Arctic Capabilities:

DOD Addressed Many Specified Reporting Elements in Its 2011 Arctic Report but Should Take Steps to Meet Near- and Long-term Needs

GAO-12-180: Published: Jan 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2012.

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pendletonj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

DOD’s Arctic Report, submitted May 31, 2011, addressed three and partially addressed two of the elements specified in the House Report.

While DOD has undertaken some efforts to assess the capabilities needed to meet national security objectives in the Arctic, it is unclear whether DOD will be in a position to provide needed capabilities in a timely and efficient manner because it lacks a risk-based investment strategy for addressing near-term needs and a collaborative forum with the Coast Guard for addressing long-term capability needs. DOD’s Arctic Report acknowledges that it has some near-term gaps in key capabilities needed to communicate, navigate, and maintain awareness of activity in the region. However, DOD has not yet evaluated, selected, or implemented alternatives for prioritizing and addressing near-term Arctic capability needs. In addition, DOD and the Coast Guard have established a working group to identify potential collaborative efforts to enhance U.S. Arctic capabilities. This working group is focused on identifying potential near-term investments but not longer-term needs, and it is currently expected to be dissolved in January 2012. Uncertainty involving the rate of Arctic climate change necessitates careful planning to ensure efficient use of resources in developing Arctic needs such as basing infrastructure and icebreakers, which require long lead times to develop and are expensive to build and maintain. Without taking steps to meet near- and long-term Arctic capability needs, DOD risks making premature Arctic investments, being late in obtaining needed capabilities, or missing opportunities to minimize costs by collaborating on investments with the Coast Guard.

Why GAO Did This Study

The gradual retreat of polar sea ice, combined with an expected increase in human activity––shipping traffic, oil and gas exploration, and tourism in the Arctic region––could eventually increase the need for a U.S. military and homeland security presence in the Arctic. As a result, the Department of Defense (DOD) must begin preparing to access, operate, and protect national interests there. House Report 111-491 directed DOD to prepare a report on Arctic Operations and the Northwest Passage, and specified five reporting elements that should be addressed. House Report 112-78 directed GAO to review DOD’s report. GAO assessed the extent to which 1) DOD’s Report to Congress on Arctic Operations and the Northwest Passage (Arctic Report) addressed the specified reporting elements and 2) DOD has efforts under way to identify and prioritize the capabilities needed to meet national security objectives in the Arctic. GAO analyzed DOD’s Arctic Report and related documents and interviewed DOD and U.S. Coast Guard officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD develop a risk-based investment strategy and timeline for developing Arctic capabilities needed in the near-term; and establish a forum with the Coast Guard to identify collaborative Arctic capability investments over the long-term. DOD and the Department of Homeland Security generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov.

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 more effectively leverage federal investments in Arctic capabilities in a resource-constrained environment and ensure needed capabilities are developed in a timely way, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, should develop a risk-based investment strategy that: 1) identifies and prioritizes near-term Arctic capability needs, 2) develops a timeline for addressing them, and 3) is updated as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD developed a risk based investment strategy in March 2012 that identifies and prioritizes near-term Arctic capability needs. However, work remains for DOD to develop a timeline for addressing the capability needs and to ensure the strategy is updated as appropriate.

    Recommendation: To more effectively leverage federal investments in Arctic capabilities in a resource-constrained environment and ensure needed capabilities are developed in a timely way, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, should establish a collaborative forum with the Coast Guard to fully leverage federal investments and help avoid overlap and redundancies in addressing long-term Arctic capability needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: As of January 2013, DOD has not yet met the intent of the recommendation.

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