Defense Headquarters:

DOD Needs to Reassess Personnel Requirements for the Office of Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and Military Service Secretariats

GAO-15-10: Published: Jan 21, 2015. Publicly Released: Jan 21, 2015.

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What GAO Found

Over the past decade, authorized military and civilian positions have increased within the Department of Defense (DOD) headquarters organizations GAO reviewed—the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Joint Staff, and the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force secretariats and staffs—but the size of these organizations has recently leveled off or begun to decline, and DOD's plans for future reductions are not finalized. The increases varied by organization, and DOD officials told GAO that the increases were due to increased mission responsibilities, conversion of functions performed by contracted services to civilian positions, and institutional reorganizations. For example, authorized military and civilian positions for the Army Secretariat and Army Staff increased by 60 percent, from 2,272 in fiscal year 2001 to 3,639 in fiscal year 2013, but levels have declined since their peak of 3,712 authorized positions in fiscal year 2011. In addition to civilian and military personnel, DOD also relies on personnel performing contracted services. Since DOD is still in the process of compiling complete data on personnel performing contracted services, trends in these data could not be identified. In 2013, the Secretary of Defense set a target to reduce DOD components' headquarters budgets by 20 percent through fiscal year 2019, including costs for contracted services, while striving for a similar reduction to military and civilian personnel. However, DOD has not finalized plans to achieve these reductions. DOD was required to report to Congress by June 2014 on efforts to streamline management headquarters, but needed an extension until late summer 2014 for the report due to staff turnover. As of December 2014, DOD's plan had not been issued.

GAO found that DOD headquarters organizations it reviewed do not determine their personnel requirements as part of a systematic requirements-determination process, nor do they have procedures in place to ensure that they periodically reassess these requirements as outlined in DOD and other guidance. Current personnel levels for these headquarters organizations are traceable to statutory limits enacted in the 1980s and 1990s to force efficiencies and reduce duplication. However, these limits have been waived since fiscal year 2002. If the limits were in force in fiscal year 2013, the Army and Navy would exceed them by 17 percent and 74 percent, respectively. Moreover, the limits have little practical utility because of statutory exceptions for certain categories of personnel and because the limits exclude personnel in supporting organizations that perform headquarters-related functions. For example, the organizations that support the Army Secretariat and Army Staff are almost three times as large as the Secretariat and Staff, but personnel who perform headquarters-related functions in these organizations are excluded from the limits. All but one of the organizations GAO reviewed have recognized problems in their existing requirements-determination processes. The OSD, the Navy, and the Marine Corps are taking steps to modify their processes, but their efforts are not yet complete. Without a systematic determination of personnel requirements and periodic reassessment of them, DOD will not be well positioned to proactively identify efficiencies and limit personnel growth within these headquarters organizations. Moreover, until DOD determines personnel requirements, Congress will not have critical information needed to reexamine statutory limits enacted decades ago.

Why GAO Did This Study

Facing budget pressures, DOD is seeking to reduce headquarters activities of OSD, the Joint Staff, and the military services' secretariats and staffs, which primarily perform policy and management functions. GAO was mandated to review personnel resources devoted to these headquarters organizations from fiscal years 2001 through 2013. This report (1) identifies past trends in personnel resources for these organizations and any plans for reductions; and (2) evaluates the extent to which DOD determines and reassesses personnel requirements for the organizations. GAO analyzed data on authorized military and civilian positions and contracted services from fiscal years 2001 through 2013. GAO reviewed DOD's headquarters reductions plans and processes for determining and reassessing personnel requirements.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD (1) conduct a systematic determination of personnel requirements at these headquarters organizations; (2) submit the requirements to Congress with adjustments and recommended modifications to the statutory limits; and (3) periodically reassess personnel requirements within OSD and the military services' secretariats and staffs. Congress should consider using DOD's review of headquarters personnel requirements to reexamine existing statutory limits. DOD partially concurred, stating it will use its existing processes, but will investigate other methods to improve the determination and reporting of requirements. GAO believes the recommendations are still valid, as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Congress included a provision that would limit the number of civilians assigned or detailed to DOD's headquarters operations, including clarifying language on the number of civilians that could be assigned or detailed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, establishing a 2,069 personnel limit for the Joint Staff, and clarify that the exceptions to the personnel limits only allow the Joint Staff and the military departments to increase their number of military and civilian personnel by 15 percent in times of national emergency. This legislative action meets the intent of our matter asking that Congress consider reexamining the statutory limits on DOD personnel.

    Matter: Congress should consider using the results of DOD's review of headquarters personnel requirements to reexamine the statutory limits. Such an examination could consider whether supporting organizations that perform headquarters functions should be included in statutory limits and whether the statutes on personnel limitations within the military services' secretariats and staffs should be amended to include a prohibition on reassigning headquarters-related functions elsewhere.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's January 2015 recommendation to conduct a systematic determination of workforce requirements, and in comments to the report, DOD noted that it would continue to use the processes and prioritization that are part of the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution process, and would also investigate other methods for aligning personnel to missions and priorities. However, DOD did not specify whether any of these actions would include a workforce analysis. In June 2017 the Deputy Secretary of Defense assigned the Deputy Chief Management Officer as the single oversight authority for the governance of manpower resources across the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Agencies, and DOD Field Activities. The Deputy Chief Management Officer was also tasked with developing a process, within 6 months, to add rigor and strengthen oversight of manpower resources in a manner that can be fully integrated into the programming, planning, budgeting, and execution processes of the department. On July 26, 2017 the Deputy Chief Management Officer further delegated the implementation steps for this process to the Director, Washington Headquarters Service in order to document and codify the standardized and disciplined business practices. However, as of December 2018, DOD had not provided documentation enabling GAO to determine that a systematic determination of workforce requirements within these organizations had taken place and the extent to which the recommendation has been implemented. Without a systematic determination of personnel requirements, DOD headquarters organizations may not be well positioned to identify opportunities for efficiencies and reduce the potential for headquarters-related growth. We will continue to monitor actions DOD takes in response to this recommendation and will provide updated information as appropriate.

    Recommendation: To ensure that headquarters organizations are properly sized to meet their assigned missions and use the most cost-effective mix of personnel, and to better position DOD to identify opportunities for more efficient use of resources, the Secretary of Defense should conduct a systematic determination of personnel requirements for OSD, the Joint Staff, and the military services' secretariats and staff, which should include analysis of mission, functions, and tasks, and the minimum personnel needed to accomplish those missions, functions, and tasks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation and stated that it had ongoing efforts to refine and improve its reporting capabilities associated with these requirements. However, DOD did not indicate in its letter whether the department would submit personnel requirements that count against the statutory limits in the Defense Manpower Requirements Report, as we recommended. In January 2018, DOD stated that it had completed action on this recommendation by submitting the fiscal years 2017 and 2018 Defense Manpower Requirements Report, which included major headquarters activity data. However, DOD's actions do not meet the intent of our recommendation. In our report we stated that the Defense Manpower Requirements Report, DOD's headquarters reporting mechanism to Congress, reflects a lack of key information regarding staff that count against the statutory limits, as well as adjustments to the limits, because DOD's reporting guidance does not require this information. DOD's fiscal years 2017 and 2018 Defense Manpower Requirements Report still lack the same key information we found in our January 2015 report. DOD has also not made any recommendations to Congress to modify the existing statutory limits.

    Recommendation: To ensure that headquarters organizations are properly sized to meet their assigned missions and use the most cost-effective mix of personnel, and to better position DOD to identify opportunities for more efficient use of resources, the Secretary of Defense should submit these personnel requirements, including information on the number of personnel within OSD and the military services' secretariats and staffs that count against the statutory limits, along with any applicable adjustments to the statutory limits, in the next Defense Manpower Requirements Report to Congress or through separate correspondence, along with any recommendations needed to modify the existing statutory limits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's January 2015 recommendation, but in comments to GAO's report, DOD noted that such periodic reassessments require additional resources and personnel, which would increase the number of personnel performing major DOD headquarters activities. DOD stated that it intended to examine the establishment of requirements determination processes across the department, to include the contractor workforce, but that such an examination would require a phased approach across a longer time frame. Based in part on GAO's work on management headquarters, including its January 2015 report, Congress directed DOD to develop a plan for implementing a periodic review and analysis of DOD's personnel requirements for management headquarters, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the military service secretariats and staff, among others, in section 905 of the Carl Levin and Howard P. Buck McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. The review was to include a description of current headquarters size, structure, and critical capabilities; an assessment of current systems to track how headquarters personnel are managed; and a proposed time line and resources required to implement a permanent periodic reassessment. In May 2018, DOD issued a report to Congress detailing its efforts to address streamlining management headquarters at DOD, including a reference to the section 905 provision. However, the report did not provide specifics on DOD's plan to address the section 905 requirement and as of December 2018, DOD has not provided additional information to indicate progress on this recommendation. Without periodic reassessments, it will likely be difficult for headquarters organizations to be well positioned to effectively identify opportunities for efficiencies and limit personnel growth. We will continue to monitor actions DOD takes in response to this recommendation and will provide updated information as appropriate.

    Recommendation: To ensure that headquarters organizations are properly sized to meet their assigned missions and use the most cost-effective mix of personnel, and to better position DOD to identify opportunities for more efficient use of resources, the Secretary of Defense should establish and implement procedures to conduct periodic reassessments of personnel requirements within OSD and the military services' secretariats and staffs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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