Military Personnel:

Status of Implementation of GAO's 2006 Recommendations on DOD's Domestic Violence Program

GAO-10-577R: Published: Apr 26, 2010. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 2010.

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Brenda S. Farrell
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National estimates indicate that approximately 1.5 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted or raped by intimate partners in the United States annually. Congress, in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, required the Department of Defense (DOD) to (1) establish a central database of information on domestic violence incidents involving members of the armed forces and (2) establish the Department of Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence. The law charged the task force with establishing a strategic plan that would allow DOD to more effectively address domestic violence matters within the military. In fiscal years 2001, 2002, and 2003, the task force issued three reports containing almost 200 recommendations to improve the safety of victims, accountability of offenders, coordination among support-service providers, and recording of data on cases of domestic violence. To coordinate implementation of these recommendations, in January 2003, DOD established a Family Violence Policy Office to ensure that DOD and the services took appropriate actions in this area. This office was located in the Military Community and Family Policy Office, which is in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. DOD's Family Advocacy Program office, responsible for providing treatment for domestic violence victims and rehabilitation for offenders, is also located in the Military Community and Family Policy Office. In 2003, members of Congress requested that we assess DOD's progress in implementing the recommendations made by the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence, and we subsequently issued a report in 2006 stating, among other things, that DOD had taken action on a majority of the task force recommendations but that DOD had not captured data from all law enforcement and clinical records involving domestic abuse cases and that until it had complete and accurate data, it could not fully understand the scope of the problem. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 requires us to review and assess the progress DOD has made in implementing recommendations contained in our 2006 report.

DOD has addressed one of the recommendations in our 2006 report to improve its domestic violence program and taken steps toward implementing two more, but it has not taken any actions on four of the recommendations. Specifically, DOD has met the intent of our recommendation to clarify chaplain guidance concerning privileged communication. Regarding our recommendation on ensuring that commander actions related to domestic violence incidents are entered into all law enforcement systems, DOD has taken some actions to inform commanders of their responsibility, but the data on commanders' actions remain incomplete. Our analysis of information provided by the Chief of the Financials and Special Projects Branch at the Defense Manpower Data Center demonstrated that the Air Force and the Army provided some data on commander actions but not enough to provide reliable statistics on the disposition of domestic violence incidents. Further, according to the Director of OSD's Office of Law Enforcement Policy and Support, the Navy is not providing any information to DIBRS on commanders' actions. Without complete information on commanders' actions, DOD lacks visibility into the military's response to domestic violence. DOD has also taken actions that have partially met the intent of our recommendation regarding a communication strategy for disseminating DOD guidance. Although DOD did not concur with the portion of this recommendation to articulate its policy on distributing military protective orders, it did clarify its policy by issuing guidance in 2007. If DOD issues its draft Family Advocacy Program guidance as currently written, we believe the department will have met the intent of this recommendation. For the remaining four recommendations, however, DOD has not met our intent. First, DOD has not developed a comprehensive management plan to address deficiencies in the data captured in the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System (DIBRS), although it partially concurred with this recommendation. The data remain incomplete, and as a result, DOD cannot provide an accurate count of the domestic violence incidents that are reported throughout DOD. Second, although DOD concurred with our recommendation to develop a plan to ensure that adequate personnel are available to implement recommendations made by the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence, at present DOD has not done so. Third, because DOD did not concur with our recommendation, it has not taken steps to ensure that domestic violence training data are collected for chaplains. According to the Executive Director of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, chaplains are trained on domestic violence issues during the officers' basic training course. This official further stated that the lack of metrics on training does not mean that chaplain training is inadequate. Nonetheless, we believe that without accurate training data, DOD lacks visibility on whether chaplains are prepared to deal with domestic violence issues. Fourth, while DOD concurred with our recommendation to develop an oversight framework, it has not done so. After the office responsible for implementing the task force recommendations was closed in 2007, DOD, in its official response to our questions, stated that the responsibility for developing this framework "mistakenly was not reassigned."

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