Special Operations Forces:
Opportunities Exist to Improve Transparency of Funding and Assess Potential to Lessen Some Deployments
GAO-15-571: Published: Jul 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2015.
What GAO Found
GAO analysis of the resources devoted to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) found that the number of authorized special operations military positions increased from about 42,800 in fiscal year (FY) 2001 to about 62,800 in FY 2014, which includes combat and support personnel. Even with this growth, special operations military positions constituted less than 3 percent of the military services' FY14 total authorized force levels.
Special operations–specific funding has increased markedly, but the Department of Defense (DOD) has not determined the total funding used to support special operations forces (SOF). Funding provided to SOCOM for special operations–specific needs has more than tripled from about $3.1 billion in FY 2001 to about $9.8 billion in FY 2014 constant dollars, including supplemental funding for contingency operations. However, these totals do not include funding provided by the services, which SOCOM estimates is more than $8 billion annually. GAO found that DOD has little visibility over total funding to support SOF, primarily because it has not established a requirement or methodology to capture and report this information. Until DOD has more complete information on total funding to support SOF, decision makers will be unable to effectively identify and assess resource needs or weigh priorities and assess budget trade-offs.
DOD has taken some steps to manage the increased pace of special operations deployments, but opportunities may exist to better balance the workload across the joint force because activities assigned to SOF can be similar to activities assigned to conventional forces. Average weekly deployments of SOF personnel have increased from about 2,900 in FY 2001 to about 7,200 in FY 2014. SOCOM has taken steps to manage the effect of SOF deployments, but DOD reported that some portions of the force are still heavily deployed. GAO identified two factors that inhibit DOD's ability to potentially share the burden of SOF deployments with the conventional force. First, DOD has not evaluated since 2003 whether activities performed by SOF could be conducted by conventional forces. Second, DOD's current force-allocation process provides the Joint Staff with criteria to validate force requests, but does not systematically consider whether conventional forces could serve as an appropriate alternative to meet some requests for SOF. Unless the department more fully assesses whether opportunities exist to better balance demands across the joint force, the demand for SOF and the high pace of deployments that results is likely to continue.
Increases in Special Operations Military Positions, Funding, and Personnel Deployed, Fiscal Years 2001 and 2014
Why GAO Did This Study
SOF are specially organized, trained, and equipped to conduct operations in hostile or politically sensitive environments. Since 2001, DOD has increased the size and funding of SOF and emphasized SOF's importance to meet national security needs. SOF deployments have focused on the Middle East and placed significant demand on the force during this period.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 included a provision that GAO review SOF force structure. This report examines (1) trends since FY 2001 in authorized special operations military positions; (2) the extent to which DOD has determined total funding for SOF; and (3) the extent to which DOD has taken steps to manage the pace of SOF deployments, among other issues.
GAO analyzed data for FYs 2001 through 2014 on SOF authorized positions, funding, and deployment data. GAO reviewed data on service-provided SOF funding and policies and other documentation and interviewed officials regarding processes for managing SOF deployments.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that DOD improve visibility in total funding to support SOF and determine whether opportunities exist to balance deployments across the joint force. DOD partially concurred, stating that existing processes that guide funding and force allocation decisions are appropriate, but that it would review these processes and consider opportunities for improvement. GAO continues to believe that actions are needed, as discussed in the report.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: DOD partially concurred and has taken action to address the recommendation. As of July 2018, DOD reported that in response to a requirement in the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the Secretary of Defense now submits to the congressional defense committees an annual report on service-common support and enabling capabilities that are contributed from each of the military services to special operations forces. The annual report includes (1) a description of the factors and process used by DOD to determine whether combat support, combat service support, base operating support, and enabling capabilities are service-common or special operations-peculiar; (2) a detailed accounting of the resources allocated by each military service to provide such capabilities for special operations forces; (3) an identification of any change in the level or type of service-common support and enabling capabilities provided by each of the military services to special operations forces in the current fiscal year when compared to the preceding fiscal year, including the rationale for any such change and any mitigating actions; and (4) an assessment of the specific effects that the budget request for the current fiscal year and any anticipated future manpower and force structure changes are likely to have on the ability of each of the military services to provide service-common support and enabling capabilities to special operations forces. The information provided in the annual reports provides departmental and congressional decision makers with an improved understanding of the methodology used to track funding to support special operations forces, as GAO recommended in July 2015.
Recommendation: In order to improve the budget visibility over the funding for SOF needed to guide departmental and congressional decision making and to better balance operational deployments across the joint force, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), in consultation with the military service Secretaries and SOCOM, to develop a mutually acceptable methodology to track and report funding to support SOF, possibly as part of annual budget justification materials.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation, noting that the department would consider any changes to the current decision process to improve the allocation of missions and requirements as part of the department's review of the Global Force Management process. As of July 2018, DOD had taken some steps, but had not fully addressed the recommendation. Specifically, DOD had updated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual 3130.06B to outline procedures for the allocation of General Purpose and Special Operations Forces to meet Geographic Combatant Commanders' requirements. However, DOD has not conducted a formal evaluation of the match between identified missions and the type of force--General Purpose or Special Operations--to determine whether opportunities exist to transfer to or share certain types of activities traditionally conducted by Special Operations Forces with General Purpose Forces, as GAO recommended in July 2015.
Recommendation: In order to improve the budget visibility over the funding for SOF needed to guide departmental and congressional decision making and to better balance operational deployments across the joint force, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in consultation with SOCOM and the military services, to evaluate whether opportunities exist for certain types of activities traditionally conducted by SOF to be transferred to or shared with conventional forces.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: DOD partially concurred and has taken action to address the recommendation. Specifically, as of July 2018, DOD had updated Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual 3130.06B to revise its guidance on the sourcing decision process and considerations with regard to general purpose and special operations forces. The guidance emphasizes the need for combatant commanders to consider the entire range of sourcing options when drafting requirements for forces and to draft requirements in a manner that allows joint force commanders and joint force providers the greatest flexibility possible to identify sourcing solutions. Moreover, the guidance specifies that the joint force providers, which include U.S. Special Operations Command, have final approval of sourcing solutions and can provide approved conventional sourcing solutions and consolidate special operations force solutions to provide global joint sourcing solutions. In addition, the manual emphasizes the importance of looking more comprehensively across the force to identify the most appropriate sourcing solution, with all recommended sourcing solutions being reviewed through the Global Force Management allocation process. Through this process, sourcing solutions are coordinated with the joint force providers and the combatant commanders to determine options and risks and to recommend a sourcing solution for each requirement that is developed from a comprehensive look across all service forces capabilities. By specifying that potential conventional force sourcing solutions can be consolidated with potential special operations forces sourcing solutions, and that recommended sourcing alternatives are reviewed through Global Force Management process, DOD has improved its ability to balance operational deployments across the joint force, as GAO recommended in July 2015.
Recommendation: In order to improve the budget visibility over the funding for SOF needed to guide departmental and congressional decision making and to better balance operational deployments across the joint force, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in consultation with SOCOM and the military services, to revise the validation criteria outlined in Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual 3130.06A to include a requirement that the Joint Staff consider whether conventional forces could serve as an appropriate alternative to meet requests for SOF before validating combatant commander requests.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense