Warfighter Support:

Improvements to DOD's Urgent Needs Processes Would Enhance Oversight and Expedite Efforts to Meet Critical Warfighter Needs

GAO-10-460: Published: Apr 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2010.

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Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have faced rapidly changing threats to mission failure or loss of life, highlighting the Department of Defense's (DOD) need to develop and field new capabilities more quickly than its usual acquisition procedures allow. Since 2006, Congress has provided nearly $16 billion to counter improvised explosive devices alone. GAO and others have reported funding, organizational, acquisition, and oversight issues involving DOD's processes for meeting warfighters' urgent needs. The Senate Armed Services Committee asked GAO to determine 1) the extent to which DOD has a means to assess the effectiveness of its urgent needs processes, and 2) what challenges, if any, have affected the overall responsiveness of DOD's urgent needs processes. To conduct this review GAO looked at three urgent needs processes--joint, Army, and the Marine Corps processes--visited forces overseas that submit urgent needs requests and receive solutions, and conducted 23 case studies.

Although DOD has taken steps to create urgent needs processes that are more responsive to urgent warfighter requests than traditional acquisition procedures, DOD is unable to fully assess how well the processes address critical deficiencies or to measure the effectiveness of solutions fielded in the theater because it has not established an effective management framework for those processes. GAO found that DOD's guidance for its urgent needs processes is dispersed and outdated. Further, DOD guidance does not clearly define roles and responsibilities for implementing, monitoring, and evaluating all phases of those processes or incorporate all of the expedited acquisition authorities available to acquire joint urgent need solutions. Data systems for the processes lack comprehensive, reliable data for tracking overall results and do not have standards for collecting and managing data. In addition, the joint process does not include a formal method for feedback to inform joint leadership on the performance of solutions. In one case, a solution for a joint request was fielded for 18 months without meeting warfighter needs. In the absence of a management framework for its urgent needs processes, DOD lacks tools to fully assess how well its processes work, manage their performance, ensure efficient use of resources, and make decisions regarding the long-term sustainment of fielded capabilities. In conducting field work in Iraq as well as 23 case studies, GAO found several challenges that could hinder DOD's ability to rapidly respond to urgent warfighter needs. First, not all personnel involved in the initial development and review of urgent needs documentation receive adequate training. DOD policy states that deploying personnel should receive priority for training and be responsive to the needs of the combatant commander; however, officers responsible for drafting, submitting, and reviewing Army and joint urgent needs requests are not likely to receive such training. Hence, once in theater, they often face difficulties processing the large volume of requests, in a timely manner. Second, in 11 of 23 cases GAO studied, challenges obtaining funding were the primary factor that increased the amount of time needed to field solutions. Funding has not always been available for joint urgent needs in part because the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has not assigned primary responsibility for implementing the department's rapid acquisition authority. Congress provided OSD with that authority to meet urgent warfighter needs, but OSD has played a reactive rather than proactive role in making decisions about when to invoke it. In addition, DOD can reprogram funds appropriated for other purposes to meet urgent needs requests, but authority for determining when and how to reprogram funds has been delegated to the services and combatant commands. Prior GAO work has shown that strong leadership from OSD over resource control is critical, and midlevel agencies such as the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, which is responsible for facilitating urgent needs requests, including funding, cannot guide other agencies at a high enough level to promote effective interagency coordination. Finally, GAO found that attempts to meet urgent needs with immature or complex technologies can result in significant delays.

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 the department's ability to fully assess how well the urgent needs processes are addressing critical warfighter deficiencies and to measure the effectiveness of solutions fielded in the theater, and to permanently establish the joint urgent needs process, and to improve consistency with federal internal control standards, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands, military services, and other DOD components, should, as necessary, clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military services, and other DOD components, as necessary, through the issuance of new or updated OSD and Joint Chiefs of Staff guidance, to identify who is accountable for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of all phases of the process--including applying the technological maturity criteria.

    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 the department's ability to fully assess how well the urgent needs processes are addressing critical warfighter deficiencies and to measure the effectiveness of solutions fielded in the theater, and to permanently establish the joint urgent needs process and to improve consistency with federal internal control standards, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands, military services, and other DOD components, should, as necessary, include rapid acquisition authority procedures available to officials responsible for meeting joint urgent need requests.

    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 the department's ability to fully assess how well the urgent needs processes are addressing critical warfighter deficiencies and to measure the effectiveness of solutions fielded in the theater, and to permanently establish the joint urgent needs process and to improve consistency with federal internal control standards, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands, military services, and other DOD components, should, as necessary, develop and implement standards for accurately tracing and documenting key process milestones such as funding, acquisition, fielding, and assessment, and for updating data management systems to create activity reports to facilitate management review and external oversight of the process.

    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 the department's ability to fully assess how well the urgent needs processes are addressing critical warfighter deficiencies and to measure the effectiveness of solutions fielded in the theater, and to permanently establish the joint urgent needs process and to improve consistency with federal internal control standards, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands, military services, and other DOD components, should, as necessary, develop an established, formal feedback mechanism or channel, for the military services to provide feedback to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRAC) on how well fielded solutions met urgent needs.

    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 better inform DOD personnel of the options for acquiring capabilities to meet warfighters' needs, the Secretary of Defense should amend DOD Directive 5000.01 and DOD Instruction 5000.02 to reflect that officials responsible for acquisition of urgently needed equipment may need to consider using joint urgent processes, including rapid acquisition authority.

    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: The Secretary should direct the Secretary of the Army to amend the urgent needs process guidance in Army Regulation 71-9 to include distinct performance standards that distinguish how different types of urgent needs, such as nonstandard mission equipment shortages and new capabilities, should be processed, and to develop and implement standard operating procedures for headquarters officials to use when processing urgent needs requests.

    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 better address training challenges the department faces in preventing process delays and improving its ability to more quickly field solutions to the theater, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to update training procedures to include instruction for unit requirements officers regarding the development of joint and Army urgent need statements in order to ensure that these personnel are prepared to effectively draft urgent requirement documents upon arrival in theater.

    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 more rapidly field urgent needs solutions aimed at eliminating deficiencies that have resulted in combat fatalities, the Secretary of Defense should amend its implementing memorandum for the department's rapid acquisition authority to designate an OSD entity, such as the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, with primary responsibility for recommending to the Secretary of Defense when to implement the department's statutory rapid acquisition authority--as provided in Pub. L. No. 108-375--as urgent needs are validated by the Joint Staff.

    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 expedite the funding needed to field approved solutions to joint urgent needs, the Secretary of Defense should create an executive council to include the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), the Director of JRAC, the Comptrollers of each of the military services, and other stakeholders as needed, and appoint a chair for the purpose of making timely funding decisions as urgent needs are validated by the Joint Staff.

    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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