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Rodents and Rot: Defense Facilities ‘Failing’

Senate finds a quarter of U.S. military facilities are falling apart

The Senate Appropriations Committee reports that the military is having problems maintaining its facilities. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images file photo)
The Senate Appropriations Committee reports that the military is having problems maintaining its facilities. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images file photo)

A quarter of the U.S. military’s facilities are falling apart, the Senate Appropriations Committee says.  

“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 a report  accompanying 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.  

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.  

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.  

To be sure, the claims of facility deterioration should be taken with a grain of salt, given that they are coming from lawmakers angling for more funding for construction projects at bases back home.  

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

The picture includes:

  • 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 the Air Force base 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 the 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 war fighters 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.

The spending bills from both committees require the Pentagon to produce a variety of reports addressing these concerns. In some cases, appropriators provide more funding.  

Yet military construction appropriations have declined in the past few years. 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 — $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.  

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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