The Real Deal
Last April, the Department of National Defence’s (DND) Infrastructure and Environment Branch became the sole manager of the DND and Canadian Armed Forces’ real property portfolio. This move followed a comprehensive review of a 2012 Auditor General Report that explored the effectiveness of the department’s management team. Prior to 2016, the department’s real property was overseen by nine separate managers — each with a different approach to investment and spending. “The Auditor General Report was clear. This was not the most efficient approach to managing real property,” says Anne Morton, Senior Director of the Infrastructure and Environment Group. “The report directed the department to transform its approach and optimize business processes to truly provide sound stewardship.”
The Infrastructure and Environment Branch now assumes the responsibility of more than $26 billion worth of assets across Canada — from buildings for ships to hangars for planes, barracks for people, bunkers for bullets, and more than $2.2 million hectares of land,” says Morton. More specifically, the portfolio contains approximately 20,000 structures in over 200 locations, three ports, 37 airfields, 79 hangars, more than 15,600 sewers, bridges, docks and firing ranges, 5,500 kilometres of roads, and land holdings estimated at four times the size of Prince Edward Island. “Our portfolio is the largest and most complex within the federal government,” says Morton. “Centralization of all infrastructure under one real property manager has meant a cascade of changes as to how we conduct business and how we manage this very complex and unique organizational culture.”
In addition to maintaining the quality of buildings, the Infrastructure and Environment Branch now manages new construction projects and oversees the repair, disposal and/or remediation of outdated structures. One of its most important roles, however, is to manage funding. In the fiscal year end-ing March 31, 2016, the capital budget for construction totalled more than $453 million, while operation and repair budgets were in excess of $953 million. “One task of our Branch is to allocate these budgets in a more efficient way, in order to bring the right resources to the right assets at the right time,” says Morton. “Our goal is to create an infrastructure portfolio that is affordable to the department, government and taxpayers, and one that is cost effective and sustainable from a real property management perspective.” The Branch makes continuous efforts to be prudent with spending and to optimize the allocation dollars within the department without threatening the quality and efficiency of military operations.
EFFICIENCY AND SUPPORT
Another primary task is to improve energy efficiency while reducing the environmental impacts of existing infrastructure. An important way in which this is achieved is controlling sprawling by building up instead of out. With such an immense portfolio, efficiency is also achieved by encouraging departments to share spaces. “Part of our approach in creating a leaner portfolio is to assign joint use and multifunctional facilities,” says Morton. “The rule is simple: our existing infrastructure must be used to its full capacity. However, consolidation and multi-functionality is implemented only where possible without compromising the missions of the military.” As defence accounts for approximately 56 per cent of the government’s energy portfolio, the Infrastructure and Environment Branch has also established base energy performance contracts with the private sector in order to determine an appropriate standard for measuring efficiency. One particular hurdle has been the attempt to determine energy use in the large majority of structures located outside of urban centres.
Arguably the most important role of the Branch in assuming its new management position is to provide continuous, unfaltering and reliable support to the Canadian Armed Forces. The first way in which this is achieved is by acting as a translator for the military — helping them to understand real estate terminologies in ways that are accessible and relatable to non-industry personnel. For example, Morton explains that when the military looks at a facility, they measure it based on its functionality over its square footage. As opposed to listing its dimensions, the Air Force would measure a building based on how many C-130 Hercules airplanes can fit inside. In assuming a translator role, the Infrastructure and Environment Branch can ensure that the facilities provided will support and match the needs of the military itself. Keeping the lines of communication open and flowing among colleagues and staff helps to ensure a successful and supportive infrastructure for all.
Likewise, the Branch offers support by establishing and maintaining defence infrastructure that allows the Forces to function and operate at their full capacity. In addition to managing current requirements, the Branch looks ahead to anticipate the Canadian Armed Forces’ future needs. Planning occurs on short-term (one to five years), medium-term (five to 10 years), and long-term (10 to 30 years) scales. “Failure to match infrastructure investment with operational needs puts in jeopardy the Forces’ ability to organize, train, equip and deploy, putting Canada and Canadians at risk,” says Morton. “Defence infrastructure must support operations and training, accommodate personnel, protect essential materials, and enable the Forces to deploy, sometimes rapidly, like with Afghanistan in 2002 and Haiti in 2004[…]It’s important that we have flexibility so that the Armed Forces can react to their urgency.”
HOLISTIC AND EFFECTIVE TEAMS
Support and responsibilities aside, Morton says that one of the most rewarding benefits of managing the DND and Canadian Armed Forces real property portfolio has been the opportunity to see civilians and military personnel working side by side on a daily basis. When consolidation and centralization occurred, thousands of real property experts began working on defence infrastructure alongside the military itself. “We have engineers, architects, general labourers, geographic information system technicians, urban planners, economists, scientists, and analysts, just to name a few,” says Morton. “These experts are working together to deliver the best infrastructure for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.” Today, approximately 24,000 civilian staff work alongside 27,000 reservists and 68,000 military personnel. “Having the knowledge of both our civilians and military is invaluable,” she continues, explaining that the diverse backgrounds and expertise of all staff leads to extremely holistic, fulfilling and effective teams. “Our military colleagues provide additional insight to our non-military members, and vice versa. There’s always opportunity to learn from each other, which creates a real positive working environment.”
In addition to bringing civilians and military personnel together, the consolidation has allowed the DND to work more closely with the private sector itself. While the department has already established ties in an effort to improve its energy efficiency, it is continuously working on partnering with the private sector for additional, advantageous purposes. The department currently relies on real estate experts within the federal government to “share best practices and lessons learned in the sphere of real property management and major transformation initiatives.” However, the department is attempting to think outside the box by consulting with external sources, too. “We realize that innovative real property solutions require looking beyond traditional project delivery models. That’s why we continue to partner with the private sector,” says Morton. “While some of our bases are managed by private sector companies, areas for partnership also include infrastructure design, new construction, repairs and renovations, demolitions, maintenance and energy performance contracts.”
“The size and scope [of the DND portfolio] present numerous opportunities for partnership and collaboration in both the private sector and across the Government of Canada. I hope that in moving forward, we continue to partner with the private sector to adopt some of their best practices in the field,” says Morton.
In October 2016, the DND attended Ottawa’s Real Estate Forum to educate the public sector on the responsibilities of the federal government in managing the DND and Canadian Armed Forces’ real property portfolio — the largest in the Government of Canada itself. Anne Morton described the department’s various real estate assets, as well as revealed the department’s attempts to establish and maintain a sustainable, affordable and accessible infrastructure portfolio. For more information on the DND and Canadian Armed Forces, visit www.forces.gc.ca.