of support services at the joint bases, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) to amend the OSD joint standards review process to prioritize review and revision of those standards most in need of clarification within this list.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation, stating that there were already mechanisms in place to facilitate such communication, which we had discussed in our report. Subsequently DOD added an annual meeting beginning in February 2013 for Joint Base commanders to discuss issues the bases are facing, and in August 2013 distributed contact information for all Joint Base commanders and Deputy Joint Base commanders to each of the joint bases. As a result, joint bases will have expanded opportunities to share information on best practices and lessons learned, and to resolve common challenges. In part because the annual Joint Base commander's meeting takes place as part of an annual program review meeting with OSD, together these actions address the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To increase opportunities for the joint bases to obtain greater efficiencies in developing common solutions to common challenges and reduce duplication of efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) to develop a common strategy to expand routine communication between the joint bases, and between the joint bases and OSD, to encourage joint resolution of common challenges and sharing of best practices and lessons learned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. The department stated that it will ensure each of the services is providing training materials to incoming personnel. However, it noted, training of incoming personnel is each Joint Base Commander's responsibility, and the Commander needs the flexbility to tailor the training to the needs of his or her installation. In July 2014, an official of the joint basing office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense stated that DOD was working on guidance for joint bases on training and that this guidance was expected to be completed by the end of calendar year 2014.

    Recommendation: To increase opportunities for the joint bases to obtain greater efficiencies in developing common solutions to common challenges and reduce duplication of efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) to develop guidance to ensure all the joint bases develop and provide training materials to incoming personnel on how installation services are provided on joint bases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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