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DoD’s Underfunded Maintenance Backlog Exceeds $116 Billion, Official Says

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The requested $10.5 billion in military construction and family housing programs in the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request makes significant progress to recapitalize facilities, but it will not reverse the impacts of six years of sequestration, the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment said today.

“We currently have an underfunded maintenance backlog exceeding $116 billion; 23 percent of the department's facilities are in poor condition, [and] another 9 percent are in failing condition,” Lucian Niemeyer told the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness.

“My frank assessment [is that] it may be too costly to buy ourselves out of this backlog,” he said. “We must work to remove unneeded capacity to fund higher priorities. As noted in the National Defense Strategy, we continue to reduce excess infrastructure and will work with Congress for options for base realignment and closures. These efforts will be enhanced by a careful evaluation we are undertaking of how and when we base new forces and new capabilities.”

Priorities Outlined

Niemeyer said DoD budget priorities establish a foundation to rebuild the agility, resilience, readiness and lethality of the armed forces. The following objectives were developed, he told the panel, to confront the challenges that exist after years of underfunded facility and infrastructure accounts:

-- Using every program and funding source available to cut out waste in DoD infrastructure;

-- Continuing to advocate for adequate funding for installations accounts;

-- Protecting installations in ranges from incompatible development and improving combat credibility of the nation’s test and training ranges;

-- Enhancing energy security;

-- Exploring new opportunities for third-party partnerships;

-- Working with military engineering contracting communities to develop smarter contracts and executing contracts smartly;

-- Continuing to provide for the welfare of DoD people and resources through unparalleled environmental stewardship and occupational safety programs; and

-- Continuing to collaborate with the hundreds of defense communities around the country that support military bases and provide for troops and their families.

“These guiding principles will allow us to apply the resources requested in this budget to achieve real results,” Niemeyer said.

Reviewing Facilities Use

Rather than another request this year to authorize a new round of base realignments and closures, Niemeyer said, the Defense Department is reviewing the use of its facilities.

“For instance, we must ensure the facilities that were sized for 100 personnel actually have 100 personnel in them. We also have proposed increased efforts to demolish facilities we don't need,” Niemeyer said. The department also is reducing leases and moving functions into DoD facilities, he said.

DoD is proactively improving military construction project delivery and contract manager processes to deliver power projection projects on schedule and within budget, he told the subcommittee. And given the risks documented recently by the Department of Homeland Security, he added, DoD’s energy programs are focused on energy security for critical facilities.

“Our warfighters also need access to unencumbered land, water and air space to hone their readiness and lethality without compromising health and safety,” he said. “We are heavily engaged with other federal agencies to provide larger and more realistic air and sea ranges with less maneuver restrictions to better simulate battlefields and threats around the world. Our commitment is to provide combat credible test and training ranges.

“We have both challenges and opportunities in support of our new national defense strategy,” Niemeyer said. “We have a determined sense of urgency to achieve results now, knowing that each achievement deters aggression by our adversaries.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter at @MoonCronkDoD)

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