Defense Management:

Assessment Should Be Done to Clarify Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office Personnel and Funding Needs

GAO-05-756R: Published: Aug 25, 2005. Publicly Released: Aug 25, 2005.

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In response to congressional concerns about the Department of Defense's (DOD) performance in accounting for missing personnel, DOD established the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Office in July 1993. This office is now called the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). DPMO's original mission was to provide centralized management of prisoner of war/missing in action affairs throughout DOD, and the office initially focused on missing service personnel from the Vietnam War and, to a lesser extent, incidents during the Cold War. Since its inception, Congress and DOD have expanded DPMO's mission and responsibilities. Concerned about the level of DPMO's resources, Congress in 2002 directed the Secretary of Defense to ensure that DPMO was provided with sufficient military and civilian personnel and funding to enable the office to fully perform its mission. Specifically, Congress established minimum levels of resources for DPMO, providing that the military and civilian personnel levels, as well as funding, would be not less than requested in "the President's budget for fiscal year 2003." On the basis of this congressional direction, DOD concluded that these minimum levels were: 46 military and 69 civilian personnel and $15.974 million in operation and maintenance (O&M) funding. We used these minimum levels in our analysis. The fiscal year 2005 National Defense Authorization Act required that we review the missions, staffing, and funding of DPMO. Our objectives were to (1) identify changes in DPMO's mission from the inception of the office to the present; (2) compare DPMO personnel and funding requests with actual staffing and funding levels from inception through fiscal year 2004, and determine whether the actual levels for fiscal years 2003 and 2004 were consistent with the minimum levels established by law; and (3) assess the extent to which DOD has evaluated any need for adjustment in personnel and/or funding levels, given changes in DPMO's mission. In May 2005, we provided Congress with information summarizing our observations in a briefing format. This letter summarizes and updates the information in the briefing.

Since its inception, DPMO's mission has expanded from initially accounting primarily for missing personnel from the Vietnam War era to accounting for missing personnel from past and current conflicts. Furthermore, in addition to performing its accounting function, DPMO has also become DOD's principal policy and oversight office for the rescue and return of live personnel to friendly control--that is, recovery. As of July 2005, DOD is revising DPMO's charter, which codifies DPMO's roles and missions. After an initial consolidation period immediately following DPMO's inception, total personnel and current-dollar funding requests and actual levels have increased slightly. The total number of civilians in DPMO has declined, reflecting the overall DOD downsizing, with little difference between requested and actual numbers, whereas the number of military personnel working in DPMO has exhibited more fluctuation, with varying differences between requested and actual numbers. However, since fiscal year 2003, actual civilian and military personnel totals have not met the congressionally directed minimums. Actual civilian totals in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 were about 6 percent below the 69 minimum personnel--65 in both years. Actual military personnel totals in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 were 30 percent or more below the 46 minimum personnel--32 and 29, respectively. Between fiscal years 1996 and 2005, DPMO funding increased in both constant and current dollar terms, and a close balance was kept between requested and actual funding. Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funding (which pays civilian salaries and other expenses) was similar in both requested and actual amounts, and it offset fluctuations in military personnel funding. Since fiscal year 1994, DPMO's O&M requested and actual funding levels increased, in current dollar terms. Except for fiscal year 2003, DPMO's funding has not met the congressionally directed minimum levels. In fiscal years 2004 and 2005, DOD requested and received slightly less than the congressionally directed minimum of $15.974 million--$174,000 (about 1 percent) and $10,000 (about .06 percent) respectively. The extent to which there is any need for adjustments in personnel or funding levels, given changes in DPMO's mission, cannot be determined because DPMO has not been subjected to a formal needs assessment since 1998. Until DPMO's charter is finalized and an assessment is performed, neither Congress nor the Secretary of Defense will have sufficient information to determine what the appropriate personnel and funding levels for the office should be.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has no plans to change the mission or update the charter of this organization.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to determine the scope of DPMO's missions and responsibilities, and revise DPMO's charter accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has not done a formal needs assessment and has no plans to do so.

    Recommendation: Based on the results of this determination, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to undertake a formal needs assessment of DPMO's workload to determine both what resources are needed and how they can best be allocated among the various mission areas, taking into account how DPMO fits within the overall spectrum of DOD organizations that have accounting or recovery missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since DOD has not implemented our other recommendations, it has not revised DPMO's strategic plan to include the mission and resource information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to incorporate that information into a revised strategic plan that links goals and objectives to performance metrics and resource needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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