This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-07-688R 
entitled 'Defense Budget: Review of DOD's Report on Budgeting for Fuel 
Cost Fluctuations' which was released on April 26, 2007. 

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April 26, 2007: 

The Honorable Carl Levin: 
Chairman: 
The Honorable John McCain: 
Ranking Member: 
Committee on Armed Services: 
United States Senate: 

The Honorable Ike Skelton: 
Chairman: 
The Honorable Duncan L. Hunter: 
Ranking Member: 
Committee on Armed Services: 
House of Representatives: 

Subject: Defense Budget: Review of DOD's Report on Budgeting for Fuel 
Cost Fluctuations: 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establishes for the 
Department of Defense (DOD) the price DOD will use for pricing crude 
oil when constructing its budget for upcoming fiscal years. DOD in turn 
uses OMB's price in establishing the standard price to be used for a 
barrel of fuel for budgeting purposes by DOD fuel customers such as the 
military services. Because of the volatility of world petroleum prices, 
the standard price for a barrel of fuel included in the President's 
annual budget request for DOD may be lower or higher than the actual 
price established by the world market at any point in time after DOD's 
budget request is submitted to the Congress. During the fiscal year, 
DOD pays for fuel at the actual market rate, which typically varies 
from the budgeted rate. As a result, if the actual price of crude oil 
increases above the price DOD charges its customers, more dollars are 
needed to pay for fuel than originally budgeted. If the actual price is 
lower than what DOD charges its customers, DOD has more dollars than 
needed. Additionally, if DOD responds to increases in the world market 
crude oil prices by increasing the price it charges its customers above 
what they initially budgeted, the customers will have additional 
funding needs to pay their fuel bills. 

Concerned as to whether DOD's method for setting fuel prices has 
produced realistic budget estimates, last year the Congress required 
DOD to consider alternative methods. Specifically, the John Warner 
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 requires the 
Secretary of Defense to submit a report on the fuel rate and cost 
projection used in the annual DOD budget presentation.[Footnote 1] The 
act required that DOD identify alternative approaches, including 
approaches used by other federal departments and agencies and the 
feasibility of using private economic forecasting organizations, for 
selecting fuel rates that would produce more realistic estimates of the 
amounts required for DOD to accommodate fuel rate fluctuations. DOD is 
also required to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each 
approach and to identify the department's preferred approach among the 
alternatives and provide a rationale for preferring that approach. 
Finally, the act further requires that GAO review DOD's report, 
including the basis for the Secretary's conclusions for the preferred 
approach. DOD submitted its report to the Congress on February 27, 
2007. 

In response to the act, we determined (1) the extent to which DOD 
identified and evaluated alternative crude oil forecasts that could be 
used in setting its fuel rates--such as forecasts used by other federal 
departments and agencies and private economic forecasting 
organizations, and (2) DOD's basis for selecting its preferred fuel 
rate setting approach. 

In conducting our work, we examined DOD's report to the Congress on 
budgeting for fuel cost fluctuations and other pertinent documentation 
on DOD's methodology to identify the alternative crude oil forecasts 
DOD considered for selecting budgeted fuel rates. We interviewed 
responsible officials from the Office of the Under Secretary of 
Defense, the DOD Comptroller, and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and 
OMB to discuss DOD's methodology and rationale for selecting its 
preferred fuel rate selection approach. We also assessed DOD's 
comparative analyses and the basis for its conclusions. We conducted 
our work from February 2007 to April 2007 in accordance with generally 
accepted government auditing standards. 

Summary: 

DOD identified and evaluated approaches for forecasting crude oil 
prices used by other federal departments and forecasts from private 
forecasting organizations. DOD received responses from eight 
agencies.[Footnote 2] DOD determined that seven of the eight 
respondents used DOD's forecast, did not have a forecast method, or did 
not have a forecasting method that would accommodate the size and 
complexity of DOD's fuel requirement. Thus, DOD concluded that only the 
Department of Energy's (DOE) forecasting method, which uses the Energy 
Information Administration (EIA)[Footnote 3] to provide forecast prices 
for crude oil, was an option that warranted further evaluation. 
According to DOD's report, it conducted four[Footnote 4] analyses using 
different scenarios to compare its forecast approach, which is based on 
crude oil forecasts provided by OMB with the methods used by DOE and 38 
private forecasting organizations. DOD reported that DOE's EIA analysis 
produced forecasts that were marginally closer to actual crude oil 
prices than either DOD's current method or most other private 
organizations' forecasts, and only in a few cases did the private 
organizations produce forecasts that were closer to actual costs than 
DOD's current method. DOD selected its current method as its preferred 
forecasting approach over the DOE and 38 private forecasting 
alternatives. According to the DOD report, DOD chose to continue to use 
its current rate setting method because it believes none of the 
alternative forecasting methods produced significantly more accurate 
results. Specifically, DOD did not believe that the margin of 
difference between forecasts based on its current method and 
alternative approaches was significant enough to warrant a change. 

In assessing DOD's comparative analysis, we found limitations on the 
scope of the analysis due to the lack of available historical forecast 
data. Specifically, DOD included 18 months of data or less in each of 
the comparative scenarios it analyzed and the scenarios did not involve 
forecasts from the same time period DOD used to set its budget request. 
According to DOD officials, historical forecasting data were not 
available to conduct a more extensive multiyear comparison or to 
replicate the time-frame in which the fiscal year 2006 budgeted bulk 
fuel rate was set. DOD officials agreed that had it been available, 
these additional data would have produced a more ideal comparison. 
Consequently, based on the results of the analysis that DOD was able to 
conduct with the data available and given the volatile crude oil 
market, we agree that the results did not provide a compelling reason 
for DOD to adjust its rate setting approach and that DOD's current 
forecast based on OMB's guidance for crude oil prices is a reasonable 
approach. In order for DOD to conduct a more robust and extensive 
analysis, it would need to begin capturing and maintaining the 
necessary forecast data now to conduct such analyses in the future. 

Background: 

DOD is the largest federal consumer of energy, accounting for over 92 
percent of the petroleum-based energy consumed by the federal 
government. DOD bulk fuel pricing is based on OMB's guidance for crude 
oil prices. DOD uses three components in establishing its budgeted bulk 
fuel price. The first component is the price for crude oil, the second 
component is the added expense for refining the crude oil, and the 
third component is a factor to account for DOD's overhead costs 
associated with transportation and storage of the fuel. To estimate the 
cost of crude oil, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Department of 
the Treasury, and OMB, referred to as the Troika, jointly prepare a set 
of economic assumptions for agencies to use in preparing their overall 
budgets. From these economic assumptions, OMB directly provides DOD the 
crude oil price projections it uses in setting its bulk fuel price. In 
developing the crude oil price projections, the Troika uses oil price 
projections coming from the prices in the futures market for West Texas 
Intermediate crude oil in the New York Mercantile Exchange. For the 
2007 budget, futures prices projected 5 years ahead were used in 
developing crude oil price projections. DOD and its customers use 
refined oil products, such as jet fuel and diesel fuel, and as such DOD 
has to include in its bulk fuel budget prices the additional cost of 
refining the fuel above crude oil projections. This component is 
estimated using a statistical technique that analyzes the historical 
data relationship between crude oil prices and refined oil 
prices.[Footnote 5] Finally, DOD adds an overhead factor that reflects 
transportation and storage costs of the petroleum products to DOD. When 
comparing DOD's current method for setting bulk fuel prices to 
alternative methods, the refining crude oil expense and overhead factor 
should not be considered. Specifically, DOD's refining crude oil 
expense and overhead costs have to be added to any forecast DOD used to 
set fuel prices, and are unique factors to DOD. Consequently, DOD's 
cost for crude oil (the first component) is what is comparable to other 
forecasts for oil. 

DOD Identified and Evaluated Alternative Crude Oil Forecasts: 

In meeting its legislative requirement, DOD identified and evaluated 
alternative crude oil forecasts by other federal departments and 
forecasts from 38 private forecasting organizations. DOD evaluated 
these different forecasts by conducting a comparative analysis of four 
different scenarios, in which DOD reported that only one method 
produced slightly better estimates than its current method. However, 
DOD believed that the improvement was marginal and, along with the 
limited scope of its analysis due to the data limitations, did not 
warrant a change from DOD's current methodology. 

DOD Evaluated Federal Agencies' and Private Organizations' Crude Oil 
Forecasts: 

In its report, DOD evaluated crude oil forecasts used by other federal 
departments and agencies. DOD solicited information from several 
federal departments and agencies as to what method they used to 
forecast crude oil. DOD received responses from eight departments and 
agencies: the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Justice, and State, the 
U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, General 
Services Administration, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the 
eight respondents, DOD evaluated each approach and determined seven did 
not have a forecast method that would meet its needs. Of these seven, 
one agency used DOD's forecasts, another did not have a forecast method 
in place and the remaining five did not have crude oil forecast methods 
that DOD believed would accommodate the size and complexity of DOD's 
fuel requirement. Consequently, DOD concluded that only one agency-- 
DOE, which uses EIA forecasts--had a forecast that warranted further 
evaluation. 

In addition to evaluating the methods used by other departments and 
agencies to forecast crude oil prices, DOD conducted research to 
determine which private organizations had experience in forecasting 
energy-related commodities. DOD determined that 38 private 
organizations had forecasts for crude oil prices that could be included 
in its comparative analysis. 

DOD's Report Included a Comparative Analysis of Four Scenarios to 
Evaluate Crude Oil Forecasts: 

To evaluate the different crude oil forecast, DOD's report included a 
comparative analysis of four different scenarios. DOD compared its OMB- 
based forecast, DOE's EIA forecast, and up to 38[Footnote 6] other 
private economic forecasting organizations' crude oil forecasts to EIA 
actual price data to determine which method came closest to predicting 
actual crude oil prices. DOD's report included four different 
comparison scenarios that compared June 2005 forecasts to actual rates 
for (1) the average price for the first quarter of fiscal year 2006, 
(2) the average price for the third quarter of fiscal year 2006, (3) 
the average price for the entire 2006 calendar year, and (4) each of 
the six quarters from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2005 to the 
first quarter of fiscal year 2007. The results of these four scenarios 
follow. 

The first scenario compared OMB's, EIA's, and 38 private organizations' 
June 2005 forecasts to EIA's actual crude oil price of $60.00 per 
barrel for the first quarter of fiscal year 2006. Table 1 shows that 1 
private organization's forecast and the EIA forecast performed better-
-were closer to the actual price--than the OMB forecast for this time 
period, and 37 of the 38 private organizations had forecasts that 
performed below--were farther away from the actual price--than OMB's 
forecasts. 

Table 1: Comparison of Forecasts from OMB, EIA, and 38 Private 
Organizations in June 2005 to the EIA Actual Price Using the Average of 
the First Quarter of Fiscal Year 2006: 

Dollars per barrel: 

Organization: Private organization; A forecast;  
June 2005 forecasts: 57.10;  
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $60.00: 
(2.90). 

Organization: EIA forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 55.00; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $60.00: 
(5.00). 

Organization: OMB forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 53.43; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $60.00: 
(6.57). 

Organization: 37 other private organizations' forecasts; 
June 2005 forecasts: Ranging from 32.00 to 53.00; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $60.00: 
(28.00 to 7.00). 

Source: DOD data. 

[End of table] 

The second scenario compared OMB's, EIA's, and 28 private 
organizations' June 2005 forecasts to EIA's actual price of $70.41 per 
barrel for the third quarter of fiscal year 2006. Table 2 shows that 3 
private organizations' and the EIA forecast performed better than the 
OMB forecast for this time period and 25 of the 28 private 
organizations had forecasts that performed below OMB's forecasts. 

Table 2: Comparison of Forecasts from OMB, EIA, and 28 Private 
Organizations in June 2005 to the EIA Actual Price Using the Average of 
the Third Quarter of Fiscal Year 2006: 

Dollars per barrel: 

Organization: Private organization A forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 59.30; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $70.41: 
(11.11). 

Organization: Private organization B forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 55.00; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $70.41: 
(15.41). 

Organization: Private organization C forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 54.00; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $70.41: 
(16.41). 

Organization: EIA forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 53.58; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $70.41: 
(16.83). 

Organization: OMB forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 52.80; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $70.41: 
(17.61). 

Organization: 25 other private organizations' forecasts; 
June 2005 forecasts: Ranging from 37.00 to 52.80; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $70.41: 
(33.41 to 20.41). 

Source: DOD data. 

[End of table] 

The third scenario compared OMB's, EIA's, and 13 private organizations' 
June 2005 forecasts to EIA's actual price of $66.02 per barrel for 
calendar year 2006. Table 3 shows that 1 private organization's 
forecast and the EIA forecast performed better than the OMB forecast 
for this time period and 12 of the 13 organizations had forecasts that 
performed below OMB's forecasts. 

Table 3: Comparison of Forecasts from OMB, EIA, and 13 Private 
Organizations in June 2005 to the EIA Actual Prices for Calendar Year 
2006: 

Dollars per barrel: 

Organization: Private organization C forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 55.00; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $66.02: 
(11.02). 

Organization: EIA forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 54.23; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $66.02: 
(11.79). 

Organization: OMB forecast; 
June 2005 forecasts: 52.58; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $66.02: 
(13.44). 

Organization: 12 other private organizations' forecasts; 
June 2005 forecasts: Ranging from 41.80 to 51.25; 
Difference between June 2005 forecast and actual price of $66.02: 
(24.22 to 14.77). 

Source: DOD data. 

[End of table] 

The fourth scenario compared forecasts of OMB, EIA, and 1 private 
organization from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2005 to the first 
quarter of 2007 to EIA actual prices for each of those quarters. As 
shown in table 4, the EIA forecast performed better than the OMB 
forecast for this time period, and the private organization's forecasts 
performed below both OMB's forecasts and EIA's forecasts. 

Table 4: Comparison of Forecasts from OMB, EIA and 1 Private 
Organization to the EIA Actual Prices for the Fourth Quarter of Fiscal 
Year 2005 to the First Quarter of 2007: 

Dollars per barrel: 

4th Quarter 2005; 
EIA actual price: 63.19; 
EIA forecast: 52.83; 
OMB forecast: 52.68; 
Private organization D forecast: 52.50. 

1st Quarter 2006; 
EIA actual price: 60.00; 
EIA forecast: 55.00; 
OMB forecast: 53.43; 
Private organization D forecast: 53.00. 

2nd Quarter 2006; 
EIA actual price: 63.27; 
EIA forecast: 54.00; 
OMB forecast: 53.24; 
Private organization D forecast: 52.00. 

3rd Quarter 2006; 
EIA actual price: 70.41; 
EIA forecast: 53.58; 
OMB forecast: 52.80; 
Private organization D forecast: 50.00. 

4th Quarter 2006; 
EIA actual price: 70.42; 
EIA forecast: 54.33; 
OMB forecast: 52.37; 
Private organization D forecast: 49.00. 

1st Quarter 2007; 
EIA actual price: 59.98; 
EIA forecast: 55.00; 
OMB forecast: 51.76; 
Private organization D forecast: 48.00. 

Source: DOD data. 

[End of table] 

The overall results of DOD's four comparative analyses show that EIA 
forecasts produced forecasts that were closer to the actual price than 
OMB's forecasts in each scenario[Footnote 7] and 3 of the 38 private 
organizations outperformed OMB and EIA forecasts in individual 
comparison scenarios; however, no private organization consistently 
outperformed either OMB or EIA in all scenarios. 

DOD Selected Its Preferred Approach Based on Results of Its Comparative 
Analysis: 

DOD selected its current method--based on OMB's forecasts--as its 
preferred bulk fuel rate setting approach because it concluded that 
it's comparative analysis showed that results using OMB's forecasts 
were comparable to or better than the alternative forecasts it 
evaluated. Based on the comparative analysis performed, DOD concluded 
that because the results showed only marginal improvement (1.92 percent 
difference) in using EIA's forecast over OMB's forecast and since no 
private organization consistently outperformed OMB forecasts in all 
scenarios, it did not warrant a change from DOD's current methodology. 
DOD also reported that inaccurate forecasts are pervasive in the 
current economic conditions based on market volatility. Thus, DOD 
concluded that changing forecasting sources or methods may not provide 
more realistic estimates for DOD at this time. 

Our Assessment Showed Data Limitations Constrained DOD's Comparative 
Analysis, but Current Fuel Rate Setting Approach Seems Reasonable: 

In assessing DOD's comparative analysis, we found that lack of 
available historical forecast data limited the scope of DOD's analysis. 
DOD included 18 months or less of data in each of the comparative 
scenarios it conducted. An economist in DOD's Defense Energy Support 
Center, who performed the analysis, agreed that a thorough evaluation 
of a group's long-term forecasting performance should include several 
different time periods. However, according to DOD officials, DOD was 
not able to obtain historical forecasting data to perform comparisons 
prior to June 2005 because these data are not retained by private 
forecast organizations. Consequently, DOD used June 2005 forecasts to 
predict crude oil prices for the various fiscal year 2006 scenarios. 
However, DOD set its fiscal year 2006 budgeted fuel prices in December 
2004, 6 months earlier than the forecasts DOD used in the analyses. 
When DOD set its fuel rate in December 2004, the forecast it used 
predicted fuel costs 10 to 21 months into the future (December 2004 to 
October 2005 through September 2006). Most of the scenarios DOD 
included in its analysis did not predict far enough into the future to 
replicate what DOD does each year when its sets its budgeted fuel 
rates--for example, scenario one only predicted 3 months into the 
future. In addition, OMB's December 2004 forecast for crude oil was 
$40.45 a barrel, which was $12.98 a barrel lower than the June 2005 OMB 
forecast DOD used in scenario one. The closer the forecast is to the 
actual time-frame being estimated, the easier it is to predict a more 
accurate forecast. The DOD economist we spoke with agreed that it would 
have been a more meaningful analysis to use December 2004 forecasts, 
but again stated that forecasts were not available from EIA or private 
forecasting organizations for that time-frame. In fact, the EIA 
forecast data that DOD used in the analysis are only available from the 
month starting the forecast to the end of the next calendar year. For 
example, in December 2004, EIA forecasted data only through December 
2005--which would have been insufficient to provide a basis for DOD in 
establishing fiscal year 2006 rates. According to DOD officials, the 
timing of the EIA forecast data does not match up to the time-frame 
when DOD has to set its rates for budgeting purposes. 

Consequently, based on the results of the analysis that DOD was able to 
conduct with the data available, we agree that the results did not 
provide a compelling reason for DOD to adjust its rate setting approach 
at this time. Because of DOD's decision to retain its current approach, 
we reviewed the basis for OMB's forecast to determine if it is based on 
reasonable assumptions. OMB's forecast is based on the futures market 
of crude oil. Using futures' prices for crude oil seems like a 
reasonable approach because buyers and sellers are actually making 
purchases and sales based on their ideas and information about the 
future price of crude oil. The futures price for crude oil for a 
particular date would reflect the interaction between buyers and 
sellers and the best estimate for the price of crude oil at that time. 
Barring more extensive analysis that might provide additional 
information to consider in selecting an alternative forecast, we 
believe that DOD's current method for producing fuel rates is a 
reasonable approach. In order for DOD to conduct a more robust 
analysis, it would need to begin capturing and maintaining the 
necessary forecast data now to conduct such analysis in the future. 

Agency Comments: 

DOD officials reviewed a draft of this report and had no comments. 

We are sending copies of this report to the Senate and House Armed 
Services Committees. We also will make copies available to others upon 
request. In addition, this report will be available at no charge on 
GAO's Web site at http://www.gao.gov. 

If you have any questions concerning this report, please contact me at 
(202) 512-9619 or pickups@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this report. Key contributors to this assignment were Bonita P. 
Anderson, Renee S. Brown, Laura L. Durland, Julia Matta, Charles W. 
Perdue, and Jeanett H. Reid. 

Signed by: 

Sharon Pickup: 
Director, Defense Capabilities and Management: 

(350960): 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Pub. L. No. 109-364,  1006 (2006). 

[2] DOD solicited inquiries from at least 21 federal departments and 
several independent agencies but did not have information on the exact 
number. 

[3] The Congress created EIA within the DOE in 1977. As a statistical 
agency, it provides policy-independent data, forecasts, and analyses to 
promote sound policy making, efficient markets, and public 
understanding regarding energy and its interaction with the economy and 
the environment. 

[4] DOD actually analyzed five scenarios but eliminated one in its 
report to the Congress because the data were similar to scenario four. 

[5] The statistical approach used for the 2007 budget and earlier 
budgets was regression analysis. A DOD energy official indicated that 
they are examining different statistical methods to look at this 
relationship in the future. 

[6] According to DOD officials, they were not able to obtain forecasts 
for each of the 38 private organizations for each scenario DOD 
evaluated because the historic forecasting data were not always 
available. Therefore, the number of private organizations compared in 
each scenario varies. 

[7] The eliminated scenario compared the average price for the entire 
2006 fiscal year for OMB's, EIA's and 1 private organization's 
forecasts. This comparison also showed that EIA's June 2005 forecast 
was more accurate than OMB's forecast by 1.92 percent.

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