Defense Management:

Actions Needed to Address Stakeholder Concerns, Improve Interagency Collaboration, and Determine Full Costs Associated with the U.S. Africa Command

GAO-09-181: Published: Feb 20, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2009.

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In February 2007, the President directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to help strengthen U.S. security cooperation with African nations and bring peace and stability to the continent. For this review, GAO assessed DOD's (1) efforts to establish the command and communicate its mission, (2) progress in integrating personnel from other U.S. government agencies into AFRICOM, and (3) plans and costs for establishing a permanent headquarters and supporting offices in Africa. In assessing DOD's efforts to establish AFRICOM, GAO analyzed relevant documentation and obtained perspectives from the combatant commands, military services, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Department of State (State), U. S. Agency for International Development, and nongovernmental organizations.

DOD declared AFRICOM fully operational on September 30, 2008, and had more than 950 military and civilian personnel assigned to the command; however, concerns about its planned mission and activities persist. DOD created AFRICOM to bring a more cohesive and strategic focus to its efforts in Africa. However, initial statements made about its mission and the scope of its activity raised concerns among U.S. and African stakeholders that AFRICOM could militarize diplomacy and development. Since the initial announcement, DOD has taken some steps to clarify its mission and in May 2008 published an approved mission statement. But concerns persist and DOD has not yet finalized a strategy for future communication with the wide range of stakeholders. It will take time for concerns generated by the initial announcement to subside and will largely depend on AFRICOM's actions. Unresolved concerns about AFRICOM's intentions could limit support from key stakeholders like State and potential African partners. GAO's prior work shows that a communications strategy can help address stakeholder concerns and clarify expectations. AFRICOM has begun integrating personnel from other U.S. government agencies into the command but it has not yet determined the ultimate extent of desired interagency representation. DOD officials said that integrating personnel will help AFRICOM develop plans that are more compatible with U.S. agencies. DOD set some initial personnel goals, but continues to revise them. Initially, DOD conceived of a command in which about a quarter of the staff (about 125 people) would be from other agencies. DOD later reduced thegoal to 52 positions, but this number is under review and expected to change. These goals did not fully consider the perspective of contributing civilian agencies, which is important because some face personnel shortages. AFRICOM is now taking steps to involve agencies in determining personnel goals, but this process does not guarantee commitments from agencies to provide personnel. Without agreed-upon interagency personnel commitments, AFRICOM could continue to develop unrealistic targets and ultimately risk losing the knowledge and expertise of interagency personnel. DOD cannot reliably estimate AFRICOM's total future costs because decisions on the locations of a permanent headquarters and supporting offices in Africa have not been made. DOD is re-examining its initial concept for AFRICOM's command presence because of concerns over its initial headquarters concept, authorities under which it would operate, and sensitivities about a U.S. military presence. In the meantime, AFRICOM is increasing its representation in some U.S. embassies in Africa and spending about $140 million to renovate facilities in Stuttgart, Germany, for its interim headquarters. Current cost projections exceed $4 billion through 2015, but these estimates do not include an operations center or component commands, which could increase costs. DOD plans to make decisions in fiscal year 2012 on command locations. GAO's prior work shows that an assessment of tangible and intangible benefits and costs can help organizations decide between alternatives.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD commented that the Secretary of Defense directed USAFRICOM in the Guidance for Employment of the Force dated May 1, 2008 to develop a comprehensive communications strategy. Therefore, they believe that this recommendation is unnecessary. They further stated that subsequent to GAO's request for information, USAFRICOM has developed a Strategic Communications Roadmap and Instruction guidance as well as appropriate annexes for USAFRICOM's Theater Campaign Plan, which was in the process of being staffed and would be released upon commander's approval. After our report was issued, AFRICOM took several steps that align with our recommendation. For example, it made plans to integrate five foreign policy advisors from the Department of State. Additionally, between October 2008 and June 2010, the command reported embedding an additional 14 interagency personnel from agencies including the Departments of State; Homeland Security, and Justice; and others. In our follow-on report in July 2010, we reported that AFRICOM had conducted an assessment in fall 2009 of the interagency process to analyze successes and identify lessons learned, including recommendations on how to integrate interagency personnel into command planning and operations. In its internal assessment, AFRICOM identified several recommendations and suggestions that were consistent with our past recommendations, such as developing a training and orientation program for embedded interagency personnel. Furthermore, we found that the command had taken several steps to obtain interagency perspectives when resource limitations prevented other federal partners from being embedded at AFRICOM. Given these actions, we believe AFRICOM has met the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To establish a more effective means to communicate with all stakeholders, clarify perceptions and create shared expectations of what stakeholders can realistically expect from AFRICOM; and to address personnel resource constraints of agencies that are intended to fill interagency positions in the command, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Africa Command to include all appropriate audiences, encourage two-way communication, and ensure consistency of message related to AFRICOM's mission and goals as it develops and implements its communications strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD commented that USAFRICOM, in line with OSD guidance, has been working with all potential contributing agencies to continue plan development to fill those positions as stated in the recommendation and therefore believe that there is no need for the Secretary of Defense to direct USAFRICOM to develop an action plan. As for developing alternative approaches to mitigate agency shortfalls, USAFRICOM had directed two of its directorates to work such issues as they arise, including working with interagency partners when identifying personnel shortfalls. As of June 2010, DOD had recognized that its original plans for creating a substantial interagency presence at AFRICOM were not realistic. Thus, after our report was issued, DOD revised its plans, bringing in fewer interagency personnel (about 2 percent of its headquarters workforce as of June 2010). Moreover, DOD signed memorandums of understanding with nine federal agencies to outline conditions on sending interagency partners to AFRICOM. These memorandums cover such topics as the financial reimbursement between DOD and the federal agencies for participating employees, the length of time the interagency partner may reside at AFRICOM, and logistical provisions (housing, office space, etc.). These actions, coupled with its steps taken on our recommendation to more fully communicate with all stakeholders, meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To establish a more effective means to communicate with all stakeholders, clarify perceptions and create shared expectations of what stakeholders can realistically expect from AFRICOM; and to address personnel resource constraints of agencies that are intended to fill interagency positions in the command, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Africa Command to seek formal commitments from contributing agencies to provide personnel as part of the command's efforts to determine interagency personnel requirements, and develop alternative ways for AFRICOM to obtain interagency perspectives in the event that interagency personnel cannot be provided due to resource limitations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On January 29, 2013, the Secretary of Defense transmitted findings of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) study to Congress. GAO team 351748 reviewed this study and found it did not meet the intent of the recommendation. The team noted that CAPE officials were not able to provide sufficient support to determine whether their study was accurate, credible, or comprehensive. The team's current work will likely address the need for DOD to reexamine its decision and consider a fuller range of options.

    Recommendation: To determine the long-term fiscal investment for AFRICOM's infrastructure, we recommend the Secretary of Defense should, in consultation with the Secretary of State, as appropriate, conduct an assessment of possible locations for AFRICOM's permanent headquarters and any supporting offices in Africa that (1) is based on transparent criteria, methodology, and assumptions, (2) includes the full cost and time-frames to construct and support proposed locations, (3) evaluates how each location will contribute to AFRICOM's mission consistent with the criteria and methodology of the study, (4) considers geopolitical and operational risks and barriers in implementing each alternative, and (5) limits expenditures on temporary AFRICOM infrastructure until decisions are made on the long-term locations for the command.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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