Nearly 30% of some 550,000 Department of Defense structures are past their useful life, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. At the same time, the DOD has a “deferred maintenance backlog” of $137 billion.
The report comes amid a legal challenge to an emergency order suspending Navy use of the Red Hill, Hawaii fuel facility, which the state of Hawaii says is in poor condition. state and a “ticking time bomb”. About 14,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked into a Navy well in November 2021, contaminating the base’s drinking water while driving about 3,500 military families from their homes.
Released Jan. 31, GAO compiled the report at the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Preparedness and Management Support, which requested review of DOD’s maintenance cost estimates , whether it receives sufficient funding to perform adequate maintenance, and whether it has an established process for handling pending maintenance.
The report says DOD’s maintenance estimates, while consistent with processes found at other agencies, do not account for the sustaining costs associated with aging buildings.
It is estimated that some 159,000 DOD-maintained facilities around the world are past their useful life. As a result, the DOD routinely requests and receives less funding than necessary to maintain these older structures.
To further complicate matters, the DOD failed to implement the sustainment management system.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the sustainment management system in 2013 to replace and standardize several DoD methods, with a target completion date of 2019. The DOD now says it won’t be fully operational until “at least” 2025, which makes it difficult for the department to estimate, prioritize and implement maintenance.
Impact on troop welfare
A facility detailed in the GAO report is Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Base officials told investigators that more than half of the facilities on the base date back to World War II and are well past their useful life.
These antiquated buildings impact the well-being of Marines on base, as the report states that “maintenance is most often delayed for lower-priority facilities such as living quarters and child care facilities.” This is because it is redirected to facilities that directly support “the mission”.
In addition, the average age of a “Naval wharf” is 73 years, some 23 years beyond its expected lifespan.
Overall, report says 29% of Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps buildings were built more than 60 years ago and are past their useful life of life.
The GAO report comes amid controversy surrounding a recent fuel leak from the Red Hill storage facility near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The November 2021 leak is just one of many since construction of the facility began in 1940, according to The Washington Post.
In January 2014, some 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked from Red Hill tanks, followed by a 1,600 gallon leak in May 2021.
Hawaii Deputy Attorney General David Day wrote in court that the Red Hill facility was responsible for at least 76 leaks containing 200,000 gallons of fuel. The problem, according to Day, is the fuel tanks, which “have a serious corrosion problem that the Navy won’t be able to fix over time.”
The Navy said it does not believe a leak caused the November contamination. Instead, it was the result of a jet fuel spill on November 20, 2021, which occurred inside an access tunnel at the storage facility.
Currently, the DOD is appealing an emergency order from the State of Hawaii to drain the tanks at Red Hill and leave them empty, according to Navy Times, until the Navy can demonstrate that the facility can be used safely.
The DOD is suspending use of Red Hill until an investigation into the cause of the leak is complete.
The DOD had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Navy infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he worked as a legislative aide in the US Senate and as an onboard photographer in Afghanistan.