The Defense Department doled out tens of millions of dollars this year to help bases vulnerable to flooding, hurricanes and wildfires work with their surrounding communities on projects that would prevent damage, but according to the Government Accountability Office, there’s nothing in place to evaluate whether the programs are working.
In fiscal year 2020, that meant roughly $67 million in grants through the Compatible Use Plan, the Military Installation Resilience program and the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot, according to a report released Dec. 10.
While DoD keeps track of where the money goes and what is supposed to be done with it, the report found it “has no developed performance measures to benchmark and track overall program performance,” making it difficult for Congress and the Pentagon to decide whether and how to continue to fund the programs.
Projects include upgrades to roads and bridges to protect them from flooding and erosion, as well as protecting medical facilities and utilities like electricity and water in the event of not only flooding, but wildfires and other extreme weather events.
For the last decade, DoD has acknowledged climate change as a threat to the readiness of its installations, particularly waterfront Navy and Marine Corps bases, which could face more and more frequent flooding as sea levels continue to rise.
Grant programs, which provide funding for DoD to work with the communities around their installations to secure infrastructure, have been part of the response to more extreme weather conditions and their threats to readiness, but the GAO found that there are no mechanisms within those programs to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t once a project has been planned and funded to completion.
“With the department’s investment in these programs growing, it is important that there be reliable ways to assess program outcomes,” according to the report, which was addressed to Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which called for the GAO to study the grants.
GAO recommended that the defense secretary’s office establish a system to evaluate performance for the grant programs in a “clear, quantifiable and objective” manner.
DoD, in its official response, concurred with GAO’s recommendations, but also pushed back, writing that in its way, they do try to measure the “effectiveness” of the projects they fund.
In a letter sent by the assistant defense secretary for sustainment, W. Jordan Gillis, he made the case the the benefits of the projects often become apparent after they’re complete, requiring significant time to follow up after the fact in order to conduct a review of performance. What might be considered a success can also vary by project and installation, he added.
His office would continue to work with the GAO and the Office of Economic Adjustment, he said, to hammer out applicable performance metrics and apply them to projects, he said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.