The Department of Defense's Use of Solatia and Condolence Payments in Iraq and Afghanistan
GAO-07-699: Published: May 23, 2007. Publicly Released: May 31, 2007.
There are a number of ways that the U.S. government provides assistance to Iraqi or Afghan civilians who are killed, injured, or suffer property damage as a result of U.S. and coalition forces' actions. For instance, the U.S. Agency for International Development funds projects to assist Iraqi and Afghan civilians and communities directly impacted by actions of U.S. or coalition forces. Also, the Department of State administers a program that makes payments, in accordance with local custom, to Iraqi civilians who are harmed in incidents involving U.S. protective security details. In addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) administers a program that provides compensation under the Foreign Claims Act to inhabitants of foreign countries for death, injury, or property damage caused by noncombat activities of U.S. military personnel overseas. Further, DOD provides monetary assistance in the form of solatia and condolence payments to Iraqi and Afghan nationals who are killed, injured, or incur property damage as a result of U.S. or coalition forces' actions during combat. From fiscal years 2003 to 2006, DOD has reported about $1.9 million in solatia payments and more than $29 million in condolence payments to Iraqi and Afghan civilians who are killed, injured, or incur property damage as a result of U.S. or coalition forces' actions during combat. These payments are expressions of sympathy or remorse based on local culture and customs, but not an admission of legal liability or fault. Commanders make condolence payments using funds provided by Congress for the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), whereas solatia payments are funded from unit operations and maintenance accounts. Pub. L. No. 108-106 (2003) requires DOD to provide quarterly reports on the source, allocation, and use of CERP funds. To administer the CERP, DOD has established 19 project categories for the use of funds, including categories for condolence payments and battle damage payments. At Congress's request, we reviewed DOD's solatia and condolence payment programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, we examined the following questions: (1) To what extent has DOD established guidance for making and documenting solatia and condolence payments in Iraq and Afghanistan? (2) How are commanders making and documenting solatia and condolence payments in Iraq and Afghanistan and what factors do commanders consider when determining whether to make payments or payment amounts? (3) To what extent does DOD collect and analyze solatia and condolence payment data? We also are providing information on the other aforementioned programs established by the U.S. government to provide assistance to Iraqi and Afghan civilians who have been affected by U.S. or coalition forces' actions. These programs include (1) DOD's Foreign Claims Act, (2) the Department of State's Claims and Condolence Payment Program, and (3) the U.S. Agency for International Development's Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund and the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program.
We found that DOD has established guidance for making and documenting solatia and condolence payments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that guidance has changed over time primarily in Iraq in terms of condolence payment amounts, approval levels, and payment eligibility. Within parameters established by guidance, commanders exercise broad discretion for determining whether a payment should be made and the appropriate payment amount. While guidance does not require commanders to make payments, commanders may do so if they choose. When determining whether to make payments and payment amounts, commanders told us they consider the severity of injury, type of damage, and property values based on the local economy as well as any other applicable cultural considerations. According to unit officials with whom we spoke, units generally follow a similar process for making solatia and condolence payments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials told us that they generally make payments to civilians at Civil Military Operations Centers--ad hoc organizations established by military commanders to assist in the coordination of civilian-related activities--or during personal visits. DOD requires units to collect various types of detailed information related to condolence payments and, based on this information, reports certain summary level data to Congress. However, because its current guidance does not clearly distinguish between the types of payments to be reported under certain CERP categories, reporting entities are interpreting the guidance differently, and therefore inconsistent reporting has occurred. When a condolence payment is made, units record, among other data, information on the unit that made the payment, number of civilians killed or injured or whose property was damaged, location of the incident, and dollar value of the payment. Each payment also is assigned a document reference number for tracking purposes. In reporting to Congress on the use of CERP funds, DOD provides summary data on obligations, commitments, and disbursements for each of the 19 project categories, and by major subordinate command5 in Iraq or task force in Afghanistan. The project categories include (1) condolence payments to individual civilians for death, injury, or property damage and (2) repair of damage that results from U.S., coalition, or supporting military operations that is not compensable under the Foreign Claims Act, known as battle damage payments. Within the condolence payment category, DOD reports total dollar amounts and does not distinguish between payments made for death, injury, or personal property damage. Because DOD guidance does not clearly define when payments for property damage should be recorded as condolence payments or as payments for battle damage, some units are recording property damage as condolence payments while others record property damage as battle damage payments. Additionally, neither DOD nor the Army--which is the executive agent for CERP--can easily determine that property damage is categorized appropriately because guidance does not require units to report certain detailed information, such as document reference numbers, which would facilitate verification.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In response to our report, DOD revised its Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) guidance in 2007 to better clarify the difference between condolence payments and battle damage payments.
Recommendation: To provide greater transparency on the use of CERP funds for condolence payments, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) to revise CERP guidance to clarify the definitions as to what is reported in the two CERP categories: (1) condolence payments and (2) battle damage payments.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In 2007, the Department of Defense revised its Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) guidance to require the use of document reference numbers to provide greater transparency.
Recommendation: To provide greater transparency on the use of CERP funds for condolence payments, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) to require that document reference numbers be provided for payments to allow DOD to determine whether expenditures of CERP funds are appropriately categorized and to permit DOD to obtain detailed information for analysis and reporting, as appropriate.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense