Military maintenance backlog leads to unused funds
April 26, 2023

GAO report highlights urgent need for DoD to address backlog of deferred maintenance projects

As the U.S. military struggles with a backlog of deferred maintenance projects, funds that have been allocated for these projects are going unused, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The U.S. military has been struggling to keep up with maintenance and repair projects across its facilities, with billions of dollars in funding going unused. The backlog of deferred maintenance projects has become so significant that it is starting to impact the readiness and morale of service members.

The report found that the Department of Defense (DoD) has a deferred maintenance backlog of about $137 billion, which is only growing larger each year. This backlog includes necessary repairs and upgrades to facilities such as barracks, childcare centers, and other buildings that directly impact the quality of life for service members and their families.

Despite the urgent need for these repairs and upgrades, the GAO found that a significant portion of the funds allocated for them have gone unused.

The report also found that the DoD’s method of calculating funding for maintenance and repair is not aligned with the way that buildings deteriorate over time. As a result, facilities often fall into a state of disrepair before adequate funding is allocated to address the issue.

Service members have consistently reported that the condition of their housing, whether government-owned or privatized, impacts their perception of the military and, in some cases, their decision on whether to reenlist. The lack of investment in infrastructure and environmental challenges faced by the DoD requires urgent attention, according to the GAO.

In response to these findings, the DoD has begun transitioning to a new approach to facilities sustainment, restoration, and modernization. The new system focuses on recapitalization over time and aims to prevent the degradation of facilities before it begins.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment Brendan Owens stated that the current method of calculating funding is “not aligned with the way that buildings fail” and that allowing degradation to begin can result in significant capitalization requirements.

The DoD is relying on its restoration and modernization program funding to reduce the maintenance and repair backlog, with the fiscal 2024 budget request including $6.2 billion in operations and maintenance funding for restoration and modernization. However, there are concerns that bureaucratic delays and other issues may prevent the timely deployment of these funds.

The budget request also includes $13.8 billion in sustainment funding for the military services and DoD-wide organizations, a $1.2 billion increase over the FY 2023 request.

The Army is planning to invest over $11 billion in repairing and building new barracks over the next decade, while the Navy is developing a 30-year infrastructure plan for sustainment. The Air Force is preparing to refresh its installation investment strategy and targeting $1.7 billion for dormitory sustainment, restoration, and modernization from fiscal 2022 to 2026.

Despite these efforts, some lawmakers and military officials say that more needs to be done to address the backlog of deferred maintenance projects. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii has called on the military to create comprehensive facilities plan and maintenance plan that is backed by adequate resources to make it achievable.

The GAO report highlights the urgent need for the DoD to address the backlog of deferred maintenance projects and ensure that funds allocated for these projects are used effectively. As the report notes, the condition of military facilities directly impacts the quality of life for service members and their families, and failure to address these issues could have serious consequences for the military’s readiness and effectiveness.

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