Skip to main content

Our Priority Recommendations for the Department of Defense—Actions that Can Bring the Best Rewards

Posted on May 23, 2023

Updated June 8, 2023: This post was corrected to change the number of priority recommendations for the Department of Defense related to rebuilding military readiness and force structure, cyber threats, acquisitions and contract management, and financial management

What are some of the most important changes the Department of Defense should make?

Every year, GAO sends letters to federal departments and agencies, including DOD, listing our priority recommendations for them. These are recommendations from our past work that we think should be prioritized because they would have an immediate, high impact on the most pressing challenges agencies face.

Many of our priority recommendations for DOD directly address key challenges that significantly affect its ability to accomplish the department’s mission. These challenges include rebuilding readiness, mitigating cyber threats, controlling costs, preventing accidents, and more.

Today’s WatchBlog post looks at our most recent letter to DOD that outlines 89 priority recommendations.


Photograph showing an aerial view of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

Rebuilding readiness

After nearly two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military readiness has degraded. DOD must make some urgent changes to rebuild its readiness and modernize its systems and equipment to adapt to growing threats posed by major powers (such as China and Russia) and other adversaries. We have 18 priority recommendations that would have an immediate effect on DOD’s readiness, as well as develop the joint force structure needed to execute defense missions.

For more about rebuilding military readiness, check out our May 3 blog post.

Mitigating cyber threats

Twelve of our 89 priority recommendations involve addressing weapon systems cybersecurity and electromagnetic spectrum threats to U.S. national and economic security. These threats are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact. For example, the U.S. risks losing control of the battlefield if it doesn’t control the electromagnetic spectrum—the range of frequencies used for communications, navigations, weapons, and more. DOD has described Russian electromagnetic warfare forces as “world class.” China also has advanced capabilities. But, earlier strategies to help DOD improve its spectrum capabilities fell short. Our priority recommendations would help promote U.S. efforts.

DOD’s operations that rely on ensuring control over the use of the electromagnetic spectrum


Graphic showing DOD's operations that rely on ensuring control over the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.


It’s also important that DOD win the war on the digital battlefield. Our priority recommendations about cybersecurity would drive improvements in work roles, cyber hygiene, personnel vetting, electromagnetic spectrum operations, and privacy programs. We recommended, for example, that DOD direct a component to monitor the extent to which practices are implemented to protect the department’s network from key cyberattack techniques.

Controlling costs and managing finances

DOD expects its costliest weapon acquisitions programs will exceed $1.9 trillion to acquire. We found that these programs continue to fall short of cost, schedule and performance goals. These failures risk DOD’s ability to deliver innovative technologies to the warfighter and its competitive advantage over potential adversaries.

We have 18 priority recommendations for DOD related to acquisitions and contract management. Fourteen of these, if implemented, would help DOD improve management of its costliest weapon acquisitions programs. We recommended, among things, DOD develop better tools to review and analyze weapon system investments.

Financial concerns at DOD go beyond contracting and acquisitions. DOD’s financial management overall could be improved. DOD spending makes up about half of the federal government’s discretionary spending. Its physical assets represent about 70% of federal government assets. But, DOD remains the only major agency that has never been able to accurately account for and report on its spending or physical assets. We have 21 priority recommendations that would help the department address material weaknesses and improve its financial management.

Accident prevention and safety

Ensuring the safety of service members during non-combat situations (such as training) should be a priority. In our work, we’ve found additional steps that DOD should prioritize to improve safety in the air and on the ground.

For example, we’ve looked at the causes of 3,753 non-combat accidents involving Army and Marine Corps tactical vehicles (e.g., tanks and trucks) between FY 2010-2019. These accidents resulted in 123 service member deaths. Driver inattention, supervision lapses, and training shortfalls were cited as reasons for these accidents. Both the Army and Marine Corps have training programs that aim to reduce these accidents. But the training programs do not have specific enough requirements to ensure success. We recommended that the Army and Marine Corps develop specific driver training requirements and performance standards to ensure that drivers learn the skills they need to operate vehicles safely.

Similarly, we’ve looked at military aviation mishaps—what caused them and whether more training was needed. We found ways to improve helicopter safety and training. For example, we found that pre-flight risk evaluations were usually only updated in response to accidents, rather than proactively. We recommended that Army and Air Force National Guard units update these important risk evaluations on a regular basis to improve safety and prevent accidents. We also found that reporting about the causes of mishaps were inconsistent, and at times information was missing about these incidents. We’ve made standardizing data that are collected a priority recommendation. 

These recommendations, as well as those on readiness, cybersecurity, and controlling costs and financial management are just some of the 89 priority recommendations in our latest letter to the Department of Defense. To see them all, read our full letter here.

GAO Contacts

Elizabeth Field
Elizabeth Field

Related Products

About Watchblog

GAO's mission is to provide Congress with fact-based, nonpartisan information that can help improve federal government performance and ensure accountability for the benefit of the American people. GAO launched its WatchBlog in January, 2014, as part of its continuing effort to reach its audiences—Congress and the American people—where they are currently looking for information.

The blog format allows GAO to provide a little more context about its work than it can offer on its other social media platforms. Posts will tie GAO work to current events and the news; show how GAO’s work is affecting agencies or legislation; highlight reports, testimonies, and issue areas where GAO does work; and provide information about GAO itself, among other things.

Please send any feedback on GAO's WatchBlog to