oversight

Military Housing: Opportunity for Reducing Planned Military Construction Costs for Barracks

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-01-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

              DRAFT
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




          January 7, 2003

          The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
          Secretary of Defense

          Subject: Military Housing: Opportunity for Reducing Planned Military
                   Construction Costs for Barracks

          Dear Mr. Secretary:

          We are reviewing the Department of Defense’s (DOD) management of its
          unaccompanied enlisted permanent party housing, commonly referred to as barracks
          for unmarried servicemembers. We understand that over the next few years the
          services plan to eliminate barracks with gang latrines and provide private sleeping
          rooms (meet DOD’s 1+1 barracks design standard)1 for all permanent party
          servicemembers. The Navy has an additional goal to provide barracks for sailors
          who currently live aboard ships when in homeport. To implement these goals, the
          services plan to spend about $6 billion over the next 7 years to construct new
          barracks. In addition to reviewing the services’ plans and exploring opportunities for
          reducing costs, one of our objectives is to assess the consistency of and the rationale
          behind the services’ barracks occupancy requirements. While we expect to complete
          our review of DOD’s management of military barracks early in 2003, the purpose of
          this interim report is to bring to your attention the widely varying standards among
          the services regarding who should live in barracks, the effect this can have on
          program costs and quality of life, and the apparently out-of-date policy guidance on
          this subject. Timely resolution of these matters could potentially affect future budget
          decisions.

          Results in Brief

                                                    2
          The DOD Housing Management manual, which provides policy guidance about who
          should live in barracks, appears to be out of date and is under revision, and the
          military services have adopted different barracks occupancy requirements. The

          1
            In November 1995, DOD adopted a new barracks construction standard, referred to as the 1+1 design
          standard, for servicemembers permanently assigned to an installation. The standard, which does not
          apply to barracks for members in basic recruit or initial skill training, provides each junior enlisted
          member with a private sleeping room and with a kitchenette and bath shared by one other member.
          The Marine Corps has a permanent waiver from the Secretary of the Navy to use a different barracks
          design standard—one sleeping room and bath shared by two junior Marines.
          2
            U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition and Technology),
          DOD Housing Management, 4165.63-M (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 30, 1993).


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rationale for the services’ requirements, and in particular for the requirement that
more experienced junior servicemembers live in barracks, appears to be a matter of
military judgment and preference with less emphasis on systematic, objective
analyses. The differences among service requirements have significant implications.
Requiring more personnel (more pay grades) to live in barracks than is justified
results in increased barracks program and construction costs and may be
inconsistent with DOD’s policy to maximize reliance on civilian housing to the extent
this policy is applied to barracks. There are also quality-of-life implications because
most junior servicemembers prefer to live off base.

Accordingly, we are recommending that DOD revise its barracks occupancy guidance
based, at least in part, on the results of objective, systematic analyses and seek to
ensure greater consistency in requirements among the military services to the extent
practical.

Services Use Different Standards
to Determine Barracks Requirements

The DOD Housing Management manual requires enlisted servicemembers without
dependents in pay grades E6 and below to live in barracks, but permits the military
services to change this policy and require only members in pay grades E5 and below
to live in barracks. However, significant differences exist among the services
regarding personnel who are required to live in barracks. More specifically

   •     the Army requires unaccompanied personnel in pay grades E1 through E6 to
         live in barracks;

   •     the Navy has required unaccompanied personnel in pay grades E1 through E4
         with fewer than 4 years of service to live in barracks;

   •     the Air Force requires unaccompanied personnel in pay grades E1 through E4
         to live in barracks; and

   •     the Marine Corps requires unaccompanied personnel in pay grades E1 through
         E5 to live in barracks.

Policy responsibility for military barracks rests with the Under Secretary of Defense
for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, while responsibility for quality-of-life
initiatives rests with the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
The two organizations are responsible for initiatives that eliminate inadequate
housing and enhance the quality of life of military personnel. In discussing the DOD
Housing Management manual, DOD officials stated that this manual, which has not
been revised in more than 9 years, is out of date and under revision. The officials also
stated that each service should make the final decision about who should live in
barracks based on mission requirements. Currently, the Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Military Community and Family Policy of the Office of the Under Secretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness is reviewing DOD’s and the services’ policies



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and practices for assigning junior servicemembers to family housing and barracks,
with a focus on quality-of-life concerns.

Service officials state that unaccompanied junior enlisted servicemembers should live
in barracks to help instill service core values, provide for team building and
mentoring, and meet operational requirements. This policy appears reasonable for
servicemembers who are undergoing basic recruit and advanced individual training
and initial duty at their permanent assignment locations. However, the extent to
which this requirement should extend to more experienced junior enlisted members
is less clear and appears to be more a matter of military judgment, command
preference, and tradition rather than the result of systematic, objective analyses.
Without a more objective basis for determining who should be required to live in
barracks, the services could err either in allowing some servicemembers to live off
base who may not yet be ready or unnecessarily hinder the quality of life of more
senior members for whom living off base would not present a problem.

Over the years, the services have periodically changed the requirement and allowed
increasingly larger numbers of unaccompanied members to live off base in local
communities. For example, until 1996 the Air Force required unaccompanied E5
personnel to live in barracks. Also, in order to more quickly achieve its barracks
improvement goals and reduce planned construction costs, the Navy recently
changed its policy so that, in the future, barracks will be constructed only for E1
through E3 servicemembers. Further, in all the services, single junior enlisted
servicemembers are required to live in barracks, but married members are not.

Requirement Differences Have Significant
Cost and Quality-of-Life Implications

The differences among the services in their requirements for unaccompanied
servicemembers to live in barracks have significant cost and quality-of-life
implications. Requiring more personnel (more pay grades) to live in barracks
obviously results in increased barracks requirements. And, with the services
planning extensive barracks improvement programs and with barracks construction
costing as much as $80,000 to $100,000 per sleeping space, increased requirements
translate into higher barracks program costs.

The current Air Force situation illustrates the point. In June 1998, the Air Force
adopted a barracks assignment policy that called for private rooms for
unaccompanied permanent party personnel. To implement the policy, the Air Force
began assigning only one servicemember to rooms that had been designed for two.
This approach created a significant shortage of available barracks spaces. To
compensate for the shortage until new barracks could be constructed, the Air Force
permitted many servicemembers normally assigned to barracks to live off base with a
housing allowance. In the United States, as of September 30, 2001, about 13,200
(75 percent) of the Air Force’s unaccompanied permanent party E4 personnel and
7,600 (27 percent) of its E3 personnel were living off base with a housing allowance.
Although many junior enlisted servicemembers have lived off base since 1998, we
have not identified any systematic Air Force analyses that would suggest any adverse


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effect on the indoctrination or job performance of these servicemembers.3 Still,
because its policy calls for all E1 through E4 servicemembers to live in barracks, the
Air Force plans to spend over $420 million during the next several years to construct
new barracks in order to bring all E1 through E4 members back on base.

Where appropriate, allowing more experienced junior servicemembers to live off
base with a housing allowance could reduce barracks requirements and future
construction, operations, and maintenance costs. Also, relying more on community
housing appears to be consistent with existing DOD family housing policy that
advocates maximum use of civilian housing before constructing and operating
military-owned housing. Further, as appropriate, a move to civilian housing could
also be viewed as an enhancement to quality of life. As far back as 1992, personnel
surveys have shown that as many as 84 percent of unmarried junior servicemembers
prefer to receive a housing allowance and live off base.

Although reducing requirements for unaccompanied servicemembers to live in
barracks could significantly decrease planned barracks construction costs over the
next several years, this change would result in increased annual housing allowance
costs. Our tentative analyses of five 1+1 design barracks projects in DOD’s military
construction budget request for fiscal year 2003, however, indicate that even over the
long term—that is, a period of 30 years—paying allowances to servicemembers could
be slightly less costly than constructing, operating, and maintaining on-base barracks,
while reducing pressure on scarce military construction funds.

Recommendations for Executive Action

While the department updates its DOD Housing Management manual, we
recommend that the Secretary of Defense direct the Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Under Secretary of Defense for
Personnel and Readiness to work together to revise the department’s guidance
regarding permanent party enlisted servicemembers who are required to live in
barracks. In doing so, we recommend that the rationale behind the department’s
barracks policy revision and the services’ barracks occupancy requirements be based,
at least in part, on the results of objective, systematic analyses that consider the
contemporary needs of junior servicemembers, quality-of-life issues, the services’
mission requirements, and other relevant data that would help provide a basis for the
services’ barracks occupancy requirements. Although we recognize that military
judgment may play an important role in setting barracks requirements, we believe
that the soundness of those judgments could be validated and unnecessary
requirements mitigated if those judgments were undergirded by objective qualitative
and quantitative data where available.

Whether a “one size fits all” policy would be practical is not clear at this point, but
greater consistency among the services appears warranted. Accordingly, we also
recommend that the Secretary of Defense seek to ensure greater consistency among


3
 We also have seen no systematic analyses from the other services that show any adverse impact from
unaccompanied enlisted members living off base with a housing allowance.


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the services in implementing this guidance and ensuring that the basis for significant
variances includes consideration of objective data and analysis.

As you know, 31 U.S.C. 720 requires the head of a federal agency to submit a written
statement of the actions taken on our recommendations to the Senate Committee on
Government Affairs and the House Committee on Government Reform not later than
60 days after the date of this report. A written statement must also be sent to the
House and Senate Committees on Appropriations with the agency’s first request for
appropriations made more than 60 days after the date of this report.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation

The Principal Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and
Environment) provided written comments on a draft of this report, which are
reprinted in enclosure I. In commenting on the draft, DOD agreed with our
recommendation to revise the department’s guidance regarding permanent party
enlisted service members who are required to live in barracks. DOD indicated that
actions were underway to study the department’s policy for assigning government
quarters to single and junior enlisted service members and to update the
department’s barracks and family housing management guidance.

Additionally, DOD agreed, in principle, to base the department’s barracks policy
revision and the services’ barracks occupancy requirements—at least in part—on the
results of systematic analyses, but left unclear the extent to which it is likely to do so.
The department noted that while a systematic analysis would help support policy
development, the relative importance of the factors used are equally important, and
not all factors can be defined in an objective manner. The department reiterated the
importance of military judgment in such decisions considering the impact of such
factors as training, readiness, and discipline; and it cited the importance of
considering service-unique requirements that could lead to differences among the
services in how they handle this issue. While we recognize the importance of each of
these factors, we continue to believe that, given the variations noted in our report, the
services requirements determinations should be supported with more objective
analyses to the extent practical.

The department provided additional technical comments which expressed concern
that the presentation of our tentative analysis finding that paying housing allowances
to service members could be slightly less costly than constructing, operating, and
maintaining on-base barracks was incomplete in its treatment of costs. Specifically,
it cited the exclusion of partial basic housing allowances to barracks residents and
the payment of subsistence allowances, as well as other assumptions made in our
analysis, such as year of occupancy. We will take these comments under
consideration as we continue our analysis of this issue along with the broader body
of work we have underway examining barracks housing issues. However, it should
be noted that our preliminary analysis assumed that design, construction, and
occupancy would occur in the first year of the projects, based on DOD’s typical life-
cycle cost analyses used in the family housing area. Also, available data indicate that
inclusion of partial housing allowances and differences in subsistence costs provided
to on-base and off-base personnel would not necessarily materially affect the results

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of our analysis. We agree that housing cost issues for single servicemembers are
worthy of additional analyses particularly because the military services, on their own,
are exploring the potential for barracks privatization.

Scope and Methodology

We performed our work at the Office of the Secretary of Defense and at the Air
Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps headquarters offices responsible for
unaccompanied housing and quality-of-life initiatives. At each location, we
interviewed responsible officials and reviewed applicable policies, procedures, and
documents. We also reviewed the services’ barracks improvement plans, goals, and
milestones. Further, we visited three military installations in Virginia—Fort Eustis,
Langley Air Force Base, and the Norfolk Naval Station—to view barracks conditions
and discuss barracks issues. Our review focused on housing for unaccompanied
enlisted servicemembers at their permanent duty locations in the United States. We
did not include recruit, training, or transient barracks in our review.

To assess the consistency of and the rationale behind the services’ barracks
occupancy requirements, we reviewed and compared the services’ barracks policies
and interviewed DOD and service officials to discuss the rationale supporting the
policies. We also (1) obtained and analyzed data to estimate possible barracks
construction cost savings if fewer servicemembers were required to live in barracks,
(2) compared the estimated life-cycle costs of five Army, Air Force, and Navy
construction projects for 1+1 design barracks in DOD’s military construction budget
request for fiscal year 2003 with the life-cycle costs of allowing servicemembers to
live off base with a housing allowance, (3) examined the number of single junior
enlisted servicemembers living off base in the Air Force, and (4) reviewed quality-of-
life survey data showing where unmarried members prefer to live. Our review was
conducted from May through October 2002 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

                                         -----

We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional committees,
and it will be available at no charge on GAO’s Web site at http://www.gao.gov. We are
continuing with our review of the management of military barracks and plan to report
the results early in 2003. If you or your staff have any questions on the matters
discussed in this letter, please contact me at (202) 512-8412, or my Assistant Director,
Mark Little, at (202) 512-4673. Gary Phillips, Jim Ellis, Sharon Reid, and R.K. Wild
were major contributors to this report.

Sincerely yours,




Barry W. Holman, Director
Defense Capabilities and Management


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Enclosure I                                                 Enclosure I

              Comments from the Department of Defense




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Enclosure I                 Enclosure I




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Enclosure I                 Enclosure I




(350294)


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