Operational Contract Support:

Actions Needed to Enhance the Collection, Integration, and Sharing of Lessons Learned

GAO-15-243: Published: Mar 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense's (DOD) geographic combatant commands are improving efforts to collect operational contract support (OCS) issues from operations and exercises needed to develop lessons learned, but the military services are generally not collecting them. Currently, four of the six geographic combatant commands—U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Southern Command—have identified OCS as a critical capability in their joint training plans and have incorporated it into planning, execution, and assessment of exercises, while U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command continue to make progress doing so. However, with the exception of the Army, the military services and their component commands are not generally collecting OCS issues to develop lessons learned. Officials from the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy stated that the lack of OCS awareness caused by not having (1) service-wide guidance on collecting OCS issues and (2) an OCS training requirement for senior leaders hinders their ability to develop lessons learned. Without guidance and a training requirement for senior leaders to improve OCS awareness, it will be difficult for DOD to ensure consistent collection of OCS issues and build on efficiencies that the services have identified to adequately plan for the use of contractor support.

DOD has made progress resolving some OCS issues, but does not have a focal point for integrating OCS issues identified through the Joint Lessons Learned Program (JLLP). The combatant commands and services are to use the JLLP to develop lessons learned related to joint capabilities from operations and exercises to improve areas such as doctrine and training. Currently, there are multiple organizations across DOD that are working on separate and sometimes disjointed OCS lessons-learned efforts. DOD has undertaken initial efforts to assign an OCS joint proponent with lessons-learned responsibilities. A joint proponent is an entity intended to lead collaborative development and integration of joint capability. However, DOD has not determined whether the joint proponent will be responsible for providing formal oversight and integration of OCS issues from the JLLP. As it develops the joint proponent, including such roles and responsibilities will help better position DOD to integrate all OCS issues from the JLLP, thereby addressing any gaps in its efforts.

DOD organizations do not consistently use the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLIS) to share OCS issues and lessons learned due to the system's limited functionality. JLLIS is the JLLP's system of record and is to facilitate the DOD-wide collection and sharing of lessons learned. However, GAO found that geographic combatant commands and the Army use JLLIS to varying degrees. Further, DOD is generally not sharing OCS lessons learned in JLLIS because the system is not functional for users searching OCS issues due to, among other reasons, not having an OCS label and not having a designated location for sharing OCS lessons learned. JLLIS's limited functionality impedes information sharing department-wide. Until DOD improves the functionality of JLLIS, it will be difficult for users to search for OCS issues, and DOD runs the risk of not being able to systematically track and share OCS lessons learned department-wide, which could negatively affect joint force development and readiness.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD has spent billions of dollars on contract support during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 and anticipates continuing its heavy reliance on contractors in future operations. Generally, OCS is the process of planning for and obtaining needed supplies and services from commercial sources in support of joint operations. GAO has previously identified long-standing concerns with DOD's efforts to institutionalize OCS.

This report examines the extent to which (1) the geographic combatant commands and the services collect OCS issues to develop lessons learned, (2) DOD has a focal point for integrating OCS issues from the JLLP, and (3) DOD organizations use JLLIS to share OCS issues and lessons learned. GAO evaluated OCS and lessons-learned guidance and plans and met with DOD commands and offices responsible for OCS planning, integration, policy, and contractor-management functions.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that DOD and the services (1) issue service-wide OCS lessons-learned guidance; (2) establish an OCS training requirement for senior leaders; (3) ensure the planned OCS joint proponent's roles and responsibilities include integrating OCS issues from the JLLP; and (4) improve JLLIS's functionality. DOD concurred with three of these recommendations, but partially concurred with the third recommendation, stating the need to first evaluate its courses of action before establishing such a proponent. GAO believes this recommendation is still valid, as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or russellc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of October 2016, officials from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Support reported that the department is in the process of updating DOD Instruction 3020.41, which identifies responsibilities related to operational contract support. Officials stated that the revised instruction, which is expected to be issued in December 2016, will detail the roles and responsibilities of the services in collecting lessons learned on operational contract support issues.

    Recommendation: To help improve collection of OCS issues by the military services and service component commands, the Secretary of Defense should revise existing DOD guidance, such as DOD Instruction 3020.41, to specifically detail the roles and responsibilities of the services in collecting OCS issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of October 2016, officials from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Support reported that the department is in the process of updating DOD Instruction 3020.41, which identifies responsibilities related to operational contract support. Officials stated that the revised instruction, which is expected to be issued in December 2016, will detail the roles and responsibilities of the services in collecting lessons learned on operational contract support issues. Once revisions to the instruction are completed, officials noted that the services will be postured to include this new guidance in their respective regulations and guidance documents. Officials estimate completion of these service-specific regulations and guidance in fiscal year 2017.

    Recommendation: To specifically identify and improve awareness of OCS roles and responsibilities and to collect OCS issues at the military services and the service component commands, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Navy and Air Force to include the services' roles and responsibilities to collect OCS issues in comprehensive service-specific guidance on how the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force should integrate OCS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In May 2016, officials from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Support reported current OCS policy (DOD Instruction 3020.41) requires the Services and the Chairman to incorporate OCS into applicable policy, doctrine, programming, training, and operations. Officials stated that the revised instruction, which is expected to be issued in December 2016, will more clearly call out the OCS training requirement for commanders and senior leaders.

    Recommendation: To help improve awareness of OCS roles and responsibilities and to collect OCS issues at the military services and the service component commands, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the military departments, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to establish an OCS training requirement for commanders and senior leaders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In May 2016, officials from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Support reported the department decided against creating a joint proponent for OCS issues. Rather, the course of action chosen was to designate the Joint Staff J4 as the OCS focal point and the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) as the Principal Staff Advisor. Officials stated that the Joint Staff (J4) will serve as the focal point for integrating OCS issues from the Joint Lessons Learned Program and into DOD processes and procedures. Officials said that this designation will be detailed in DOD Instruction 3020.41, which is expected to be issued in December 2016.

    Recommendation: To help improve DOD's management of OCS lessons learned, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that, as the department develops a concept for an OCS joint proponent, it include specific roles and responsibilities for a focal point responsible for integrating OCS issues from the Joint Lessons Learned Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In November 2015, DOD reported that it had created an OCS community of practice in JLLIS as a central repository of OCS documents, announcements, observations, best practices, and issues. According to Joint Staff officials, the Joint Staff (J-7) and Joint Staff (J-4) established an OCS community of practice in JLLIS in late 2015. The OCS community of practice is intended to allow organizations or users with similar interests, responsibilities, issues, and concerns to readily communicate and share information. Equally important, the community of practice can be used to support sharing, collaboration, and the exchange of information to facilitate the lesson learned process. Furthermore, for its forthcoming Operational Contract Support: Joint OCS Lessons Learned Guide, the Joint Staff (J-4) established an OCS label in JLLIS by creating a standard format for observation titles in the system to enable rapid search and retrieval of the OCS data. By taking steps to improve the functionality of JLLIS for sharing OCS lessons learned, DOD is better positioned to systematically track and share OCS lessons learned department-wide, as GAO recommended in March 2015.

    Recommendation: To help improve the functionality of JLLIS for sharing OCS lessons learned, as DOD upgrades JLLIS, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should direct the Joint Staff (J-7) and Joint Staff (J-4) to implement an OCS label in JLLIS and designate a single community of practice for OCS in JLLIS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Joint Chiefs of Staff

 

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