The Department of Defense's Civilian Human Capital Strategic Plan Does Not Meet Most Statutory Requirements

GAO-08-439R: Published: Feb 6, 2008. Publicly Released: Feb 6, 2008.

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The achievement of the Department of Defense's (DOD) mission is dependent in large part on the skills and expertise of its civilian workforce--which consists of almost 700,000 personnel, who develop policy, provide intelligence, manage finances, and acquire and maintain weapon systems. With more than 50 percent of its civilian personnel becoming eligible to retire in the next few years, DOD may find it difficult to fill certain mission-critical jobs with qualified personnel. Strategic workforce planning, an integral part of human capital management, helps ensure that an organization has staff with the necessary skills and competencies to accomplish its strategic goals. We have previously reported that it is critical that DOD engage in effective strategic workforce planning to ensure that its human capital reforms have maximum effectiveness and value. In 2007, we reported that strategic human capital management remained a high-risk area because the federal government now faces one of the most significant transformations to the civil service in half a century, as momentum grows toward making governmentwide changes to agency pay, classification, and performance management systems. In January 2006, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 20065 directed DOD to develop and submit to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees a strategic plan to shape and improve the DOD civilian employee workforce. Section 1122 (b) of the act provided that the plan address eight requirements. On November 6, 2007--ten months after the due date--DOD submitted to the committees both its plan titled "Department of Defense Civilian Human Capital Strategic Plan 2006-2010," and its implementation report titled "The Department of Defense Human Capital Strategic Plan for Civilian Employees of the Department of Defense, Fiscal Year 2006 Implementation Report." This latter DOD report, however, noted that it responded to section 1122(d) of the act. In addition to the mandate for DOD, the act also required GAO to review and report on the human capital strategic plan DOD submitted to meet its mandate no later than 90 days after DOD's submission. Accordingly, we examined the extent to which DOD's civilian human capital strategic plan addresses the reporting requirements mandated by the act.

Overall, DOD's civilian human capital strategic plan does not meet most statutory requirements. First, the plan partially addresses some but not all aspects of two of the congressional reporting requirements established in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006. Specifically, DOD's plan includes a list of mission-critical occupations needed for the current civilian workforce, but this list does not constitute the required assessment of skills of the existing workforce. Second, and most importantly, the plan does not address the majority--six of eight--of the congressional reporting requirements. For example, the plan does not include an assessment of current mission-critical competencies, future critical skills and competencies needed, gaps between the current and future needs, or specific recruiting and retention goals, even though these elements are required by the 2006 act. DOD officials acknowledged that the plan they submitted to the committees is incomplete. We note that the plan refers, in several places, to information related to DOD's mandate, but indicates that those items may be addressed at a later time. In addition, DOD officials stated that some of these items may be addressed in other documents. For example, DOD officials told us that a recent report may contain information that addresses portions of the mandate. While we reviewed some of the information in this report, it was not submitted to the committees pursuant to the 2006 act; thus, it cannot be considered as meeting the mandate. Moreover, our initial review of the document showed that, while it may address some of the requirements in DOD's mandate, it still may not address other aspects of the mandate because, for example, it does not cover the time frames Congress directed--that is, over the next decade. Without complete information on DOD's civilian human capital plan, to include analyses of gaps between critical skills and competencies needed by the current and future workforce, Congress will not have the information it needs to conduct effective oversight over DOD's efforts to hire, develop, and retain the best possible civilian workforce. Accordingly, we are recommending that DOD submit to Congress a civilian human capital strategic plan that addresses all of the statutory requirements. DOD disagreed with our recommendation noting that its response to the congressional reporting requirements reflected a centralized enterprise-wide strategic perspective--as opposed to providing the information specified by the law, such as recruiting and retention goals. The law required DOD's plan to contain very specific quantitative data and assessments. Since DOD's plan did not address the law's requirements, we continue to believe that our recommendation is valid.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During testimony given to the House Armed Services Committee in July 2011, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, stated that DOD would be unable to address all of the statutory strategic workforce planning requirements in the NDAA until 2015. Follow-up work with OUSD(P&R) in 2012 has determined that the Deputy's statement is valid. DOD is making progress toward meeting the NDAA's statutory strategic workforce planning requirements, but work remains and will likely not be completed until 2015 at the earliest.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Congress has the necessary information to provide effective oversight over DOD's civilian workforce, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, to submit to Congress a civilian human capital strategic plan that addresses all of the statutory requirements in section 1122 (b) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006. This could be included in DOD's next submission, which is due in March 2008.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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