Tough budget decisions are forcing the services to take risks by putting off needed projects for installations, officials told senators Thursday.

About 15 percent of facilities in the Department of Defense inventory are in "failing" condition, and about 12 percent are in "poor" condition, according Pete Potochney, acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee's panel on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.

Officials "are doing the best we can in making sure dollars are spent wisely and to compete for those resources in this budget environment," he said. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 caps overall defense spending. Potochney noted that "facilities degrade more slowly than readiness, and in a constrained budget environment, it is responsible to take risk in facilities first."

The administration's budget asks for $7.4 billion for military construction in fiscal 2017, a decrease of $1 billion from the fiscal 2016 request; and $9.5 billion to improve and sustain existing facilities, a decrease of about $1 billion from the fiscal 2016 request.

Osborne Dental Clinic at Camp Lejeune, N.C., is one of the aging, deficient facilities that would be replaced under the FY17 DoD budget request.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Paul Peterson/Marine Corps

The Army's budget request reflects the Army's decision "to take strategic risks in our installation facilities and services" in order to free up funding for operational readiness and modernization, said Katherine G. Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

Constrained funding has resulted in the degradation of many Navy installations' piers, runways and other facilities, said Steven R. Iselin, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.

The Air Force has been able to request funding for just 30 projects out of the top 500 projects submitted by major commands, said Miranda A. A. Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy. She said she expects the backlog of degrading facilities to grow.

Potochney and the service officials said another round of base realignment and closure would help ease the problems because of the costs they're incurring keeping up facilities that are no longer used or only partially needed. About 21 percent of the Army's infrastructure is excess, Hammack said.

About 30 percent of the Air Force's inventory is excess, said Ballentine.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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