Military Readiness:

DOD's Readiness Rebuilding Efforts May Be at Risk without a Comprehensive Plan

GAO-16-841: Published: Sep 7, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 7, 2016.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) recognizes that more than a decade of conflict, budget uncertainty, and force structure reductions have degraded military readiness, and the department has efforts under way to manage the impact of deployments on readiness. The military services have reported persistently low readiness levels, which they have attributed to emerging and continued demands on their forces, reduced force structure, and increased frequency and length of deployments. For example, the Air Force experienced a 58 percent decrease in the number of fighter and bomber squadrons from 1991 to 2015 while maintaining a persistent level of demand from the combatant commands for the use of its forces. In addition, the Navy has experienced an 18 percent decrease in its fleet of ships since 1998 and an increase in demand, resulting in the deployment lengths for many ships increasing from 7 months to a less sustainable 9 months. DOD officials have indicated that overall demand has been decreasing since 2013, but the department has reported that the ability to rebuild capability and capacity is hindered by continued demand for some forces. To mitigate the impact of continued deployments on readiness, the Joint Staff has focused on balancing the distribution of forces for high-priority missions with the need to rebuild the readiness of the force. Efforts include revising major plans to better reflect what the current and planned force is expected to achieve and improving the management of DOD's process for sourcing global demands by, among other things, balancing the supply of forces with the minimum required to meet global demands. However, it is too soon to tell what impact implementation of these initiatives will have on DOD's readiness recovery efforts because the department is still working to complete implementation.

DOD has stated that readiness rebuilding is a priority, but implementation and oversight of department-wide readiness rebuilding efforts have not fully included key elements of sound planning, putting the rebuilding efforts at risk. Key elements of sound planning for results-oriented outcomes include a mission statement supported by long-term goals, strategies for achieving the goals, metrics, and an evaluation plan to determine the appropriateness of the goals and effectiveness of implemented strategies. In 2014, DOD tasked the military services to develop plans for rebuilding readiness. Each service developed a plan based on the force elements that were experiencing a high pace of deployments or facing challenges in achieving readiness recovery. In 2015, the services reported their readiness rebuilding plans to DOD, which identified readiness goals and timeframes for achieving them, but these goals were incomplete and some of the timeframes have been extended. GAO found that the services have also not defined comprehensive strategies, with the resources required for achieving the identified goals, nor have they fully assessed the effect of external factors such as maintenance and training on readiness rebuilding goals. Moreover, the services have not fully established metrics that the department can use to oversee readiness rebuilding efforts and evaluate progress towards achieving the identified goals. Without DOD incorporating key elements of sound planning into recovery efforts, and amid competing priorities that the department must balance, successful implementation of readiness recovery plans may be at risk.

For over a decade, DOD deployed forces to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now supporting increased presence in the Pacific and emerging crises in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. These deployments have significantly stressed the force.

The House Report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision that GAO review DOD's efforts to rebuild military readiness. This report (1) describes the factors that affect reported readiness levels and DOD's efforts to manage the impact of deployments on readiness, and (2) assesses DOD's implementation and oversight of department-wide readiness rebuilding efforts. This report is a public version of a previously issued classified product and omits information DOD identified as SECRET, which must be protected from public disclosure.

GAO analyzed and reviewed data on reported readiness rates and departmental readiness rebuilding efforts. GAO interviewed DOD, Joint Staff, and combatant command officials regarding current demand and readiness rates and challenges with rebuilding military readiness. GAO also conducted separate reviews of the readiness of the military services.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making five recommendations, including that DOD and the services establish comprehensive readiness goals and strategies for implementing them, as well as associated metrics that can be used to evaluate whether readiness recovery efforts are achieving intended outcomes. DOD generally concurred with GAO's recommendations.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD has not yet taken steps to establish comprehensive readiness rebuilding goals to guide readiness rebuilding efforts and a strategy for implementing identified goals, to include resources needed to implement the strategy. In the Senate Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to submit a detailed plan for rebuilding the readiness of the military force, to include comprehensive readiness goals and a strategy for achieving the goals. DOD did not provide this plan by the September 30, 2016 deadline. In October 2016, we confirmed that DOD had begun efforts to develop a plan for rebuilding readiness, but the plan did not materialize. In January 2017, the White House issued an executive order requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a readiness review assessing the current condition of readiness and identifying actions that can be implemented to improve readiness. As of April 2017, DOD had begun taking steps to develop a readiness rebuilding plan, including identifying goals and metrics, as well as identifying challenges preventing the military services from rebuilding readiness. The department had also taken steps to develop a 60-day Action Plan in response to the January 2017 Executive Order. However, DOD had not submitted its plan for rebuilding the readiness of the force to Congress, nor had the department taken steps to fully address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the department can implement readiness rebuilding efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to establish comprehensive readiness rebuilding goals to guide readiness rebuilding efforts and a strategy for implementing identified goals, to include resources needed to implement the strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD has not yet developed metrics for measuring interim progress at specific milestones against identified readiness rebuilding goals for each of the military services. In the Senate Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to submit a detailed plan for rebuilding the readiness of the military force, to include metrics for measuring progress at specific milestones. DOD did not provide this plan by the September 30, 2016 deadline. In October 2016, we confirmed that DOD had begun efforts to develop a plan for rebuilding readiness, but the plan did not materialize. In January 2017, the White House issued an executive order requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a readiness review assessing the current condition of readiness and identifying actions that can be implemented to improve readiness. As of April 2017, DOD had begun taking steps to develop a readiness rebuilding plan, including identifying goals and metrics, as well as identifying challenges preventing the military services from rebuilding readiness. The department had also taken steps to develop a 60-day Action Plan in response to the January 2017 Executive Order. However, DOD had not submitted its plan for rebuilding the readiness of the force to Congress, nor had the department taken steps to fully address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the department can implement readiness rebuilding efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to develop metrics for measuring interim progress at specific milestones against identified goals for all services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD has not yet taken steps to identify external factors that may impact readiness recovery plans. In the Senate Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to submit a detailed plan for rebuilding the readiness of the military force, to include identification of external factors that may impact recovery plans and potential mitigations. DOD did not provide this plan by the September 30, 2016 deadline. In October 2016, we confirmed that DOD had begun efforts to develop a plan for rebuilding readiness, but the plan did not materialize. In January 2017, the White House issued an executive order requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a readiness review assessing the current condition of readiness and identifying actions that can be implemented to improve readiness. As of April 2017, DOD had begun taking steps to develop a readiness rebuilding plan, including identifying goals and metrics, as well as identifying challenges preventing the military services from rebuilding readiness. The department had also taken steps to develop a 60-day Action Plan in response to the January 2017 Executive Order. However, DOD had not submitted its plan for rebuilding the readiness of the force to Congress, nor had the department taken steps to fully address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the department can implement readiness rebuilding efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to identify external factors that may impact readiness recovery plans, including how they influence the underlying assumptions, to ensure that readiness rebuilding goals are achievable within established time frames. This should include, but not be limited to, an evaluation of the impact of assumptions about budget, maintenance time frames, and training that underpin the services' readiness recovery plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD has not yet taken steps to validate the service-established readiness rebuilding goals, strategies for achieving the goals, and metrics for measuring progress, and revise as appropriate. In the Senate Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to submit a detailed plan for rebuilding the readiness of the military force, to include plans for department-level oversight of service readiness recovery efforts. DOD did not provide this plan by the September 30, 2016 deadline. In October 2016, we confirmed that DOD had begun efforts to develop a plan for rebuilding readiness, but the plan did not materialize. In January 2017, the White House issued an executive order requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a readiness review assessing the current condition of readiness and identifying actions that can be implemented to improve readiness. As of April 2017, DOD had begun taking steps to develop a readiness rebuilding plan, including identifying goals and metrics, as well as identifying challenges preventing the military services from rebuilding readiness. The department had also taken steps to develop a 60-day Action Plan in response to the January 2017 Executive Order. However, DOD had not submitted its plan for rebuilding the readiness of the force to Congress, nor had the department taken steps to fully address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the department has adequate oversight of service readiness rebuilding efforts and that these efforts reflect the department's priorities, the Secretary of Defense should validate the service-established readiness rebuilding goals, strategies for achieving the goals, and metrics for measuring progress, and revise as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD has not yet developed a method to evaluate the department's readiness recovery efforts against the agreed-upon goals through objective measurement and systematic analysis. In the Senate Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to submit a detailed plan for rebuilding the readiness of the military force, to include plans for department-level oversight of service readiness recovery efforts. DOD did not provide this plan by the September 30, 2016 deadline. In October 2016, we confirmed that DOD had begun efforts to develop a plan for rebuilding readiness, but the plan did not materialize. In January 2017, the White House issued an executive order requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a readiness review assessing the current condition of readiness and identifying actions that can be implemented to improve readiness. As of April 2017, DOD had begun taking steps to develop a readiness rebuilding plan, including identifying goals and metrics, as well as identifying challenges preventing the military services from rebuilding readiness. The department had also taken steps to develop a 60-day Action Plan in response to the January 2017 Executive Order. However, DOD had not submitted its plan for rebuilding the readiness of the force to Congress, nor had the department taken steps to fully address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the department has adequate oversight of service readiness rebuilding efforts and that these efforts reflect the department's priorities, the Secretary of Defense should develop a method to evaluate the department's readiness recovery efforts against the agreed-upon goals through objective measurement and systematic analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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