Washington, D.C. — Defense communities are excited about the prospect of a new DOD authority, included in the versions of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill passed in both the House and Senate, which would permit the department to provide funding for off-base infrastructure projects designed to enhance the military value of an installation. During the opening session of the 2018 Defense Communities National Summit on Monday, the Pentagon’s chief installations official weighed in, saying a new capability similar to the Defense Access Roads (DAR) program could be beneficial. The DAR program is designed to pay for defense-related transportation needs affecting a surrounding community if they are sudden, unusual or unique, and state and local authorities are unable to address the need. Annual funding for the program is limited, however; lawmakers provided only $20 million for the program in FY 2018.
A new authority to fund defense community infrastructure could be used for requirements such as improving an installation’s water resiliency, said Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. Niemeyer said he was concerned, though, about the possibility that the Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) would be used to administer such a program. Asking OEA to carry out activities that are not part of its core missions possibly could jeopardize the office’s future, he said, a reference to House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry’s earlier proposal to eliminate the office along with six other defense support agencies. Thornberry scaled back the proposal, however, and the House-passed version of the defense authorization bill calls for cutting only the Washington Headquarters Service; the bill also directs DOD to slash spending on many defense support functions by 25 percent.
OEA is a “critical field agency,” Niemeyer said, one that provides a “lifeline” to defense communities.