Defense policy bill would boost Pentagon facilities maintenance budget by nearly $2 billion
Stars and Stripes December 13, 2022
The Pentagon would receive almost $2 billion in extra funding to maintain and improve its facilities including barracks, child care centers and training ranges if the defense policy bill passed last week by the House becomes law.
Lawmakers added some $1.9 billion to the Pentagon’s $15.9 billion request for Sustainment, Restoration and Maintenance, or FSRM, funds in the most recent version of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, the must-pass annual bill that sends Pentagon policy and spending priorities. The boost comes after months of effort led by Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, who want Defense Department leaders to use the new money to cut into the deep facilities maintenance backlog that has long plagued aging military infrastructure at bases around the globe.
“It's vital to national defense and to military quality of life,” Ossoff said Tuesday, noting troops at most military installations in Georgia had described at least some of their on-post facilities as subpar when he has met with them since taking office last year.
The FSRM funding boost in the latest version of the $858 billion bill, which the Senate could vote on this week, is part of an about $45 billion increase to the White House’s defense budget request.
The increase in funding comes as problems with facilities have made national news in recent months — highlighted by moldy and, in some cases, unlivable barracks. Army leaders at Fort Bragg, N.C., during the summer opted to close 17 barracks buildings at its 1970s-era Smoke Bomb Hill facility because of mold and maintenance issues. Just weeks later at Fort Stewart, Ga., soldiers reported mold problems in their aging barracks that went unchecked while they were serving a no-notice deployment to Europe.
The Pentagon has long dealt with a shortage in its efforts to maintain its facilities. The Government Accountability Office report found in January that the Pentagon had an about $137 billion backlog in maintenance for its facilities. The GAO found nearly 30% of the DOD’s facilities worldwide had exceeded their expected lifespans, contributing to the costly efforts to maintain such infrastructure.
The result, Ossoff said, is poor conditions for troops to live, work and train. It has led junior enlisted troops and installation commanders at posts across Georgia to implore him — and other members of Congress — to fight for more facility-focused funding, even as top leaders across the Defense Department pledge they are working on improvements, the senator said.
“When it comes to military quality of life, I take my cues from the junior enlisted personnel and the young military families I represent,” Ossoff said. “For me, it's not really about what I hear from big Army or from DOD when it comes to military quality of life.”
Ossoff also worked with Republicans to improve basic allowance for housing rates for troops living in areas hit with housing cost increases, according to his staff. Ossoff spearheaded a measure — also included in the 2023 NDAA — alongside Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to provide the defense secretary renewed authority to temporarily increase BAH in locations where housing costs rise more than 20% beyond the area’s current BAH rate. The defense secretary’s previous authority to temporarily boost BAH rates expired in September.
The NDAA would give the military services leeway to spend most of the added FSRM money as they see fit, but it does stipulate the services must spend a certain amount of the money that they receive to improve child care facilities.
Ossoff said he wants the bulk of the funding to go to those child development centers, barracks and critical military training facilities — issues he said he consistently receives complaints about from his constituents. He labeled those all necessary for improving the military’s combat readiness.
Living in substandard housing or worrying constantly about the quality of their child care cuts into troops personal combat readiness, he said.
“They make a tremendous sacrifice for our defense, and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice a clean place to live,” Ossoff said. “They shouldn’t have to sacrifice world class child care for their kids. And they should be training and preparing for deployment at facilities that enable them to achieve peak readiness.”
The bill would boost the Army’s FSRM budget requested by the Pentagon about $554 million to about $5.2 billion. The Navy would receive a $435 million increase to about $4 billion. The Marine Corps would get an extra $162 million to about $1.5 billion. The Air Force would receive about $4.6 billion, an increase of about $514 million, and the Space Force would get an extra $73.8 million to about $309 million of FSRM funding.