Homeland Defense:

DOD Can Enhance Efforts to Identify Capabilities to Support Civil Authorities during Disasters

GAO-10-386: Published: Mar 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 2010.

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In addition to its primary mission of warfighting, the Department of Defense (DOD) plays an important role in civil support. Four years after the poorly coordinated national response to Hurricane Katrina, issues remain about DOD's progress in identifying its capability requirements for supporting a coordinated civilian-military response to a catastrophic domestic event. This report addresses the extent to which DOD (1) has identified and addressed its capability gaps for its civil support mission; (2) has clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and relationships and identified appropriate levels and types of personnel to assign to the FEMA regions; and (3) shares and tracks information concerning its civil support requirements response process with civil authorities. To do this, GAO analyzed DOD civil support guidance and plans and met with DOD and FEMA officials regarding the support that civilian authorities may request during a catastrophic incident.

DOD has identified capability gaps for its civil support mission by completing a capabilities-based assessment, but key DOD policies and guidance for the civil support mission are outdated, limiting DOD's ability to fully address capability gaps. DOD's strategic guidance requires that it anticipate requests for civil support by identifying capability gaps. However, inconsistency and misalignment across DOD's policies, strategy, and doctrine for civil support make it difficult for DOD to address capability gaps and pre-position equipment and supplies. GAO found this was due to outdated key DOD policies and guidance that do not reflect DOD's current organizational framework for providing assistance to civil authorities. If DOD updates key policies for civil support, it will be better able to address capability gaps and provide timely and appropriate support to civil authorities. DOD has increased its personnel dedicated to coordinate civilian requests for assistance, but it has not clearly defined their roles, responsibilities, and relationships, and its staffing is not based upon a staffing assessment by FEMA region. DOD guidance calls for coordination with federal and state authorities on military capabilities for civil support. However, while the Defense Coordinating Officer program has improved civil authorities' overall awareness of DOD's capabilities, roles, and responsibilities, command and control and coordination among the Defense Coordinating Officers and the military services' liaison officers have been confusing and sometimes problematic because DOD's civil support guidance is outdated. Further, DOD officials noted that staffing of the Defense Coordinating Officer program should reflect its multiservice environment and the unique challenges of each FEMA region. Different FEMA regions are prone to different disasters and have varying needs for DOD support, but the size and composition of the Defense Coordinating Officers' staff--nearly all from the Army--were not based on a staffing needs assessment. Therefore, they do not necessarily reflect variations in the support needs of the regions. As a result, DOD may be missing an opportunity to optimize its ability to provide a coordinated response to civil authorities with appropriate multiservice capabilities. While DOD follows established processes in responding to requests for assistance from civil authorities, it has not established a system to track civilian requests that is accessible to DOD's interagency partners. The National Response Framework broadly identifies how DOD responds to requests for assistance, and DOD guidance further specifies DOD's processes. However, civil authorities are not fully aware of the length of this process. While DOD has several different tracking systems in use by different DOD components for the civil support mission, it lacks a formal, interoperable, and unclassified system for tracking all requests for assistance across DOD. Without such a system, gaps will remain in gaining real-time situational awareness and maintaining a common operational picture of DOD support for all federal partners in disaster-response missions including DOD.

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 improve DOD's ability to conduct its civil support missions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to conduct a review of staffing requirements for the Defense Coordinating Officers, Defense Coordinating Elements, and Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers in both the NORTHCOM and PACOM areas of responsibility that includes but is not limited to an assessment of staff size, subject-matter expertise, and military service composition by FEMA region.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to conduct its civil support missions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to identify the extent to which NORTHCOM and PACOM should set training and equipping requirements for the Defense Coordinating Officers, Defense Coordinating Elements, and Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to conduct its civil support missions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to clarify roles and responsibilities, including command and control relationships for the Defense Coordinating Officers, Defense Coordinating Elements, and Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to conduct its civil support missions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs to update DOD policy and guidance for civil support (i.e., DOD directive and instruction 3025 series) to reflect current doctrine, terminology, funding policy, practices, and DOD's organizational framework for providing civil support, to include clarifying NORTHCOM and PACOM roles and responsibilities for civil support missions; and establish time frames for completion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to conduct its civil support missions, the Secretary of Defense should Direct the Joint Staff in coordination with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration / Chief Information Officer to identify and establish an official, DOD-wide, unclassified tracking system for all incoming requests-for-assistance from federal agencies regarding civil support missions. This system should at a minimum include: (1) requirements and guidance to ensure that the system is comprehensive and captures request-for-assistance data that can be used to anticipate civil support requirements; (2) access for FEMA and other lead federal agencies, to provide them with real-time situational awareness; and (3) time frames for the system's development and implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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