Report: Communities unprepared for moves
June 19, 2008
WASHINGTON — Poor communication between service officials and local communities could mean congested roadways, crowded schools and housing shortages at U.S. bases expecting major troop increases, a report released Tuesday warns.
The Government Accountability Office said defense officials have begun to identify infrastructure needs in general terms, but precise planning has been hampered by a lack of information and urgency in getting details to community leaders.
For example, Kansas officials from the Fort Riley area told researchers that so far the community has seen more single soldiers than expected, resulting in fewer school-aged children but higher demand for rental housing than anticipated.
Meanwhile, school officials from Fort Benning in Georgia told the GAO that they worry local classrooms there will be too crowded in coming years because Army information on the number of families moving to the area has been scarce.
"Until the military departments begin to disseminate consistent and more detailed information about the defense personnel moves they know about, it will be difficult for community, state, and federal officials to plan for and provide necessary infrastructure and quality-of-life support," the report said.
The report tracked 20 military bases expecting significant troop movement in the next four years, including places such as Fort Riley and Fort Bliss in Texas that will receive a share of the 70,000 servicemembers being relocated from European and Pacific bases.
Top concerns of community leaders included ensuring that adequate housing, adequate classroom space and adequate emergency services will be in place to deal with the influx of families and servicemembers.
Defense officials agreed with the findings, noting in a statement that more work is needed to get troop movement data and demographics to the proper local officials.
But researchers wrote that the department’s response didn’t offer any solutions to the problem.
"It is unclear from its comments and stated actions as to what actions, if any, [the department] plans to take to meet the intent of our recommendations," the report said.
Despite the shortfalls, researchers said the status of preparations in the affected communities is "generally encouraging" because of federal and state grants and coordination by local planning groups.