Chemical and Biological Defense:

DOD Needs Consistent Policies and Clear Processes to Address the Survivability of Weapon Systems Against Chemical and Biological Threats

GAO-06-592: Published: Apr 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 2006.

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The possibility that an adversary may use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. forces makes it important for a weapon system to be able to survive such attacks. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, Congress mandated that the Department of Defense submit a plan to address weapon system chemical and biological survivability by February 28, 2005. This plan was to include developing a centralized database with information about the effects of chemical and biological agents on materials used in weapon systems. DOD did not submit its plan as mandated. GAO was asked to evaluate (1) the extent to which DOD addresses weapon system chemical and biological survivability during the acquisition process, and (2) DOD's internal controls for maintaining a comprehensive database that includes chemical and biological survivability research and test data for weapon system design and development.

The extent to which chemical and biological survivability is considered in the weapon system acquisition process is mixed and varied. Although DOD strategic guidance and policy has emphasized the growing threat of an adversary's use of chemical and biological weapons for over a decade, DOD, joint, and military service weapon system acquisition policies are inconsistent and do not establish a clear process for considering and testing system chemical and biological survivability. To assess the extent DOD addresses chemical and biological survivability during the acquisition process, GAO conducted a non probability sample of nine major weapon systems based on high dollar value, whether the system was a joint program, and risk of exposure to chemical and biological weapons. Because DOD and joint acquisition policies do not require that survivability be specifically addressed, the military services have developed their own varying and unique policies. Thus, for the nine weapon systems GAO reviewed, the program offices involved made individual survivability decisions, resulting in inconsistent survivability consideration and testing. In the absence of DOD requirements, program offices also inconsistently document their decisions regarding how they consider and test chemical and biological survivability. Furthermore, DOD policies do not establish a clear process for responsibility, authority, and oversight for monitoring program office decisions regarding chemical and biological survivability. Without establishing consistent policies requiring that chemical and biological survivability be considered during weapon system acquisition, and a clear process for doing so, military planners and commanders are likely to face varying weapon system performance, availability, and interoperability issues. These could negatively affect system availability in a contaminated environment and limit DOD's ability to identify risk and ensure that appropriate decisions are made. DOD, through its Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), maintains a centralized database for science and technology information that could facilitate program offices' consideration of weapon system chemical and biological survivability, but the comprehensiveness of this database is unknown due to inadequate internal controls. It is unlikely that the DTIC database contains fully comprehensive information about this for three reasons. First, it is unclear whether this information is covered by the broad DOD policy directing that scientific and technical information be submitted to DTIC. Second, there is no established process for submitting scientific and technical information to DTIC. As a result, it is submitted to DTIC through the ad hoc actions of individual personnel and organizations, and some DOD officials expressed concern that not all information is being submitted to DTIC. Third, no office or organization in DOD has been given clear oversight responsibility to ensure that information is submitted to DTIC. The lack of a database with comprehensive information about weapon system chemical and biological survivability creates the risk of unnecessary expenditures on duplicative testing.

Status Legend:

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  • 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 better ensure the incorporation of chemical and biological survivability into weapon systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to modify current DOD policy to ensure that DOD's database of chemical and biological scientific and technical information is comprehensive. This modified policy should clarify responsibilities and establish a specific process for the submission of chemical and biological scientific and technical information to DTIC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD recognized the need for a chemical and biological material effects database and initiated the development of such a database by forming and hosting an executive steering committee which met for the first time in March 2006. According to DOD, the Chemical and Biological Material Effects Database has been fully functional since March 2008; and Government and contractor personnel will continually evaluate the Database to provide additional test data and to enhance data quality. Further, DOD issued an instruction (3150.09) in September 2008 that states responsibilities of each organization and entity in submitting chemical and biological scientific and technical information to the Defense Technical Information Center. These actions address the intent of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the incorporation of chemical and biological survivability into weapon systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to modify current DOD policy to ensure that DOD's database of chemical and biological scientific and technical information is comprehensive. This modified policy should state which chemical and biological survivability information belongs in the body of scientific and technical information that is required to be submitted to DTIC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD issued an instruction (3150.09) in September 2008 stipulating that materiel developers ensure chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) survivability test data are provided to sponsors, and Defense Technical Information Center, for subsequent inclusion in the CBRN material effects databases. This action addresses the intent of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the incorporation of chemical and biological survivability into weapon systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to either modify current DOD policy or develop guidance to ensure that chemical and biological survivability is consistently addressed in the weapon system acquisition process. This policy or guidance should establish an oversight process within DOD and the services for monitoring weapon system program office decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD released policy on May 9, 2006 by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics that included an oversight process with roles and responsibilities for the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological matters,the milestone decision authority, and weapon system sponsors. DOD subsequently issued an instruction (3150.09) in September 2008 that established the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) Survivability Oversight Group to review and monitor the execution of the DOD CBRN Survivability Policy. This action addresses the intent of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the incorporation of chemical and biological survivability into weapon systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to either modify current DOD policy or develop guidance to ensure that chemical and biological survivability is consistently addressed in the weapon system acquisition process. This policy or guidance should require consistent, DOD-wide documentation of decisions regarding how weapon system chemical and biological survivability is considered and tested.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD issued policy on May 9, 2006 by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and included reporting and documenting responsibilities for the sponsor, material developer and Joint Staff gatekeeper to ensure that chemical and biological survivability is properly addressed for mission critical systems, including the development of quantitative and measurable performance attributes with thresholds and objectives to include annual reporting of decisions. DOD further issued an instruction (DODI 3150.09) on September 17, 2008 that describes the DOD processes and associated documentation requirements for decisions on weapon system chemical and biological survivability as part of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System, the Defense Acquisition System, the Missile Defense Agency System Engineering Plan, or the National Security Space Acquisition Policy. These actions address the intent of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the incorporation of chemical and biological survivability into weapon systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to either modify current DOD policy or develop guidance to ensure that chemical and biological survivability is consistently addressed in the weapon system acquisition process. This policy or guidance should establish a clear process for program offices to follow regarding the extent to which chemical and biological system survivability should be considered and tested.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD completed and released two sets of policies that address GAO's recommendation. First, on May 9, 2006, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics issued policy that included how chemical and biological survivability should be addressed by the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System sponsor (a Military Department or other DOD agency). Second DOD issues an instruction (DODI 3150.09) on September 17, 2008 that established the process for program offices to follow regarding the extent to which chemical and biological system survivability should be considered and tested. These actions address the intent of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the incorporation of chemical and biological survivability into weapon systems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to modify current DOD policy to ensure that DOD's database of chemical and biological scientific and technical information is comprehensive. This modified policy should designate which DOD office or organization is responsible for exercising oversight to ensure that this information is submitted to DTIC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD recognized the need for a chemical and biological material effects database and initiated the development of such a database by forming and hosting an executive steering committee which met for the first time in March 2006. According to DOD, the Chemical and Biological Material Effects Database has been fully functional since March 2008; and Government and contractor personnel will continually evaluate the Database to provide additional test data and to enhance data quality. Further, DOD issued an instruction (3150.09) in September 2008 that states responsibilities of each organization and entity in submitting chemical and biological scientific and technical information to the Defense Technical Information Center. These actions address the intent of GAO's recommendation.

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