Recently the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (CMSI) invited Hon. Jordan Gillis, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, to partake in its virtual town hall series. Speaking with Association of Defense Communities President Joe Driskill, Gillis provided an overview of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected American military bases as well as the Pentagon’s future planning efforts.

Joe Driskill: What impact will COVID-19 have on the future of installations and installation support services in particular?

Jordan Gillis: I don’t think that we’re at the point where the impact the pandemic has had can be deemed the “new normal.” We like to believe, whether it is in the coming months or a year, we will have a vaccine or other treatments which will help us resume normal operations. Currently many housing providers on installations are only responding to emergency work orders. We need to get back to a place where we can execute basic services. We’re not there yet, but we believe in the future we’ll be there soon.

Driskill: How has the department responded to housing maintenance issues and PCS movement challenges caused by the pandemic?

Gillis: What we’ve done overall is allow installations the flexibility to put in policies based on the real conditions of communities on the ground. On bases that are capable of executing things beyond emergency work orders, we’ve instituted protocols to protect these installations. This includes pre-health screenings and maintenance technicians wearing PPE. With regards to PCS orders, Peak movement season usually occurs during the summer. Due to the pandemic, the peak season will be drawn out and the services will need to work with the constraints with the number of moves industries can support. Regardless, we plan to see a lot of moves in a concentrated period like we always do, that may just occur later than it usually starts.

Driskill: Health Protection Condition Charlie (HPCON) has been in effect on many bases around the country as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Is this a service-wide determination or a local determination?

Gillis: Health protection definitions are defined by DoD. Which one that is in place at an installation is a local decision based on conditions on the ground. We don’t centrally dictate local decisions; it is up to the discretion of local commanders.

Driskill: Has the pandemic affected MILCON projects around the country?

Gillis: As long as things are still being able to be rewarded in the year that award was anticipated, I am not too worried MILCON projects will get too far behind schedule. Other issues may arise, but COVID-related delays we haven’t seen anything that would cause me concern yet. Awards have slowed some, but the bigger impact are delays of construction that have been underway and the workforce thinning due to safety reasons.

Driskill: What are some lessons learned from the pandemic about states and communities effectively working together during times of crisis?

Gillis: We’ve been very vigilant documenting lessons learned so if we encounter another pandemic, we’ll have a playbook that we can pull out and not have to relearn everything. Across the acquisition and sustainment community at DoD, we’ve started to work with the services to collect these lessons. Later we will synthesize all this information and create a cohesive document that we can use in the future.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For a full recording of the webinar, please visit the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative website.