Warfighter Support:

Cultural Change Needed to Improve How DOD Plans for and Manages Operational Contract Support

GAO-10-829T: Published: Jun 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2010.

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William M. Solis
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This testimony discusses the challenges the Department of Defense (DOD) faces in institutionalizing operational contract support throughout the department. The institutionalization of operational contract support includes planning for the use of contractors, training of military personnel on the use of contractor support, accurately tracking contractor use, and establishing measures to ensure that contractors are accountable. For decades, DOD has relied on contractors to support contingency operations and has long considered them a part of the total force. For example, in its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review the department reiterated that contractors were part of a total force that includes active and reserve military components, civilians and contractors. Additionally, in 2008 the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness testified that the structure of the U.S. military had been adapted to an environment in which contractors were an important part of the force. Further, an Army commission chaired by Dr. Jacques Gansler acknowledged that contractors were a significant part of the military's total force. While DOD joint guidance recognizes contractors as part of its total workforce, we have previously reported that DOD has not yet developed a strategy for determining the appropriate mix of contractor and government personnel. In addition, we recently testified that several long-standing challenges have hindered DOD's ability to manage and oversee contractors at deployed locations. For example, DOD has not followed long-standing planning guidance, ensured that there is an adequate number of contract oversight and management personnel, and comprehensively trained non-acquisition personnel, such as military commanders. Since 1992, we have designated DOD contract management as a high-risk area, in part due to concerns over the adequacy of the department's acquisition and contract oversight workforce. As we have previously testified, many of the long-standing problems we have identified regarding managing and overseeing contractor support to deployed forces stem from DOD's reluctance to plan for contractors as an integral part of the total force. We have also testified that DOD's long-standing problems in managing and overseeing contractors at deployed locations make it difficult for the department to ensure that it is getting the services it needs on time and at a fair and reasonable price. We have found numerous instances where poor oversight and management of contractors have led to negative monetary and operational outcomes. As a result, since the advent of our work on contractor support to deployed forces in 1997, we have made numerous recommendations to improve DOD's management of contractors in deployed locations. While DOD has taken some actions to address these challenges, it has not addressed all of them, as I will discuss in further detail. statement today will focus on the extent to which DOD has institutionalized operational contract support. This statement is based on recently published reports and testimonies that examined planning for operational contract support and the department's efforts to manage and oversee contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as our ongoing work involving operational contract support related issues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In response to congressional direction and GAO recommendations, DOD has taken some actions to institutionalize operational contract support, such as establishing a focal point to lead the department's effort to improve contingency contractor management and oversight at deployed locations, issuing new guidance, and beginning to assess its reliance on contractors. However, DOD still faces challenges in eight areas related to operational contract support. 1) Developing guidance. DOD has yet to finalize joint policies required by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Acts for Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008. 2) Planning for contractors in ongoing operations. The department has not fully planned for the use of contractors in support of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, although some efforts are underway at the individual unit level. 3) Planning for contractors in future operations. DOD needs to take additional actions to improve its planning for operational contract support in future operations. For example, while DOD has started to institutionalize operational contract support into combatant commands' operation plans, it has not yet made significant progress. 4) Tracking contractor personnel. While DOD has developed a system to collect data on contractors deployed with U.S. forces, our reviews of this database have highlighted significant shortcomings in its implementation in Iraq and Afghanistan. 5) Providing oversight personnel. DOD continues to face challenges in providing an adequate number of personnel to oversee and manage contractors in contingency operations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. 6) Training non-acquisition personnel. DOD faces challenges in ensuring that non-acquisition personnel, such as unit commanders, have been trained on how to work effectively with contractors in contingency operations. 7) Screening contractor personnel. DOD has yet to develop a departmentwide policy for screening the significant number of local and third-country national contractor personnel who support deployed U.S. forces. 8) Capturing lessons learned. DOD has not implemented previous GAO recommendations to develop a departmentwide lessons learned program to capture the department's institutional knowledge regarding all forms of contractor support to deployed forces in order to facilitate a more effective working relationship between contractors and the military. Given the contractor-related challenges DOD continues to face, a cultural change is necessary to integrate operational contract support throughout the department. Without such a change, DOD is likely to continue to face these challenges in ongoing and future contingency operations. DOD has acknowledged that operational contract support plays an integral role in contingency operations and that successful execution of operational contract support requires significant planning and management. While some efforts have been made within the department and the individual services to improve the planning for and management of contractors, these efforts do not fully work toward integrating operational contract support throughout DOD. As we have discussed, many of the operational contract support challenges the department continues to face are long-standing and while the department has acknowledged many of these challenges, and taken some actions, it has not systematically addressed them.

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