Preliminary Observations on the Department of Defense's Counternarcotics Performance Measurement System

GAO-10-594R: Published: Apr 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2010.

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Jess T. Ford
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The Department of Defense (DOD) leads detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs into the United States in support of law enforcement agencies. Additionally, DOD's counternarcotics activities include sharing information with U.S. and foreign agencies, as well as helping foreign countries build their counternarcotics capacity. In support of these activities, Congress provided just over $6.1 billion to DOD's Counternarcotics Central Transfer Account from fiscal year 2005 through 2010. In November 2005, GAO recommended that DOD, in conjunction with other agencies performing counternarcotics activities, develop and coordinate counternarcotics performance measures. GAO has found that measuring performance allows organizations to track the progress they are making toward their goals and provides managers a basis for making key decisions to improve programs and results. In May 2007, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a circular that required agencies, including DOD, to submit a report on their performance-related information for counternarcotics activities, including how the agency's performance measures are used in the management of the program. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-84, 1016) mandated that GAO report on the performance evaluation system used by DOD to assess its counternarcotics activities. To satisfy this mandate, in April 2010, we briefed congressional staff from the defense committees. This letter summarizes the preliminary observations conveyed during those briefings.

In summary, the briefing provided to congressional staff noted that (1) DOD has developed performance measures for its counternarcotics activities. DOD has also developed a database to collect performance information, including measures, targets, and results. However, these performance measures lack a number of the attributes, such as being clearly stated and having measurable targets, which GAO considers key to successful performance measures. (2) DOD is currently reassessing its performance measures for its counternarcotics activities. DOD hired a contractor to assist the department in revising its guidance for the development of counternarcotics performance measures. DOD officials, however, noted that the department still faces challenges measuring the performance of its counternarcotics activities. These challenges include creating performance measures that assess program outcomes; ensuring adequate resources, such as expertise in performance management, are available to develop performance measures; and ensuring that the data used to measure DOD performance is reliable. (3) It is unclear the extent to which DOD uses the performance information it collects through its database to manage its counternarcotics activities. Previous work by GAO has found that the full benefit of collecting performance information is realized only when managers use this information to inform key decisions to improve programs and results, such as identifying corrective actions, allocating resources, and sharing best practices for program implementation. However, officials at U.S. Central Command, U.S. Southern Command, and the Joint Interagency Task Force-South told us they rarely use the database to identify performance problems or manage counternarcotics activities. Rather, they tend to manage programs using measures and data not submitted to the database.

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