Warfighter Support:

DOD Should Have a More Comprehensive Approach for Addressing Urgent Warfighter Needs

GAO-11-417T: Published: Mar 1, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2011.

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This testimony discusses the challenges that the Department of Defense (DOD) faces in fulfilling urgent operational needs identified by our warfighters. Over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have encountered changing adversarial tactics, techniques, and procedures, which challenged DOD to quickly develop and provide new equipment and new capabilities to address evolving threats. Further, U.S. troops faced shortages of critical items, including body armor, tires, and batteries. DOD's goal is to provide solutions as quickly as possible to meet urgent warfighter needs to prevent mission failure or loss of life. To meet its urgent needs, DOD had to look beyond traditional acquisition procedures, expand the use of existing processes, and develop new processes and entities designed to be as responsive as possible to urgent warfighter requests. In addition to requests for equipment from DOD's existing stocks, warfighters have requested new capabilities, such as: technology to counter improvised explosive devices (IED); technology related to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to provide increased situational awareness; and equipment related to command and control to enhance operations on the battlefield. In meeting urgent needs, it is important for DOD to efficiently use the department's financial resources. DOD has spent billions of dollars over the past several years to address urgent warfighter needs. Our past work on weapons acquisition has shown that the department has often pursued more programs than its resources can support. Additionally, our past work also has shown that DOD has had difficulty translating needs into programs, which often has led to cost growth and delayed delivery of needed capabilities to the warfighter. Today, we are publicly releasing a report that addresses (1) what entities exist within DOD for responding to urgent operational needs, and the extent to which there is fragmentation, overlap, or duplication; (2) the extent to which DOD has a comprehensive approach for managing and overseeing its urgent needs activities; and (3) the extent to which DOD has evaluated the potential for consolidations of its various activities and entities. This statement will first briefly discuss challenges we reported in April 2010 that affected the overall responsiveness of DOD's urgent needs processes and then highlight the key findings and recommendations of today's report. Today's report contributed to our findings in another report being released today that addresses opportunities to reduce potential duplication in government programs.

We reported in April 2010 on several challenges that affected DOD's responsiveness to urgent needs: (1) Training: We found challenges in training personnel that process urgent needs requests. For example, we found that while the Army required selected officers to attend training on how to address requirements and identify resources for Army forces, officers at the brigade level responsible for drafting and submitting Army and joint urgent needs requests--and those at the division level responsible for reviewing the requests prior to submission for headquarters approval--were not likely to receive such training.(2) Funding: We found that funding was not always available when needed to acquire and field solutions to joint urgent needs. This result occurred in part because the Office of the Secretary of Defense had not given any one organization primary responsibility for determining when to implement the department's statutory rapid acquisition authority or to execute timely funding decisions. (3) Technical maturity and complexity: We found that attempts to meet urgent needs with immature technologies or with solutions that are technologically complex could lead to longer time frames for fielding solutions to urgent needs. Also, we found that DOD guidance was unclear about who is responsible for determining whether technologically complex solutions fall within the scope of DOD's urgent needs processes. In our report being released today, we identified cases of fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication of efforts of DOD's urgent needs processes and entities. However, the department is hindered in its ability to identify key improvements to its urgent needs processes because it does not have a comprehensive approach to manage and oversee the breadth of its efforts. Many of these entities were created, in part, because the department had not anticipated the accelerated pace of change in enemy tactics and techniques that ultimately heightened the need for a rapid response to the large number of urgent needs requests submitted by the combatant commands and military services. While many entities started as ad hoc organizations, several have been permanently established. DOD has taken some steps to improve its fulfillment of urgent needs. These steps include developing policy to guide joint urgent need efforts, establishing a Rapid Fielding Directorate to rapidly transition innovative concepts into critical capabilities, and working to establish a senior oversight council to help synchronize DOD's efforts. Despite these actions, the department does not have a comprehensive approach to manage and oversee the breadth of its activities to address capability gaps identified by warfighters in-theater. In addition to not having a comprehensive approach for managing and overseeing its urgent needs efforts, DOD has not conducted a comprehensive evaluation of its urgent needs processes and entities to identify opportunities for consolidation. Given the overlap and potential for duplication we identified, coupled with similar concerns raised by other studies, there may be opportunities for DOD to further improve its urgent needs processes through consolidation. In the report we publicly release today, we make several recommendations to promote a more comprehensive approach to planning, management, and oversight of DOD's fulfillment of urgent needs. In summary, we are recommending that: (1) DOD develop and promulgate DOD-wide guidance across all urgent needs processes that establishes baseline policy for the fulfillment of urgent needs, clearly defines common terms, roles, responsibilities, and authorities, designates a focal point to lead DOD's urgent needs efforts, and directs the DOD components to establish minimum urgent needs processes and requirements; and (2) DOD's Chief Management Officer evaluate potential options for consolidation to reduce overlap, duplication, and fragmentation, and take appropriate action.

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