IG Report: DODEA failed to adequately plan school construction projects
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Department of Defense Education Activity officials failed to sufficiently plan for the construction of six school projects in Europe, a recent Pentagon report suggests, raising the possibility that the agency might not have enough funding to complete the projects, valued at $248.5 million.
In 2010, DODEA, with congressional support, began a long-term, $3.7 billion worldwide construction initiative to renovate or replace most of its schools, after a DODEA report identified dozens of aging school facilities as being in poor or failing condition. DODEA’s program included about $1.8 billion in funding for construction projects across Europe.
As part of an audit conducted from August 2011 through August 2012, the DOD inspector general reviewed six of Europe’s school construction projects, which received funding from Congress in fiscal 2012. Three of those are new schools: Spangdahlem Middle/High School in Germany; Vicenza High School in Italy; and Wetzel Elementary School in Germany, though that project is on hold pending determination of the number of troops to be assigned at U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder. The other three projects were additions planned for Ansbach and Netzaberg middle schools, and a renovation and addition for Spangdahlem Elementary School.
DOD auditors found that “DODEA officials could not support the accuracy and reliability of the costs” for the six Europe projects, and that DODEA officials did not consistently use the costs provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as required by DOD guidance.
USACE-Europe was the DOD construction agent for the planning of the six projects. DODEA officials consulted with USACE on initial costs, but said, according to the report, that they disagreed with the method USACE used to develop costs so used another method to calculate some costs.
But DODEA officials couldn’t show how they arrived at some of the estimates; they also altered some USACE costs, according to the report.
“Instead of working with construction agents to identify areas where reasonable changes could be made, DODEA officials appeared to have made seemingly arbitrary and undocumented changes to the costs,” the report states, adding the military construction forms “submitted to Congress lack credibility.”
DODEA officials reduced the USACE project costs on the budgeting documents for the 2012 projects by $15.3 million, the report says.
“DODEA was at risk for not having enough funding to complete the projects to DODEA facility standards,” the report says.
Auditors recommended that DODEA be required to use the construction agents’ costs or provide documented and approved methodology for deviating from policy. They also recommend that DODEA coordinate with construction agents when changes occur during military construction planning to minimize impact to the project.
The report says DODEA officials noted that in August 2011, before the DOD inspector general announced its audit, that it had issued additional guidance to improve the planning process and prevent unsupportable costs in the future.
DODEA officials declined to comment to Stars and Stripes on the report as they are preparing a response, which is due by Nov. 2.
A written statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Europe said: “The Corps uses various methodologies, along with customer guidance, to develop cost estimates for our customers. The estimates we provide are our recommendations based on our best practices in cost estimating.”
The DOD IG report described how during its review, DODEA changed its requirements for military construction projects from facilities with traditional education specifications to 21st century design specifications. That shift resulted after Congress directed the secretary of defense to establish a formal process for incorporating the best practices and design innovations in public and private school construction into the design of DODDS schools. These changes include clusters of classrooms with moveable walls and furniture to allow more flexibility for teaching and learning.
DODEA made this specification shift for the fiscal 2012 school projects after the project budgets were already approved.
A design architect for the new Vicenza High School, cited in the report, noted “that one of the most significant challenges regarding space utilization and space allocation in this project are the result of the fact that this project received congressional approval prior to the development of new 21st Century Educational Facility Specifications by DODEA.”
In order to incorporate those features into the Vicenza school, the project would need $11.6 million to $13.9 million more in funds, depending on the option chosen, in addition to the $41.8 million already programmed, according to the IG report.
DODEA did not prepare a cost estimate to determine the feasibility of changing from traditional educational specifications to 21st century ones, the report says, and did not determine whether those design features could be incorporated into the fiscal 2012 approved budgets, which were based on different specifications.
“DODEA officials have not reached the point to determine whether the remaining schools will need additional funding,” the report says.