Weapons Of Mass Destruction:

Defense Threat Reduction Agency Addresses Broad Range of Threats, but Performance Reporting Can Be Improved

GAO-04-330: Published: Feb 13, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 2004.

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The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), within the Department of Defense (DOD), plays a key role in addressing the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the visibility of DTRA's role has increased as federal agencies and military commanders have looked to the agency for additional support and advice. GAO was asked to report on DTRA's (1) mission and the efforts it undertakes to fulfill this mission; (2) relationship with other government entities, specifically the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and (3) process that it uses to prioritize resources and assess progress toward organizational goals.

Since its establishment in 1998, DTRA has worked to address the threat of WMD. DTRA addresses WMD threats through four core functions: threat control, threat reduction, combat support, and technology development. The agency supports the implementation of arms control treaties by conducting inspections in other countries and by supporting inspections of U.S. facilities, reduces the threat of WMD by eliminating and securing weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union, supports military commanders by providing technical and analytical support regarding WMD, and develops technologies that support efforts to address the WMD threat. DTRA also uses its specialized capabilities and services in various ways to support other government efforts to address WMD threats. DTRA has a formal relationship with Energy to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. DTRA's relationship with DHS is subject to the broader DOD-DHS relationship and may change as the relationship between DOD and DHS evolves. The agency uses a strategic planning process modeled on the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) to prioritize its resources and assess progress toward its organizational goals. DTRA's planning process identifies long-term goals, establishes short-term objectives by which to measure progress in meeting goals, and collects data to assess progress. DTRA's planning process is influenced by funding, most of which is appropriated for specific programs. GAO found that the performance report resulting from its internal review summarized DTRA's accomplishments and activities but did not compare them with established goals and objectives nor explain the actions needed to achieve or modify these unmet goals as called for under GPRA.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2004 (Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defense Threat Reduction Agency Addresses Broad Range of Threats, but Performance Can be Improved), we recommended, and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) concurred, that the DTRA's performance reporting could be improved. On February 21, 2008, in response to our recommendation, DTRA stated that since our report was published, "DTRA adopted a strategic planning methodology" with quarterly progress reports. These reviews are used to understand why goals might not be met, and to identify recommendations to remediate potential performance shortfalls. Additionally, beginning in 2006, DTRA's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program is assessed separately by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) through its Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) process. DTRA sent us a copy of the most recent OMB PART assessment, which clearly lays out the performance metrics, program purposes and design, and strategic planning. A DTRA official confirmed that DTRA's changes in performance reporting were in part as a response to GAO's recommendation, and, in part, a refining of their performance reporting. Also, that these changes have improved DTRA's management of their programs, and through the PART process provided more public accountability for the CTR program.

    Recommendation: The Director of DTRA should improve the agency's annual performance report by comparing the agency's actual performance against planned goals and, where appropriate, explaining why the goals were not met and the agency's plan for addressing these unmet goals in the future.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Defense Threat Reduction Agency


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