Military Personnel:

Sustained Leadership and Oversight Needed to Improve DOD's Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Abuse

GAO-10-923: Published: Sep 22, 2010. Publicly Released: Oct 13, 2010.

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In 2001, the Deputy Secretary of Defense stated that domestic violence will not be tolerated in the Department of Defense (DOD). Despite this posture, DOD's clinical database indicates that 8,223 incidents met criteria for domestic abuse in fiscal year 2009. However, because this database includes only cases reported to military clinical offices, it does not represent all cases. In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated whether DOD is able to determine the effectiveness of its domestic abuse efforts. To conduct this review, GAO reviewed legislative requirements and DOD guidance, analyzed domestic abuse data, and interviewed officials involved in domestic abuse prevention and treatment and persons eligible to receive services at five military bases.

DOD has taken some actions to prevent and treat domestic abuse in response to recommendations made by the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence in 2001 through 2003 and by GAO in a 2006 report. However, DOD has no oversight framework with goals, milestones, and metrics with which to determine the effectiveness of its efforts. This issue is complicated by uncertainty regarding the completeness of DOD's data on domestic abuse. In 2007, DOD issued guidance on military protective orders after GAO had found that its lack of guidance had resulted in inconsistent practices. However, DOD closed its Family Violence Policy Office in 2007, which had staff dedicated to overseeing the implementation of recommendations made by the Defense Task Force, after DOD had taken action on some key recommendations. At that time, the specific responsibilities of that office for overseeing implementation of the remaining Task Force recommendations were not reassigned, although overall oversight responsibility remained with the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. DOD guidance assigns many domestic abuse-related responsibilities to this office, including responsibility for developing DOD's domestic abuse instruction and ensuring compliance. GAO found the following examples in which having sustained leadership attention and an oversight framework would have helped guide DOD in obtaining information that would allow it to fully manage its efforts and determine their effectiveness: (1) Significant DOD guidance has been in draft since 2006. As a result, the services are anticipating ways to implement the draft guidance, which contains, among other things, new guidelines for the services' clinical treatment and evaluation boards, without finalized guidance. (2) The database intended to satisfy legislative requirements enacted in 2000 continues to provide incomplete data, and DOD still collects domestic abuse data in two databases. In 2006, GAO reported on data discrepancies in these databases and recommended that they be reconciled. This recommendation remains open, and those problems continue today. Because DOD cannot provide accurate numbers of domestic abuse incidents, it cannot analyze trends. (3) It is DOD policy to target families most at risk of domestic abuse, but DOD has not defined goals for its efforts or metrics with which to measure progress. DOD collects only information on gender, rank, age, and substance use. Without information on other factors, such as length and number of deployments, DOD will be unable to fully analyze risk factors. During GAO's site visits, these factors were routinely mentioned. (4) DOD lacks metrics for measuring the effectiveness of its awareness campaigns. As a result, it does not know how to direct its resources most effectively. Without sustained leadership and an oversight framework, DOD will remain unable to assess the effectiveness of its efforts to prevent and treat domestic abuse. GAO recommends that DOD finalize guidance on how the services are to comply with DOD policies and develop an oversight framework to guide its efforts to prevent and treat domestic abuse that includes collecting data on contributing factors and establishing metrics to determine the effectiveness of DOD's awareness campaigns. In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD generally concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of September 2014, DOD has not finalized and issued DOD Instruction 6400.01. In July 2014, DOD noted that action is ongoing to complete DoD Instruction (DoDI) 6400.01 and that the Instruction completed an additional Legal Sufficiency Review in March 2013. DOD further noted that DoDI 6400.01 is currently being formatted and prepared by the Federal Register Office for entry into the Federal Register for a period of public comment and that DoD Manuals 6400.01 Volumes 1 - 4 are the accompanying manuals to DoDI 6400.01 and that Volumes 1 and 4 are concurrently being formatted with DoDI 6400.01 and will all be entered into the Federal Register simultaneously for comment. Volumes 2 and 3 are currently on hold pending publication of the DoDI 6400.01. DOD could not provide an estimated date for issuance of the revised Instruction.

    Recommendation: In addition to reiterating our prior recommendation regarding the need for a management plan to address deficiencies in DOD's database of domestic violence, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to finalize and issue DOD's Instruction 6400.01 on the Family Advocacy Program, which has been in draft since 2006, and the accompanying multivolume manual that is also currently in draft form.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness developed a strategy to (a) evaluate consumer awareness of Family Advocacy Program (FAP) services, (b) evaluate attitudes concerning access to services, (3) market the 2011 Domestic Violence Awareness Month Campaign message, and (d) analyze field penetration of the 2011 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign message. Beginning in October 2011, DOD added an 8-question survey to websites for Military HomeFront and Military One Source asking respondents to describe their awareness of FAP policies and programs. The collection of response data ended December 2, 2011. As a result of this survey, DOD gained some insight into consumers' awareness of FAP services and the 2011 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign effort. DOD also learned from this survey that it needed to clarify who can offer restricted and unrestricted reports of domestic violence.

    Recommendation: In addition to reiterating our prior recommendation regarding the need for a management plan to address deficiencies in DOD's database of domestic violence, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop an oversight framework to guide the efforts of all DOD organizations involved in preventing and treating victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse and evaluate their effectiveness. At a minimum, such a framework should include long-term goals, objectives, and milestones; strategies to be used to accomplish goals; and criteria and metrics for measuring progress. As part of that oversight framework, (a) collect and analyze data on factors that DOD has identified as contributing to domestic abuse to help ensure that the department's efforts to prevent and treat domestic abuse result in reduced frequency and severity of domestic abuse incidents and reduced recidivism among alleged abusers and (b) develop and use metrics to measure the effectiveness of campaigns to raise awareness of domestic abuse services available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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