Depot Maintenance:

Improved Strategic Planning Needed to Ensure That Air Force Depots Can Meet Future Maintenance Requirements

GAO-10-526: Published: May 14, 2010. Publicly Released: May 14, 2010.

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The Air Force's maintenance depots provide critical support to ongoing operations around the world. Previously, the Department of Defense's (DOD) increased reliance on the private sector for depot maintenance support, coupled with downsizing, led to a general deterioration in the capabilities, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of the military services' depots. In March 2007, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (OUSD (AT&L)) directed each service to submit a depot maintenance strategic plan and provided direction for the content of those plans. The Air Force issued two documents in response to this direction--a Strategy and a Master Plan. GAO used qualitative content analyses to determine the extent to which the Air Force's collective plan addresses (1) key elements of a results-oriented management framework and (2) OUSD's (AT&L) direction for the plan's content.

While the Air Force plan focuses efforts on weapon system and equipment operational availability, it does not fully address the elements of a results-oriented management framework, nor does it clearly link information between the plan's two component documents. GAO's prior work has shown that seven elements of a results-oriented management framework are critical for comprehensive strategic planning. The plan fully addresses one of these elements by including a mission statement that summarizes the Air Force depots' major functions and operations, but it partially addresses or does not address the remaining six elements. For example, while the plan describes goals for the depots' mission-related functions, it does not provide time frames to achieve them. Additionally, the plan does not discuss any factors beyond the Air Force's control that could affect its ability to achieve the plan's goals nor does it identify how the Air Force will evaluate its programs and use the results of such evaluations to adjust the plan's long-term goals and strategies to achieve desired levels of performance. Moreover, the content of the plan's two component documents are not clearly linked to one another. For example, the goals listed in the Strategy are not clearly repeated in the Master Plan, and the Master Plan includes goals that are unrelated to depot maintenance. Nor does the Master Plan clearly align its content to the five long-term goals described in the Strategy. The plan does not fully address the elements of a results-oriented management framework and the plan's two documents are not clearly linked to one another in part because of weaknesses in oversight. Specifically, although OUSD (AT&L) established an oversight body, which included senior representatives from OUSD (AT&L) and the services, to review the services' plans, this body did not review the plan. Also, the Air Force did not establish an oversight mechanism to review its plan. The plan's weaknesses may limit the Air Force's ability to use its plan as a tool to meet future challenges. In addition, the Air Force plan is not fully responsive to OUSD's (AT&L) direction to the services that was designed to provide the services with a framework to meet future challenges. OUSD (AT&L) directed the services to address 10 specific issues in four general areas: logistics transformation, core logistics capability assurance, workforce revitalization, and capital investment. The plan partially addresses 8 of these issues and does not address the remaining two. For example, while the plan notes that the Air Force is partnering with local universities and technical schools to provide training to reengineer existing employees' skills, the plan does not address Air Force actions to identify new and emerging skill requirements, as directed. Furthermore, the plan does not discuss any benchmarks to evaluate the adequacy of investment funding, as directed. As discussed for the elements of a results-oriented management framework, the plan does not fully respond to OUSD (AT&L)'s direction for the plan's content in part because of weaknesses in oversight in both OUSD (AT&L) and the Air Force. The plan's shortcomings may limit the Air Force's assurance that its depots are postured and resourced to meet future maintenance challenges.

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 provide greater assurance that Air Force depots will be postured and resourced to meet future maintenance requirements, and to revise the Air Force's depot maintenance strategic plan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to fully and explicitly address all elements needed for a comprehensive results-oriented management framework, including those elements that we have identified as partially addressed or not addressed in the current plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has not yet implemented depot maintenance strategic planning recommendations in GAO-10-526 but expects to implement recommendations by December 2013. The Air Force is working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in developing a new strategic depot maintenance planning framework. OSD expects to finalize the framework by the end of calendar year 2013.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurance that Air Force depots will be postured and resourced to meet future maintenance requirements, and to revise the Air Force's depot maintenance strategic plan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to demonstrate clear linkages among the depot maintenance strategic plan's component documents, should the Air Force decide to publish its revised plan in multiple documents.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has not yet implemented depot maintenance strategic planning recommendations in GAO-10-526 but expects to implement recommendations by December 2013. The Air Force is working with OSD in developing a new strategic depot maintenance planning framework. OSD expects to finalize the framework by the end of calendar year 2013.

    Recommendation: To provide greater assurance that Air Force depots will be postured and resourced to meet future maintenance requirements, and to revise the Air Force's depot maintenance strategic plan, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to fully and explicitly address OUSD (AT&L)'s direction that provides a framework for the services to meet future depot maintenance challenges.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has not yet implemented depot maintenance strategic planning recommendations in GAO-10-526 but expects to implement recommendations by December 2013. The Air Force is working with OSD in developing a new strategic depot maintenance planning framework. OSD expects to finalize the framework by the end of calendar year 2013.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the oversight mechanism for depot maintenance strategic planning, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and the Secretary of the Air Force to develop and implement procedures to review revisions of the depot maintenance strategic plan to ensure they fully address all key elements of a results-oriented management framework, explicitly address any OUSD (AT&L) direction for the plans, and periodically assess progress and corrective actions to the extent needed in meeting the plans' goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has not yet implemented depot maintenance strategic planning recommendations in GAO-10-526 but expects to implement recommendations by December 2013. The Air Force is working with OSD in developing a new strategic depot maintenance planning framework. OSD expects to finalize the framework by the end of calendar year 2013.

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