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July/August 2002: The Military Engineer


The degraded condition of military installation facilities is common knowledge. Reports by both government and outside entities consistently say the condition of facilities is poor and funding to improve them is inadequate. Furthermore, determining what is meant by "adequate" is complicated by concepts such as readiness, restoration, upgrading, sustainment, maintainability and recapitalization. Up to now, studies have focused primarily on quantifying the need, and little has been done to overcome the backlog. The Office of the Secretary of Defense reported the repair backlog increased from $8.9 to $14.6 billion for fiscal years 1992-1998.

Buildings do not fail, building systems do. A building comprises numerous interrelated systems and components. Facility systems include the structure, roof, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire protection, windows, walls, flooring, pavement, etc. Systems comprise components such as membranes, coatings, sealants, equipment, parts, etc. Each system, component and sub-component has specific and discrete useful life expectancies.

Typically, few, if any, of these systems have a life expectancy greater than 30 years, except for the structure. Over the normal life span of the building structure, these systems require periodic maintenance, repair, or replacement. Unfortunately, these decisions are usually made in a reactive mode, rather than as part of an objective, programmatic, structured process, which considers the value added by the activity, or the penalty cost of deferring it.


Historically, the federal government has funded studies to develop objective programs to determine relative condition of assets, prepare budgets on a service-wide basis, and prioritize funding allocation on a value-rating basis. One such program referred to as 'Operation Snapshot', was funded by the Air Force in the late 1980s.

The program was developed, beta tested and validated. The program subsequently died because the "champions" of the idea rotated out of their positions or retired. Another program commissioned by the Army in the mid-90s, know as 'Fence-to-Fence', was developed, beta tested, and validated, then suffered the same fate. Both of these programs, if implemented, would have contributed greatly to changing the process that has resulted in the current backlog of deteriorated government assets.

Each branch of the Armed Services has developed condition assessment programs and procedures based primarily on the criticality to their specific mission. In some cases, various commands within a Service branch have developed separate programs. Millions of dollars have been spent on 'pet' projects such as base system upgrades, condition assessments and infrastructure studies within each of the Services, commands, and installations, yet the problem of infrastructure decay continues. Many of these programs are designed to quantify backlog, not overcome it.

Facilities, other than those that support or house operations are, by definition, 'not mission critical,' and therefore get secondary consideration in funding allocations. Since there is never enough to go around, what money is spent always goes for primary mission support, leaving the other assets to slip further and further down the deterioration curve, adding to the backlog. Criteria for spending decisions appear to be vague and subjective at best, with limited consideration for functional importance, health and safety, cost to replace or repair, effect of other systems, habitability and quality of life. Under the current funding principals and metrics, workplace facilities will always be the lowest in priority.

A 1999 GAO report to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on military infrastructure indicated that the Service branches use different methods and criteria for assessing property conditions, prioritizing maintenance and repair needs, and allocating resources, resulting in each subdivision of each service 'reinventing the wheel.' Under-funding has, in part, resulted from lack of verifiable and defendable budget requests, in spite of the multitude of different programs and approaches.

Without a common, objective methodology and process, current conditions, maintenance requirements and replacement needs cannot be compared across the combined services, and funding allocations will continue to be distributed without due consideration for best value received for the dollars available.


Long-term commitment is difficult because those charged with the stewardship of allocated funds and overall installation readiness have a very short-term exposure to risk. Specifically, installation command positions turn over every two to three years. Additionally, there are no metrics or requirements of the Command related to the stewardship of the facility assets. Coupled with the pure stewardship impediment, the cost to determine the base-line condition and implement a long-range program comes with a hefty price tag.

Assuming the Department of Defense (DoD) has approximately one billion square feet of facilities, the cost to 'objectively' quantify and record the condition of facility assets is in the range of $.20 to $.40 per square foot, or $200 to $400 million. Ongoing management fees for an inventory of this size would be in the range of 20 percent of the initial cost or $40 to $80 million per year. While the initial and ongoing cost can appear high, the question that cannot be answered today is, what is it costing the DoD and tax payers without a system and methodology?


It is imperative that the Department of Defense adopt the same cost-benefit and return on investment analysis processes that commercial organizations apply when the needs far exceed the funds available.

To improve facility management, the combined services must adopt consistent standards, measures, and processes that will help to maximize the value of the dollars spent on facility asset maintenance, repair, and replacement. These standards, measures, and processes should be part of a strategic plan that is embraced throughout DoD.

The strategy should include:

  • A single source of responsibility and accountability for DoD asset management with clear responsibilities for the stewardship of the assets at the Service, command, and installation level.
  • A common method to benchmark asset conditions and trends for facilities maintenance, repair, and replacement needs.
  • A single, objective methodology for data collection and condition rating of facilities, systems, and components across the DoD.
  • An objective process for selecting projects to be funded, prioritizing projects for planning and budgeting purposes, and tracking the results of the budget allocations.
  • A tool to prioritize projects and budgets on the basis of objective criteria and the relative value added.


The DOD should adopt industry standards, such as those developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for cost-to-benefit analysis for building maintenance and repair (ASTM E 917-99, E 964-98, and E 1121-98), combined with an objective assessment process, the investment in implementing a proactive program would be dwarfed by the 'pay-back.' A few key recommendations:

  • Transfer the responsibility for stewardship to a single, independent entity to allow for long-term leadership, consistency, and accountability so that the goals and objectives can be met.
  • Develop metrics for the stewardship of facility assets so that the leadership, at all levels, understands its roles and responsibilities in the program.
  • Implement a single methodology for assessment and evaluation to include an objective, engineering-based rating system along with data management tools to facilitate the program.
  • Adopt a single, rational approach for budget allocation that considers, not only mission criticality, but health and life safety, functional importance, cost to repair or replace, effect on other assets, habitability, and quality of life.
  • Require that funding requests and plans be supported by 'objective-based' business decisions. In doing so, the DoD can begin to project future funding requirements based on objective data and a well thought out plan to overcome the backlog. At the same time, management can be held accountable to a standard of stewardship focused on long-term benefit.
  • Teach the principals of asset management to those in leadership positions and grade those in command on their care-taking responsibilities during their watch.


By adopting these recommendations, the DoD will have a well-considered plan and the tools necessary to project future funding requirements based on objective data. This will enable the department to manage its facilities and infrastructure, and to overcome its backlog. At the same time, management will be held accountable to a standard of stewardship focused on long-term benefit. Such proactive facility asset management will improve the condition of DOD's assets, increase their asset value, and maximize the value of DOD's dollars spent.

Return to: 2002 Feature Stories