Chemical and Biological Defense:

Management Actions Are Needed to Close the Gap between Army Chemical Unit Preparedness and Stated National Priorities

GAO-07-143: Published: Jan 19, 2007. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 2007.

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The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report states that the Department of Defense (DOD) must be prepared to respond to and mitigate the effects of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attacks at home or overseas. Moreover, the Secretary of Defense directed the U.S. military to define the nature and potential requests for military capabilities needed to respond to 15 National Planning Scenarios issued by the Homeland Security Council. The Army's chemical units are key players in this mission. GAO was asked to evaluate the preparedness of the Army's chemical and biological units, including the extent to which (1) units tasked with providing chemical and biological defense support to combat units and commands are adequately staffed, equipped, and trained and (2) units also tasked with a homeland defense mission--especially National Guard and Reserve units--are adequately prepared for this mission. During this review, we analyzed readiness data and other preparedness indicators for 78 Army chemical units.

Most Army units tasked with providing chemical and biological defense support are not adequately staffed, equipped, or trained to perform their missions. Although the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review and current operational plans highlight the need to mitigate WMD attacks at home and abroad and DOD has doubled its investment in chemical and biological defenses since 2001 and plans to increase funding for this program during fiscal years 2006 through 2011, there is a misalignment between the high priority DOD states that it places on chemical and biological defense and the current low level of chemical unit readiness. Most of the Army's chemical and biological units, particularly in the National Guard and Reserve, are reporting the lowest readiness ratings--meaning that they are not considered sufficiently qualified for deployment. This situation reflects critical personnel shortages, particularly in their key occupational specialty--chemical operations--and shortages of mission-critical equipment, such as decontamination equipment. Lacking key personnel and equipment, some units have not been able to train for their wartime chemical and biological defense missions. Army chemical unit readiness problems have historically been attributed to personnel and equipment shortages, and recently these have been greatly exacerbated by personnel and equipment transfers to other types of units in support of current operations. Moreover, the Army does not have a specific plan in place to resolve long-standing shortages in personnel and equipment. Until the Army develops a specific plan to address personnel and decontamination equipment shortfalls and the transfer of chemical operations specialists to deploying units, adequate chemical defense forces may not be available in the event of a WMD attack at home or abroad. Even though 12 of the 15 National Planning Scenarios issued by the Homeland Security Council involve chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) response, the ability of Army chemical and biological units, especially National Guard and Reserve units, to concurrently perform both their original warfighting chemical and biological defense mission and their homeland defense mission is doubtful. While the Joint Task Force-Civil Support deployment data list contains a limited number of chemical and biological units that must be ready to perform homeland defense missions, the forces on this list, according to United States Northern Command planning documents, are intended only to be an initial response force. The Army is prohibiting the transfer of personnel and equipment from units on this deployment list to deploying units overseas. However, it is unclear whether this is an adequate number of units to support the homeland defense mission because no criteria have been established to determine how many and which chemical units are needed. In the event of multiple near-simultaneous WMD attacks in the United States, additional chemical units would be required--but most chemical and biological units are already at a low state of readiness and DOD has not updated doctrine for addressing the new homeland defense missions.

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 align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and approve a plan for addressing DOD's decontamination equipment shortages until new joint systems are fielded beginning in fiscal year 2009. This plan should determine the total number of systems needed during the interim period, by type of system (M12, M17, Karcher, or Falcon) to maintain the needed decontamination capability; how the interim systems will be integrated with retained M12 and M17 systems; how training and logistical support for the interim systems will be addressed; and whether the interim systems should be type-classified and standardized as official military equipment with a national stock number, and added to units' official equipment lists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD noncurred with this recommendation and stated that the recommendation does not accurately reflect the current situation.

    Recommendation: To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to determine how many and which active, National Guard, and Army Reserve chemical units will be needed to perform homeland defense missions, including responding to multiple, near-simultaneous CBRNE attacks on the United States, and set forth a plan to ensure that for these units, the homeland defense mission is given priority over other missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Recent GAO work (see GAO-10-123) has found that DOD still relies on "dual-capability" forces to provide chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive ( CBRNE) consequence management capabilities in addition to existing overseas missions. These CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force Packages are rotational and not dedicated to homeland defense. They will come under operational control of U.S. Northern Command only in the event of an incident.

    Recommendation: To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop a specific plan to address the long-standing chemical unit personnel shortages that have been exacerbated by ongoing operations, particularly for chemical operations specialists. This plan should specifically address and discuss options such as the need for temporarily prohibiting the transfer of personnel from chemical units with homeland defense missions into units supporting other operations; requiring soldiers in chemical occupational specialties to return to assignments requiring that specialty after deployments, as long as shortages continue in that specialty; other steps designed to mitigate the loss of these personnel; and the risks associated with not taking such steps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD non concurred with this recommendation and further stated that promotion, reclassification, and incentive programs are constantly adjusted to react to the changing needs of the Army.

    Recommendation: To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to set a definitive deadline for completing chemical and biological defense doctrine to reflect new homeland defense missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD revised and published Army Field Manual 3-11.21 "Multiservice Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Consequence Management Operations" in April 2008. It includes the agreed-upon guidance to reflect homeland defense missions.

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