Military Personnel:

Progress Made in Implementing Recommendations to Reduce Domestic Violence, but Further Management Action Needed

GAO-06-540: Published: May 24, 2006. Publicly Released: May 24, 2006.

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Due to concerns about domestic violence in the military and its adverse effect on mission readiness, Congress required the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a task force to assess the services' response to domestic violence and recommend improvements. The task force issued three reports containing 194 recommendations. The Fiscal Year 2004 National Defense Authorization Act required GAO to review DOD's progress in implementing the recommendations. This report discusses (1) DOD's ability to report on domestic violence incidents and disciplinary actions, (2) the resources DOD has provided to implement the recommendations, and (3) DOD's specific actions to ensure victim confidentiality and the education of commanding officers, senior enlisted personnel, and chaplains. GAO also examined whether DOD has established an oversight framework to monitor implementation.

DOD's ability to report on domestic violence incidents and disciplinary actions taken by commanders is hampered because the systems that the department uses to collect domestic violence information do not contain complete data. DOD's domestic violence database does not capture data from all law enforcement systems and, therefore, does not provide a complete accounting of reported incidents and actions taken by commanders. Notwithstanding the task force's recommendation to report on the number of domestic violence incidents, DOD and the services have not developed any plans to address the data limitations, which do not allow for visibility over domestic violence incidents. Without complete information on reported incidents of domestic violence and the steps taken by commanders to address these incidents, DOD will not know the size and nature of the problems or be able to assess the effectiveness of its actions. DOD has provided about $23 million to implement the recommendations and has made progress in this regard. Specifically, GAO identified 94 recommendations of varying potential importance as completed, 60 as pending further action, and 40 in which no action had been taken because DOD either disagreed with the recommendations or determined that they were not applicable to the department. Nonetheless, DOD faces challenges in completing the pending recommendations in a timely manner because of potential shortages of essential personnel in the office overseeing implementation. In addition, DOD's method of communicating its policy changes resulting from the recommendations has not ensured consistent practices and widespread understanding of the policies among DOD and the services. While DOD is taking steps toward ensuring confidentiality for victims and to train its personnel on domestic violence issues, additional efforts are needed. To ensure victim confidentiality, DOD issued a policy, effective April 22, 2006, allowing victims to report domestic violence to specified people without notifying command. In addition, DOD issued guidance requiring training and is providing several educational options. However, data regarding which chaplains have completed training are not available because the department and the services do not track this training. Chaplains play a special role in assisting domestic violence victims and, without complete training data, DOD may be unable to determine if chaplains have been provided the needed resources to assist victims. DOD has not established an oversight framework to monitor compliance with and evaluate implementation of the task force recommendations. While the task force recommended and DOD's draft domestic violence instruction requires monitoring and evaluation of domestic violence efforts, DOD has not established a process to do so. Without an overall management framework, DOD and Congress have limited visibility and oversight to evaluate DOD's implementation efforts and make needed improvements.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop, in conjunction with the service secretaries, chaplain guidance and training materials that highlight and clarify chaplain responsibilities concerning privileged communication.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Each Military Department has policy addressing clergy confidentiality, DOD does not contemplate developing a DOD-wide clergy confidentiality policy. Since the time of our report, two of the three services have issued new guidance clarifying chaplain confidential or privileged communications. The Army issued a policy memorandum dated September 25, 2007 clarifying the chaplain's responsibilities for confidentiality and privilege and the Navy issued a February 7, 2008 instruction on confidential communications to chaplains. All three services have updated training materials on chaplain confidentiality or privileged communication to reflect updated service guidance. (The Air Force's training materials make reference to and reflect the updated September 2007 Army guidance.) In addition, according to DOD, all three military departments continue to address confidentiality and privileged communication at their chaplain's training schools and other training events for chaplains.

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop, in conjunction with the service secretaries, procedures and metrics to ensure that accurate, consistent, and timely domestic violence training data are collected for chaplains.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur with this recommendation. DOD's position is that the family advocacy program managers are not the proponents of chaplain training and it is inappropriate for DOD to engage in routine operator level activity such as tracking training statistics. DOD indicated that this recommendation was more appropriately directed to the individual Military Departments who are responsible for tracking such information.

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish a communication strategy for effectively informing DOD and service officials about new guidance implementing the task force recommendations, to include issuing a revised DOD family advocacy program directive that is consistent with interim guidance for implementing the task force recommendations; and clearly articulating its policy regarding the distribution of military protective orders using a method that will ensure consistent application by all services and DOD.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The department has met the intent of this recommendation and has shown good faith in completing action that it will directly address this recommendation which was to issue its draft Directive 6400.1. A revised DOD Instruction (DODI 6400.06)Domestic Abuse Involving DOD Military and Certain Affiliated Personnel was issued in August 2007. This Instruction incorporates the interim guidance that was issued for implementing the task force on domestic violence recommendations. According to DOD, the Instruction was promptly electronically distributed to the Services as soon as it was issued. DOD's policy regarding the distribution of military protective orders was also clarified in DOD Instruction 6400.06. DOD is also issuing an updated Family Advocacy Program directive 6400.1.

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop a plan to ensure adequate personnel are available to implement pending task force recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to the Director, Family Advocacy Program; the Family Violence Policy Office, the office assigned the responsibility for implementing the task force recommendations, was closed at the end of fiscal year 2007 and its remaining tasks were transferred to the Family Advocacy Program Office as additional duties outside the Family Advocacy Program. When needed, assistance in performing those tasks is provided by the former director of the Family Violence Policy Office, who has been assigned other duties. Consequently, circumstances have changed and the recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to take appropriate steps, in conjunction with the service secretaries, to ensure all commander actions related to domestic violence incidents are entered in law enforcement systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the Military Services' law enforcement database systems have matured and special emphasis has been placed on ensuring that Commander's actions are reported and captured by their systems. Specifically, the five military systems that were in place at the time of our review that captured domestic violence incidents, the Army Military Police's Centralized Operations Police System, the Army's Criminal Incident Information System, the Air Force's Security Forces Management Information System, the Air Force's Investigative Information Management System, and the Navy's Centralized Law Enforcement Operations Center were completed as of June 2007. In addition, during 2006 DOD conducted six domestic abuse training conferences specifically addressing the need to enter commander actions related to domestic violence incidents into the law enforcement database systems. Furthermore, DOD has developed web based training for commanding officers that address this issue.

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop, in conjunction with the service secretaries, a comprehensive management plan to address deficiencies in the data captured in DOD's domestic violence database that focuses on ensuring that accurate and complete data exist and that all instances in the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System and Family Advocacy Program Central Registry are matched and reported annually, as required in DOD's Manual 7730.47-M.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a June 18, 2010 DOD response to our report issued on April 26, 2010 titled Military Personnel: Status of Implementation of GAO's 2006 Recommendations on DOD's Domestic Violence Program (GAO-10-577R), USD (P&R) stated that they will develop and implement a management plan to meet the requirements for the domestic violence database in the statue. USD (P&R) acknowledges that it has failed to create a database, including the action taken by command in response to every reported incident of domestic violence in which there was sufficient evidence to take disciplinary action. In the June 2010 letter, OSD (P&R) stated staff attention was not prioritized for a database with a limited operational or oversight purpose when other operational requirements that affect much greater number of military personnel have had higher priority. However, no specific date was provided as to when the management plan will be developed and implemented. In addition, since the problem with the database has been a long-standing issue with the department, the deficiencies in DOD's law enforcement data base are also being address in report number GAO-10-923 titled Military Personnel: Senior Leadership and Oversight Needed to Improve Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Abuse to be issued in September 2010.

    Recommendation: To enhance implementation of the task force recommendations and improve the effectiveness of domestic violence efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop and implement, in conjunction with the services, a DOD-wide oversight framework that includes a results-oriented evaluation plan for the implemented recommendations, and a process for ongoing monitoring of and reporting on implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has not yet developed an oversight framework for monitoring the implementation of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence recommendations. In our April 2010 report titled Military Personnel: Status of Implementation of GAO's 2006 Recommendations on DOD's Domestic Violence Program, we reported that in official written responses to us DOD stated that the responsibility for developing this framework "mistakenly was not reassigned" after the Family Violence Policy Office was closed in 2007. However, as of June 18, 2010, OSD (P&R) stated that the services have continued to conduct service accreditation and inspection processes, using a combination of regional and headquarters oversight and monitoring visits. They state that these procedures use DOD standards and, where such do not exist, adapt available civilian standards. USD (P&R) plans to use the results of these processes to establish the components of results-oriented evaluation plan to monitor process and implementation. However, no target date for this has been established.

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