GAO: Military’s efforts to preserve historic properties leave much to be desired
The Department of Defense, although tasked by the National Historic Preservation Act as a steward of historic properties, has shown a lackadaisical performance in the execution of this duty, according to Government Accountability Office’s latest report.
The report, released on June 19, said the DOD has identified about 60,000 of its approximately 375,000 properties on installations as “historic” as of October 2017. While most of such properties have been evaluated, GAO found flaws in the way the DOD manages them.
DOD, for example, lacks complete and consistent data on historic properties, the report said. “Specifically, GAO identified data gaps and discrepancies between the data reported at the installation and department levels for fiscal year 2017,” the report said.
One of the 10 installations visited by GAO inspectors, for example, was unable to generate a list of historic properties on the installation with corresponding data fields such as the facility condition. “Officials at this installation told us they are working on a long-term project to update their data on historic properties,” the report said.
In one installation, GAO found that 150 more historic properties were listed in its installation data than were listed in department-level data for that installation.
The installation’s data also showed 114 fewer properties coded as “Not Yet Evaluated” for historic significance than did the military department’s database. Another installation had 119 unevaluated properties.
GAO inspected 10 installations between March 2018 and June 2019 but did not identify the locations visited. The report was released amid Guam’s dissatisfaction over the way the Navy handles the newly discovered artifacts around the project site for live-fire training complex in Ritidian.
GAO found that the DOD does not routinely assess the condition of its historic properties and a lack of guidance on training could hamper maintenance and preservation efforts.
Installation officials said this historic property has remained empty for about 10 years. Photo courtesy of GAO
While inventories and physical inspections of historic properties are required to be done every three years, GAO said such tasks are not done on six of the 10 installations GAO visited.
“Officials at these six installations said that the inventory was not conducted because they were unaware of or misunderstood the requirement,” GAO said. “Second, while each installation GAO visited had an established process for approving maintenance work orders.”
DOD officials reported problems with the maintenance of historic properties at these installations, ranging from maintenance personnel not addressing issues, to maintenance being conducted improperly.”
At nine installations, employees interviewed by GAO said they believed maintenance personnel did not know what maintenance could or could not be done to the historic buildings, and installation officials expressed concerns about a lack of training related to historic preservation.
GAO recommended making clarification on the requirement to conduct a physical inventory and developing guidance on training to enable DOD to be better positioned to preserve the historic properties under its purview.
The NHPA requires federal agencies to establish a preservation program to protect, identify, evaluate, and nominate historic properties to the National Register.
But GAO also found that DOD has “limited visibility of privatized homes that could be historic.” When the military departments transferred military homes to private developers, DOD officials said they also transferred the responsibility to identify and evaluate homes for historic significance to the private developers.
However, the military departments do not verify that private developers are doing so, GAO said. Private developers at seven installations with privatized housing said they do not identify or evaluate homes for historic significance.
“Taking steps to verify that private developers carry out this responsibility could help DOD ensure that renovations or repairs are not made to privatized properties that could compromise their historic nature,” GAO said.
GAO is making seven recommendations, including that DOD take steps to verify that privatized military homes are identified and evaluated for historic significance; clarify the inventory requirement for historic properties; and develop guidance related to historic preservation training. DOD concurred with the recommendations.