A Government Accountability Office report found that U.S. military installations have not consistently assessed risks from extreme weather and climate change effects in their facilities project designs, putting $1.2 trillion in taxpayer-funded military real estate at risk.
The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that examines how taxpayer dollars are spent. The agency assessed a sample of 23 facilities identified as having one or more vulnerabilities related to climate. It concluded several of those facilities, including some directly threatened by increasing amounts of extreme weather, have not incorporated future climate conditions into their long-term planning due to a lack of guidance from the highest levels of military authority.
Many installations are places where Hoosier soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines could potentially be based for military service. Potential threats to facilities include erosion, flooding, power supply shortages and wind damage.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
The GAO report follows up on a January 2019 report released by the Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
The Defense Department declared in its report that “the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”
It identified 79 installations, including one in Indiana, as being potentially vulnerable to climate change now or within the next 20 years. The department also noted that it must factor in the effects of the environment into its mission planning and execution “to build resilience.”
The Defense Department report’s authors found that the Defense Finance and Accounting Service headquarters in Indianapolis could be vulnerable to the effects of climate change-induced drought. DFAS is the agency responsible for payments to service members, government employees, vendors and contractors.
Precipitation in Indianapolis is trending upward, with totals meeting or exceeding observed averages. But, according to the Defense Department, drought conditions may occur in places not typically perceived as drought regions and can have broad implications for base infrastructure and the cost of upkeep.
The General Service Administration owns the building and property where the DFAS headquarters is housed. The Indiana Environmental Reporter asked the GSA whether it has made or plans to make any changes to the facility due to the Defense Department report. The GSA has not responded to IER’s questions.
It is unclear whether the GSA has a plan to heed the Department of Defense’s climate change assessment, and the ambiguity may extend to other facilities, putting the nation’s military readiness at risk.
The Government Accountability Office found that while most facilities have integrated some extreme weather and climate considerations into future facility plans, nearly a third of the 23 military installations it evaluated have not “consistently assessed climate risks or used climate projections in these plans.” The GAO did not evaluate DFAS Indianapolis.
“Without fully assessing the risks of extreme weather and climate change effects, and without considering climate projections as part of the planning process, installations may make planning decisions that do not fully anticipate future climate conditions,” the report stated. “By seeking to anticipate future climate conditions, DOD may be able to reduce climate-related risks to its facilities and the corresponding budgetary risks.”
Extreme weather and climate change effects could damage or destroy base facilities, runways, housing, roads and other infrastructure.
The GAO noted that many major military installations have already experienced extreme weather due to climate change and have made some adjustments to compensate for the changes.
Fort Irwin, Calif., home of the Army’s National Training Center, has seen a rise in flash flooding that has damaged base infrastructure and impeded training for some of the Army’s most deployed units. Indiana-based units regularly train at the sprawling installation near the Mojave desert.
The post’s leadership worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to improve stormwater drainage.
Langley Air Force Base in Virginia has suffered damage from a spate of hurricanes and faces rising threats from rising sea levels. The base serves as a training facility for intelligence officers and specialists, like the Terre Haute-based 181st Intelligence Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard.
Base leadership partnered with neighboring Hampton, Va., officials to outline climate vulnerabilities and increase installation resilience.
According to the GAO, other facilities may not be ready for climate change.
“LACK OF GUIDANCE”
The GAO found that eight of the installations it had contacted had not integrated extreme weather or climate change effects into the master plans or related installation planning documents.
Planners at the installations told the GAO that they lacked guidance on how to incorporate projections into their master plans.
The Department of Defense responded to the claim by saying it was in the process of incorporating sea level projections into future facility designs.
“The Department will continue to tailor additional sources of climate projection data to other engineering requirements, and integrate these projections into our criteria as appropriate,” the Defense Department told the GAO.
Although the Department of Defense may have committed to revising its guidance, the reluctance to acknowledge the effects of climate change pervades the highest levels of government.
President Donald Trump and his administration have worked to limit the federal government’s climate change actions.
In 2017, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, an agreement to limit global warming signed by 195 countries. Later that year, Trump also eliminated a committee tasked with evaluating and providing guidance for the National Climate Assessment, a Congressionally mandated report on the effect of global change on the world.
When the 13 federal agencies and 300 federal, state and local governments finished and released the NCA in 2018, the president questioned the report’s accuracy.
“I don’t believe it,” Trump said of the report.
Other parts of the executive branch have shared the president’s view on climate change.
The Department of Agriculture refused to publicize dozens of government-funded studies that carried warnings about the effects of climate change. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler admitted climate change was not his priority. An official close to the president urged the head of the NASA to reassess the agency’s science-backed position that climate change was the result human actions.
The administration’s climate change stance could have an effect on military readiness in the future.
“The absence of guidance has hindered the ability of some installations to effectively apply the best available climate projections to their installation master planning,” the GAO wrote. “If they do not use climate projections in their master plans, installations risk failing to plan for changing climate and weather conditions and, as a result, could expose their facilities to greater risk of damage or degradation from extreme weather events and climate change effects.”