Special Operations Forces:

Several Human Capital Challenges Must Be Addressed to Meet Expanded Role

GAO-06-812: Published: Jul 31, 2006. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 2006.

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Since the Global War on Terrorism, the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to expand the role of the United States Special Operations Command (Command) and its forces. In response, the Command has transformed its headquarters to coordinate counterterrorism activities, and DOD has increased funding and the number of special operations forces positions. Given the expanded mission, it is critical that the Command has personnel with the right knowledge and skill sets. GAO was asked to assess: (1) whether the Command has determined all of the personnel requirements needed to meet its expanded role; (2) the progress and challenges in meeting growth goals; and (3) any effect of deployments on the Command's ability to provide trained forces, and the progress made in managing deployments. GAO performed its work at the Special Operations Command and its service components, analyzed personnel data against requirements, and examined policies and directives.

Although DOD plans to significantly increase the number of special operations forces personnel, the Special Operations Command has not yet fully determined all of the personnel requirements needed to meet its expanded mission. While it has determined the number of personnel needed to increase its number of warfighter units, it has not completed analyses to determine (a) how many headquarters staff are needed to train and equip these additional warfighters or (b) how many headquarters staff are needed to plan and synchronize global actions against terrorist networks--a new mission for the Command. DOD plans to begin increasing the number of headquarters positions and has requested funds for these positions in its fiscal year 2007 budget request. Until these analyses are completed, the Special Operations Command cannot provide assurances to the Secretary of Defense and the Congress that currently planned growth in the number of personnel for the Command's headquarters will meet, exceed, or fall short of the requirements needed to address the Command's expanded mission. The military services and the Special Operations Command have made progress since fiscal year 2000 in recruiting, training, and retaining special operations forces personnel, but they must overcome persistently low personnel inventory levels and insufficient numbers of newly trained personnel, in certain specialties, to meet DOD's plan to increase the number of special operations forces. In addition, GAO's review of the service components' annual reports required by the Special Operations Command shows that the reports have not provided the information needed to determine whether they have enough personnel to meet current and future requirements. Without such information, the Command will be unable to determine whether the service components' human capital management approaches, including recruiting, training, and retention strategies, will be effective in meeting the planned growth targets. Since fiscal year 2000, the number of special operations forces personnel deployed for operations has greatly increased, and the number deployed for training has simultaneously decreased. The Special Operations Command has taken action to manage the challenge of increased deployments; in August 2005, it began requiring active duty personnel to remain at least an equal amount of time at home as deployed. But the Command's service components have not consistently or fully implemented this policy. This is because the policy lacks clear guidance on the length of time that the components must ensure that personnel remain within the deployment policy guidelines. In addition, officials with the Command's Army and Navy service components expressed concerns regarding the reliability of their information required to track the deployments of their personnel. Without consistent and reliable data, the Special Operations Command does not have the information it needs to effectively manage the personnel deployments of special operations forces, which affects its ability to maintain the readiness, retention, and training of these personnel.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our July 2006 report, Special Operations Forces: Several Human Capital Challenges Must Be Addressed to Meet Expanded Role, GAO-06-812, we reported that although DOD planned to significantly increase the number of special operations forces personnel, the Special Operations Command had not fully determined all of the personnel requirements needed to meet its expanded mission. Specifically, the Command had not completed analyses to determine the number of headquarters staff needed to train and equip additional warfighters or the number of staff needed for the Command's new mission to plan and synchronize global actions against terrorist networks. In the absence of such analyses, we concluded that the Special Operations Command could not provide assurances to the Secretary of Defense and the Congress that planned growth in the number of personnel for the Command's headquarters would meet, exceed, or fall short of the requirements needed for its expanded mission. We recommended that the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command establish specific milestones for completing the Command's ongoing analyses of personnel requirements and, once completed, make adjustments to the plans for personnel increases at the Command's headquarters. Consistent with our July 2006 recommendation, the Special Operations Command completed a series of manpower studies and the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command adjusted the manpower baseline of the Command in August 2009 based on the analyses and recommendations of the studies. For example, the Command reallocated 215 manpower positions from the Special Operations Center for Special Operations for other priority shortfalls.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, to establish specific milestones for completing the Command's ongoing analyses of personnel requirements and, once completed, make any needed adjustments to the current plans for personnel increases for the Command's headquarters and related future funding requests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The U.S. Special Operations Command is issuing a new directive for its program to monitor the status of special operations forces personnel in a manner consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, to revise the Command's directive for its program to monitor the status of special operations forces to include performance objectives, goals, and measures of progress for achieving planned growth; and enforce all of the directive's reporting requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our July 2006 report, Special Operations Forces: Several Human Capital Challenges Must Be Addressed to Meet Expanded Role, GAO-06-812, we reported that while the U.S. Special Operations Command (Command) had established a policy to manage increased deployments, the policy had not been consistently or fully implemented. Specifically, we found that the policy's guidelines were not clear and, as a result, the Command's service component commands were implementing the policy differently from one another. In addition, we reported that the service components did not maintain internal tracking systems with complete, valid, and reliable data on personnel deployments. For example, we reported that the Army Special Operations Command was developing an internal management tool to more accurately track its personnel deployments, and officials with the Navy Special Warfare Command told us they were not maintaining current data on personnel deployments. We reported that without such data, the Command would not have the information needed to effectively manage the personnel deployments of special operations forces, which affected the Command's ability to maintain the readiness, retention, and training of special operations forces personnel. We recommended that the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command clarify the methodology that the Command's service components use for enforcing the deployment policy and take steps to ensure that the service components have tracking systems in place to meet the requirements of the policy. Consistent with our July 2006 recommendation, the U.S. Special Operations Command released a revised "Dwell Time" policy in January 2007 with requirements that are in compliance with DOD's deployment rules for a 1:1 dwell time ratio. The revised policy established a formal tracking and reporting requirement whereby the component commands are required to provide a monthly report to the U.S. Special Operations Command's personnel directorate. The Command's personnel directorate provides the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command with dwell time statistics on a quarterly basis.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, to clarify the methodology that the Command's service components should use for enforcing the deployment policy, and take steps to ensure that the service components have tracking systems in place that utilize reliable data to meet the requirements of the policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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