GAO-11-318SP: Defense: Opportunities exist for consolidation and increased efficiencies to maximize response to warfighter urgent needs


Opportunities exist for consolidation and increased efficiencies to maximize response to warfighter urgent needs

Why Area Is Important



Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have faced significant risks of mission failure and loss of life due to rapidly changing enemy threats. In response, the Department of Defense (DOD) established urgent needs processes to rapidly develop, modify, and field new capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, and counter-improvised explosive devices (IED) systems. GAO identified at least 31 entities that play a role in DOD's urgent needs processes and has estimated funding for addressing urgent needs through those entities to be at least $76.9 billion, since 2005.

GAO has identified challenges with the department's fragmented guidance and GAO and others have raised concerns about the numbers and roles of the various entities and processes involved and the potential of overlap and duplication. With the shift in priority for overseas operations from Iraq to Afghanistan—a theater that may pose more complex long-term challenges—deployed or soon-to-deploy units will likely continue to request critical capabilities to help them accomplish their missions.

What GAO Found


Over the past two decades, the fulfillment of urgent needs has evolved as a set of complex processes within the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, each of the military services, and the combatant commands to rapidly develop, equip, and field solutions and critical capabilities to the warfighter. DOD's experience with the rapidly evolving threats in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to the expanded use of existing urgent needs processes, the creation of new policies, and establishment of new organizations to manage urgent needs and to expedite the development of solutions to address them. However, DOD has not comprehensively evaluated opportunities for consolidation across the department, even though concerns have been raised by the Defense Science Board, GAO, and others about the numbers and roles of the various entities and processes involved and the potential of overlap and duplication. For example, the Defense Science Board, in July and September 2009 reports, found that DOD has done little to adopt urgent needs as a critical, ongoing DOD institutional capability essential to addressing future threats, and has provided recommendations to the department about potential consolidations. Many DOD and military service officials stated that higher-level senior leadership needs to take decisive action to evaluate the breadth of DOD's urgent needs activities to determine what opportunities may exist for reducing unnecessary duplication in staff, information technology, support, and funding.

Additionally, GAO found that overlap exists among urgent needs entities in the roles they play as well as the capabilities for which they are responsible. For example:

  • There are numerous places for the warfighter to submit a request for an urgently needed capability. Warfighters may submit urgent needs, depending on their military service and the type of need, to one of the following different entities: Joint Staff J/8, Army Deputy Chief of Staff G/3/5/7, Army Rapid Equipping Force, Navy Fleet Forces Command or Commander Pacific Fleet, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, Air Force Major Commands, Special Operations Requirements and Resources, or the Joint IED Defeat Organization. These entities then validate the submitted urgent need request and thus allow it to proceed through their specific process.
  • Multiple entities reported a role in responding to similar types of urgently needed capabilities. GAO identified eight entities focused on responding to ISR capabilities, five entities focused on responding to counter-IED capabilities, and six entities focused on responding to communications, command and control, and computer technology. In some cases, duplication of efforts may have occurred—see related summaries in this report on the subjects of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems and counter-improvised explosive devices.

The department is hindered in its ability to identify key improvements, including consolidation to reduce any overlap, duplication, or fragmentation because it lacks a comprehensive approach to manage and oversee the breadth of its urgent needs efforts. Specifically, DOD does not have a comprehensive, DOD-wide policy that establishes a baseline and provides a common approach for how all joint and military service urgent needs are to be addressed—including key activities of the process such as validation, execution, or tracking. For example, the Joint Staff, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the military services, and the Special Operations Command have issued their own guidance that varies in terms of the key activities associated with processing and meeting urgent needs—including how an urgent needs statement is generated by the warfighter, validated as an urgent requirement, and tracked after a solution is provided. Furthermore, DOD does not have visibility over the full range of its urgent needs efforts. For example, DOD cannot readily identify the cost of its departmentwide urgent needs efforts, which is at least $76.9 billion[1] since 2005 based on GAO's analysis. Additionally, DOD does not have a comprehensive tracking system, a set of universal metrics, and a senior-level focal point to lead the department's efforts to fulfill validated urgent needs requirements. Without DOD-wide guidance and a focal point to lead its efforts, DOD risks having duplicative, overlapping, and fragmented efforts, which can result in avoidable costs.

[1]Estimate is based on funding data provided by urgent needs-related entities responding to our data collection instrument and includes funding for processing of urgent needs as well as development of solutions and some acquisition costs.

Actions Needed


In the absence of a comprehensive DOD evaluation, GAO's March 2011 report identified and analyzed several options, aimed at potential consolidations and increased efficiencies in an effort intended to provide ideas for the department to consider in streamlining its urgent needs entities and processes. These options include the following:

  • Consolidate into one entity, within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, all the urgent needs processes of the services and DOD, while keeping at the services' program offices the development of solutions.
  • Consolidate entities that have overlapping mission or capability portfolios regarding urgent needs solutions.
  • Establish a gatekeeper within each service to oversee all key activities to fulfill a validated urgent needs requirement.
  • Consolidate within each service any overlapping activities in the urgent needs process.

The options GAO identified are not meant to be exhaustive or mutually exclusive. Rather, DOD would need to perform its own analysis, carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of options it identifies to determine the optimal course of action. Additionally, it must be recognized that many entities involved in the fulfillment of urgent needs have other roles as well. However, until DOD performs such an evaluation, it will remain unaware of opportunities for consolidation and increased efficiencies in the fulfillment of urgent needs.

GAO's March 2011 report recommended that the department develop comprehensive guidance that, among other things, creates a focal point to lead its urgent needs efforts. Additionally, GAO recommended that DOD's Chief Management Officer evaluate potential options for consolidation to reduce overlap, duplication, and fragmentation and take appropriate action. DOD concurred with these recommendations. This is an issue that may warrant continuing congressional oversight. Timely and effective actions on these recommendations should improve DOD's ability to address urgent warfighter needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner by minimizing the risks of duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.

Framework for Analysis

The information contained in this analysis is based on the related GAO products listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab.

Area Contact


For additional information about this area, contact William M. Solis at (202) 512-8365 or

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