The Department of Defense (DOD) prepositions equipment and supplies worth billions of dollars, including major items such as combat vehicles, rations, medical supplies, and repair parts at strategic locations around the world. Both afloat and ashore, prepositioning enables DOD to field combat-ready forces in days, rather than the weeks it would take if equipment had to be moved from the United States to the locations of conflicts. Prepositioned equipment can also be used to support security cooperation, deterrence, multilateral training exercises, and humanitarian assistance or disaster relief.
The Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps have drawn on their prepositioned stocks to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, increasing the opportunities to gain efficiencies in rebuilding these stocks. Since 2005, GAO has identified challenges regarding DOD's prepositioned stocks and made numerous recommendations related to strategic planning, requirements determination, inventory management, and other issues.
Although the services are expected to operate in a joint environment, some prepositioning activities are fragmented among the services, with the potential for unnecessary duplication. For example, the Army's and Air Force's transportable base equipment, including mobile housing and dining facilities, illustrates an instance in which the services separately fund and manage prepositioned equipment that has been used interchangeably among the services. Since 2005, GAO has reported that the lack of a departmentwide approach to prepositioning potentially misses opportunities to achieve greater efficiencies by reducing unnecessary duplication. Greater efforts toward a departmentwide approach to prepositioning that ensures the services' plans to spend billions of dollars to rebuild prepositioned stocks accurately reflect DOD's current and future needs could help prevent unnecessary duplication and expenditures.
While prior GAO recommendations and DOD's own instruction indicate the need for a departmentwide approach to prepositioning, the department still does not have such an approach. In 2008 DOD published an instruction on prepositioned stocks directing the development of overarching strategic guidance on prepositioning. However, as of September 2010 DOD's guidance contained little information related to prepositioned stocks. As a result, the services' individual plans and priorities for rebuilding their prepositioned stocks may continue to be implemented without a clear understanding of how these plans fit together to meet evolving defense goals. DOD has estimated that as of the end of fiscal year 2009, such replenishment will take about 8 years and cost an estimated $6.1 billion. GAO has reported that, as the rebuilding progresses, without the development and implementation of departmentwide guidance that includes planning and funding priorities linking current and future needs and desired responsiveness of DOD's prepositioned stocks, the services may not be able to make fully informed decisions that would support the effective and efficient achievement of national military objectives.
Organizational challenges that have hindered DOD's joint oversight of its prepositioned stocks further illustrate the lack of a departmentwide approach to prepositioning. DOD's 2008 instruction on prepositioned stocks formalized the establishment of a joint prepositioning working group. According to the federal standards for internal control, federal agencies are to employ internal control activities, such as reviews by managers, to help ensure that an organization's directives are carried out and resources are effectively and efficiently used. However, as GAO recently reported, the working group has had a limited focus, such as information sharing, and has not conducted the wider range of tasks the working group was directed to perform, such as addressing joint issues concerning requirements for prepositioned stocks, developing recommendations for improved processes, and making recommendations that balance limited resources against operational risk during budget and program reviews. If performed, these tasks could produce cost savings.
Joint, departmental, and service components within DOD are in the process of undertaking or have completed five major reviews, which may have the potential to identify areas of needed enhancements to the management of prepositioning activities. Nevertheless, without overarching guidance and the organizational means to institutionalize the results of these efforts, their impact may be limited. Therefore, as GAO recently recommended, the Secretary of Defense should take the following actions to enhance joint oversight of DOD's prepositioning programs:
In November 2010 DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations, but insufficient time has passed to assess progress in implementing them. Also, information is not available on the extent of potential savings that may result from the integration of elements of the services' prepositioning programs. Any actual savings would be dependent upon specific steps taken. However, implementing joint management for the staging and maintenance of prepositioned equipment stored on ships; consolidating elements common among the services' programs, such as expeditionary base and fuel transfer equipment; and leveraging the Defense Logistics Agency to manage some prepositioned repair parts are some steps that service officials believe may reduce costs.
This analysis draws on information contained in the GAO products listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab and in a classified report that GAO issued in February 2011. For this analysis, GAO excluded all information associated with certain details that DOD identified as being classified or sensitive in nature, which must be protected from public disclosure. Although the information contained in this analysis omits classified and sensitive information, these omissions addressed other issues and have no bearing on the findings, conclusions, and recommendations stated above. GAO plans to issue a full unclassified version of its report and conduct future work on DOD's prepositioned stocks in response to its annual reporting mandate.
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