Better Records Management and More Reporting Needed on Presidential Drawdowns
GAO-16-291: Published: Apr 12, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 12, 2016.
What GAO Found
Drawdown proposals to provide U.S. assistance for an international crisis are typically developed through an interagency process led by the Departments of State (State) and Defense (DOD), and involving the National Security Council and the Executive Office of the President. State and DOD work with other agencies to determine whether to use a drawdown authority and identify the assistance to be provided. Based on the estimated value and availability of the articles and services, the agencies agree on the parameters of the drawdown. State prepares a justification package, and the President signs a Presidential Determination to authorize the drawdown. DOD then executes the drawdown by working with the military services to provide the articles and services.
Examples of Recipients of Defense Articles and Services from Drawdowns, 2013–2015
State policy specifies that the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs leads State and interagency processes for presidential drawdowns. Key documents for this process include a memorandum of justification containing background information about the drawdown. However, inconsistent with federal internal control standards, State lacked readily available documents related to drawdowns, and there is no central office or official responsible for maintaining key drawdown documents. As a result, it took several months for State to fully respond to our request for drawdown documents. For example, State officials initially did not provide documentation for the 2011 drawdown to Libya, but provided the documents over 4 months later. Without a mechanism to ensure that key documents relating to the use of drawdown authorities are readily available, State is unable to produce documents in a timely manner.
DOD provided some reports to Congress on the execution of drawdowns in 2011 and 2013. However, DOD has not submitted certain reports to Congress since 2011 despite a legal requirement to keep Congress fully and currently informed regarding assistance provided through drawdowns under one specific authority. DOD officials said that they have not submitted these reports because they have not closed any of the 13 drawdowns since 2011— articles and services are still to be delivered. Nevertheless, without periodic reports to indicate the status of drawdowns, Congress may not have detailed information about the extent of the President's use of drawdown authority.
Why GAO Did This Study
The President has special legal authorities that allow him to direct the drawdown of defense articles, such as vehicles, food, or medical equipment, and services, such as airlift support, as well as military education and training, to provide assistance in response to an international crisis. Since 2011, there have been 13 drawdowns. The President may authorize up to $325 million each year in drawdowns.
A House Armed Services Committee report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a provision for GAO to conduct a review of drawdown authority. This report examines, since 2011, (1) the U.S. government's process for planning and executing drawdowns, (2) State efforts to manage records on decisions to use drawdown authorities, and (3) the status of drawdowns and DOD efforts to report to Congress on defense articles and services delivered through drawdowns to recipient countries or international organizations. GAO analyzed documents relevant to drawdowns and interviewed State and DOD officials.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that (1) State should assign responsibility or establish a mechanism to maintain key drawdowns documents and (2) DOD report more frequently on defense articles and services provided through drawdowns. State did not concur with GAO's recommendation to establish a mechanism to maintain documents, but GAO stands by its recommendation, as discussed in the report. DOD agreed that it should report more frequently on drawdowns.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In April 2016, GAO found that the Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which leads State and interagency processes for planning and executing presidential drawdowns, did not have a mechanism to centrally manage their drawdowns-related documents. GAO reported that State's lack of a single point of contact or centralized mechanism for maintaining drawdown documents weakens its ability to make key documents associated with the justification for drawdowns readily available . To help ensure that key State documents and records on the presidential use of drawdowns are readily available, GAO recommended that the Secretary of State should assign responsibility or develop a mechanism for maintaining State's justification package documents . In its written comments, State did not concur with our recommendation that the Secretary of State should assign responsibility or develop a mechanism for maintaining State?s justification package documents, and noted that there are officials responsible for maintaining key drawdown documents . However, in a May 2016 letter following the publication of the report, State noted that it would be helpful to compile all documentation concerning its security-related drawdowns in a single repository within the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, and that the office established an electronic shared file folder for this purpose . The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs followed up with a screenshot of the folder it established to compile drawdowns documentation. GAO believes that this is a sufficient mechanism to centrally manage its documents.
Recommendation: To help ensure that key State documents and records on the presidential use of drawdowns are readily available, the Secretary of State should assign responsibility or develop a mechanism for maintaining State's justification package documents.
Agency Affected: Department of State
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Secretary of Defense agreed with this recommendation. In April 2017, a DSCA official confirmed that it sent drawdown reports to Congress in December 2016, and provided GAO with the reports. In addition, a DSCA official confirmed that DSCA updated its guidance to state that it will report annually to Congress, regardless of whether all articles and services have been delivered. GAO believes that annual reporting is sufficient to provide information on drawdowns to Congress.
Recommendation: To help ensure that Congress has the information it needs on the President's use of drawdown authority, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to report more frequently to Congress on information outlined in Section 506(b)(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act, as amended, even if delivery of all the articles and services authorized has not been completed, or if the crisis is still ongoing.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense