Rodents and rot: Military facilities are ‘failing, ’ report finds

“According to recent facility condition assessment data, one in four Defense facilities are rated as being in poor or failing condition,” the committee wrote in the report that accompanies the fiscal 2017 Milcon-VA spending bill that the panel approved Thursday.

Examples of the deteriorating state of U.S. military infrastructure are scattered throughout that report and a similar one, also produced this week, from the House Appropriations Committee. Both documents are rife with references to crumbling and unsafe U.S. military structures, some of which are riddled with mold and rodents.

Last June, civil engineers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base released a list of up to $35 million in new construction or repairs on a project wish list. The work covered a fire station expansion, research lab renovations, asbestos abatement in one building, replacing aging heating and cooling equipment, and the repair of underground support structures for steam lines in tunnels, among other priorities.

“There’s a long list of repairs that are needed to Wright-Patterson buildings and there are many Wright-Patterson buildings that need upgrading,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs. However, he said he could not address if they are in poor or failing condition.

Wright-Patterson civil engineer representatives were not available for comment Friday afternoon.

In the fiscal year 2017 military construction budget, the Air Force has asked for $12.6 million to build a new security gateway, relocating two existing base entry points.

The reports come during the same week that the Pentagon reported to Congress that the military has 22 percent excess infrastructure, including a third of the overhead in the Army and Air Force. In past years, Congress initiated base realignment and closure procedures to consolidate missions and eliminate excess infrastructure. The Obama administration has asked for another round of base closures, which has met long-standing resistance in Congress.

“I think that it is not likely the Congress will act (to start a BRAC round) before the election, but it is conceivable that Congress could act after the election, and the administration is driving home its point about the need for reducing infrastructure,” Gessel said. “It would appear that the administration is not giving up on its request even though many observers believe that Congress will not act this year.”

The upshot appears to be that the military has about a quarter more infrastructure than it needs and, perhaps not coincidentally, is having serious trouble maintaining about a quarter of its facilities — sometimes with adverse potential effects on safety and mission effectiveness.

It should be noted that many of the claims of facility deterioration are coming from lawmakers angling for more funding for construction projects at bases back home.

But, even factoring in some exaggeration, the picture is disturbing.

Consider:

  • Nuclear-missile facilities in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota are seriously in need of repairs, according to the Senate panel. For example, at the primary Missile Alert Facility on Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, “structures are often infested with rodents, rattlesnakes and mold due to gaps between the foundation and wall structures as a result of the facilities settling,” the committee report said. Operations, maintenance and labor costs at Malmstrom have soared 280 percent in the past five years to address a range of maintenance problems, the document stated. Both of Montana’s senators (Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines) and one of North Dakota’s (Republican John Hoeven) serve on Appropriations.
  • At the National Maritime Intelligence Center in Suitland, Md., the parking garage serving 3,700 workers has been deemed “unsafe and structurally deficient” and is no longer fully operational, the report said. About $12 million has been spent to fix it, but that’s only for stopgap measures, the appropriators said, and a replacement project has been repeatedly delayed.
  • At Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, U.S. military personnel reportedly live in “dangerously contaminated” facilities with “collapsing ceilings, contaminated water, and toxic black mold,” Senate appropriators wrote.
  • In Japan, the Pentagon inspector general office has identified more than 1,000 code violations that, in the auditors’ words, “could affect the health, safety, and well-being of warfighters and their families.”
  • The Air Force’s air traffic control facilities are in a state of disrepair, according to House Appropriations. The problem is “creating significant life, safety, and health concerns,” including extensive mold issues, the panel noted. For instance, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, pilots landing on the runway can’t see the air traffic control tower because the sightline between the two is blocked by a hangar, creating a safety issue, according to aides to Alabama Republican Martha Roby, an appropriator. The air traffic controllers at Maxwell have to climb to the top of the tower on a ladder, and in the event of fire they would have to slide down on a special net, the aides said.
  • In the Army, too, a number of air traffic control facilities are “unsafe, antiquated, and do not provide adequate control, communications or observation abilities for the current air traffic levels at certain locations,” according to the House committee, which called for a risk assessment of such facilities throughout the force. At Fort Benning in Georgia, for instance, the tower “will become wholly inadequate at the current pace of operations,” House appropriators wrote.

Despite the reports, military construction appropriations have declined in the past few years and this year is shaping up as no exception.

For fiscal 2017, both committees recommend $7.9 billion, which would be $305 million below the current level but not as low as the White House had requested, which would have been $555 million below the current level.

“Our limited MilCon budget for fiscal year 2017 leaves limited room for projects that would improve aging workplaces and, therefore, could adversely impact routine operations and the quality of life for our personnel,” Pete Potochney, a senior Pentagon official who oversees installations, said during a Senate Appropriations hearing earlier this month.

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