Defense Forensics:

Additional Planning and Oversight Needed to Establish an Enduring Expeditionary Forensic Capability

GAO-13-447: Published: Jun 27, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some important steps to establish an enduring expeditionary forensic capability by issuing a concept of operations in 2008, followed by a directive in 2011 to establish policy and assign responsibilities. As required by the directive, DOD has drafted a strategic plan to guide the activities of the Defense Forensic Enterprise, including expeditionary forensics. Although the plan includes a mission statement, and goals and objectives--two of the five key elements identified by GAO as integral to a well-developed strategic plan--it does not identify approaches for how goals and objectives will be achieved, milestones and metrics to gauge progress, and resources needed to achieve goals and objectives. GAO's prior work has shown that organizations need a well-developed strategic plan to identify and achieve their goals and objectives effectively and efficiently. Officials in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD(AT&L)) said that they decided to create a concise, high-level strategic plan and that they plan to issue guidance tasking the DOD components to develop individual implementation plans that include milestones. However, approaches, metrics, and resources needed to accomplish its goals and objectives were absent from the draft guidance. GAO discussed this omission with OUSD(AT&L), and in response, this office plans to revise its draft guidance. Also, the forensic strategic plan has been in draft for 2 years having undergone multiple revisions, and is still undergoing DOD internal review with no publication date set, and by extension, a publication date has not been set for the proposed DOD component implementation plans. The lack of an approved strategic plan and associated implementation plans limits DOD's ability to prioritize its efforts to develop an enduring expeditionary forensic capability by the end of 2014.

Moreover, OUSD(AT&L) has not reviewed and evaluated the adequacy of DOD components' expeditionary forensic budget estimates for fiscal years 2013 through 2018, as required by DOD's directive. OUSD(AT&L) officials said that they were waiting for the DOD components to finalize their budget estimates for fiscal years 2013 through 2018, and waiting for the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System to validate their forensic requirements. Regardless, reviewing and evaluating the DOD components' proposed budget estimates allows OUSD(AT&L) to advise the DOD components on their resource allocation decisions with respect to expeditionary forensic capabilities. OUSD(AT&L) officials cited several factors that also affected their ability to review and evaluate the DOD components' forensic budget data, such as aggregation of components' forensic budget estimates with other costs. Moreover, these officials said the directive does not provide guidance to DOD components on how to collect and report forensic budget data. GAO's Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government notes that agencies should provide policy and guidance to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of operations. Until OUSD(AT&L) reviews and evaluates the adequacy of DOD components' forensic budget estimates, and guidance is in place to inform forensic budget collection and reporting, OUSD(AT&L) will continue to experience challenges with identifying the costs associated with DOD's expeditionary forensic capabilities.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD used expeditionary forensics for collecting fingerprints and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to identify, target, and disrupt terrorists and enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. The increased incidence of improvised explosive devices and other asymmetric threats has increased demand for expeditionary forensic capabilities. Many of DOD's expeditionary forensic activities are resourced through DOD's Overseas Contingency Operations funds. DOD estimates that it cost between $800 million and $1 billion of these funds from 2005 through 2012 to support expeditionary forensics activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as military operations are projected to draw down in Afghanistan, this funding is expected to substantially decline by the end of 2014. Consequently, DOD is taking steps to establish expeditionary forensics as an enduring capability in DOD's base budget. GAO was asked to examine DOD's expeditionary forensic capability. This report assessed the extent to which DOD has taken steps to establish an enduring expeditionary forensic capability. To address this objective, GAO reviewed relevant policy, plans, and budget estimates, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations to DOD, including incorporating key elements in its strategic plan, periodically reviewing and evaluating DOD components' proposed forensic budget estimates--including expeditionary forensics, and issuing guidance on collecting and reporting forensic budget data. DOD concurred with all four recommendations.

For more information, contact Brian Lepore at (202) 512-4523 or leporeb@gao.gov

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, DOD issued its Defense Forensic Enterprise Strategy in March 2015 that includes goals and objectives for the enterprise. In September 2015, DOD issued a Defense Forensic Enterprise Strategy Implementation Plan that includes milestones and metrics (i.e. tasks), and assigns offices of primary responsibility for executing those tasks and for identifying and obtaining resources required to deliver on those assigned tasks within the next five years (by 2020). Taken together, these actions address our recommendation.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to incorporate key elements in its forensic strategic plan, implementation plans, and other associated guidance that are currently absent including approaches for achieving goals and objectives, milestones and metrics to gauge the department's progress, and resources needed to meet its goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, DOD issued its Defense Forensic Enterprise Strategy in March 2015. In September 2015, DOD issued a Defense Forensic Enterprise Strategy Implementation Plan. Taken together, these actions address our recommendation.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to set a date to publish the strategic plan for the Defense Forensic Enterprise.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address our recommendation, the Defense Biometrics and Forensics Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics conducted a budget review of forensic budget submissions from July 2014 to January 2015 and evaluated the budget projections for fiscal years 2015 through 2020. As part of this review, the Defense Biometrics and Forensics Office reported that it had determined that the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution process was sufficient to allow the office to effectively assess the DOD components' forensic budget estimates. The office subsequently issued a memorandum outlining its process for gathering and reviewing DOD component forensic budget data. Further, the office identified that funding for the Defense Forensics Enterprise was sufficient. These actions address our recommendation.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to periodically review and evaluate the DOD components' proposed forensic budget estimates--including expeditionary forensics--to help ensure the department's overarching requirements and objectives will be met, in accordance with the DOD Defense Forensic Enterprise directive.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To implement our recommendation, the Defense Biometrics and Forensics Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics issued guidance in April 2015 that outlined the department's process for conducting budget reviews of biometric and forensic requirements. Specifically, the guidance states that the Defense Biometrics and Forensics Office, as the Principal Staff Assistant for the Defense Biometrics and Forensics Enterprises, shall rely on the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution process to determine the adequacy of DOD components' funding against validated requirements. This action addresses our recommendation.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to issue guidance on how DOD components are to collect and report their forensic budget data--including expeditionary forensic budget data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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