Nearly 30% of the Defense Department’s roughly 550,000 structures have exceeded their lifespan, says a new report from the Government Accountability Office. At the same time, DOD has a $137 billion “deferred maintenance backlog.”
The report comes amid a legal challenge to an emergency order suspending the Navy’s use of the Red Hill, Hawaii, fuel facility, which the state of Hawaii says is in disrepair and a “ticking time bomb.” About 14,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked into a Navy well in November 2021, contaminating drinking water on base while driving roughly 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 Readiness and Management Support, which requested examination of DOD maintenance cost estimates, if it is receiving enough funding to conduct adequate maintenance, and if it has an established process for managing backlogged maintenance.
The report states that DOD maintenance estimates, while consistent with processes found at other agencies, fail to account for sustainment costs associated with aging buildings.
It was estimated that some 159,000 facilities maintained by DOD worldwide have exceeded their lifespan. As a result, DOD consistently requests and is allocated significantly less funding than is necessary to maintain these older structures.
Further complicating matters is the failure for DOD to implement the sustainment management system.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the sustainment management system in 2013 to replace and standardize multiple DoD methods, with a target date for completion of 2019. DOD now states it will not be fully operational until “at least” 2025, making it difficult for the department to estimate, prioritize and implement maintenance.
Impacting the welfare of troops
One facility detailed in the GAO report is Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Officials at the base stated to investigators that more than half of the base facilities date back to World War II and significantly exceed their lifespans.
These antiquated buildings impact the welfare of Marines on the base, as the report states that “maintenance is most often delayed for lower-priority facilities such as living quarters and childcare facilities.” That is because its redirected to facilities that directly support “the mission.”
Additionally, the average age of a “Navy wharf” is 73 years old, some 23 years beyond its expected lifespan.
Overall, the report stated that 29% of buildings across the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps were constructed more than 60 years ago and have exceeded their lifespans.
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 began on the facility in 1940, according to the Washington Post.
In January 2014, some 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked from Red Hill’s tanks, followed by a 1,600-gallon leak in May 2021.
Hawaii Deputy Attorney General David Day wrote in a court finding that Red Hill’s facility is 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 will be unable to address over time.”
The Navy said that it doesn’t believe that a leak caused the November contamination. Instead, it resulted from a jet fuel spill on Nov. 20, 2021, occurring inside an access tunnel within the storage facility.
Currently, 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 the facility can be used safely.
DOD is suspending the use of Red Hill until an investigation into the cause of the leak is complete.
DOD had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.