Military Personnel:

DOD Should Improve Its Oversight of the Exceptional Family Member Program

GAO-18-348: Published: May 8, 2018. Publicly Released: May 8, 2018.

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Jacqueline M. Nowicki
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nowickij@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The support provided to families with special needs through the Department of Defense's (DOD) Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) varies widely for each branch of Military Service. Federal law requires DOD's Office of Special Needs (OSN) to develop a uniform policy that includes requirements for (1) developing and updating a services plan for each family with special needs and (2) resources, such as staffing, to ensure an appropriate number of family support providers. OSN has developed such a policy, but DOD relies on each Service to determine its compliance with the policy. However, Army and Navy officials said they have not received feedback from OSN about the extent to which their Service-specific guidance complies. Federal internal control standards call for developing clear policies to achieve agency goals. In addition, DOD's most recent annual reports to Congress do not indicate the extent to which each Service provides services plans or allocates sufficient resources for family support providers. According to GAO's analysis, the Military Services have developed relatively few services plans, and there is wide variation in the number of family support providers employed, which raises questions about potential gaps in services for families with special needs (see table).

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Personnel and Services Plans at Continental United States Installations, Fiscal Year 2016

Military Service

Total number of installations

Total number of exceptional family members

Total number of family support providers and related personnel

Total number of services plans (SP) createda

Air Force

58

34,885

58

160

Army

39

43,109

92

5,004

Marine Corps

13

9,150

88

552

Navy

50

17,533b

74

31c

Source: GAO analysis of the Military Services' fiscal year 2016 EFMP data. | GAO-18-348

aCan include more than one enrolled family member.
bAs of November 2016.
cAdditional SPs may have been modified in fiscal year 2016, but could not be reported by the Navy.

Each Service uses various mechanisms to monitor how servicemembers are assigned to installations (assignment coordination) and obtain family support, but DOD has not established common performance measures to assess these activities. DOD has taken steps to better support families with special needs, according to the DOD officials GAO interviewed. For example, DOD established a working group to identify gaps in services. However, OSN officials said that DOD lacks common performance measures for assignment coordination and family support because the Services have not reached consensus on what those measures should be. In addition, OSN does not have a process to systematically evaluate the results of the Services' monitoring activities. Federal internal control standards call for assessing performance over time and evaluating the results of monitoring activities. Without establishing common performance measures and assessing monitoring activities, DOD will be unable to fully determine the effect of its efforts to better support families with special needs and the adequacy of the Services' EFMPs as required by federal law.

Why GAO Did This Study

Military families with special medical and educational needs face unique challenges because of their frequent moves. To help assist these families, DOD provides services plans, which document the support a family member requires. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to review the Services' EFMPs, including DOD's oversight of these programs.

This report examines the extent to which (1) each Service provides family support and (2) the Services monitor and DOD evaluates assignment coordination and family support.

GAO analyzed DOD and Service-specific EFMP guidance and documents; analyzed fiscal year 2016 EFMP data (the most recent available); visited seven military installations, selected for their large numbers of military-connected students; and interviewed officials responsible for implementing each Service's EFMP, as well as officials in OSN that administer DOD's EFM policy.

What GAO Recommends

GAO makes a total of three recommendations to DOD. DOD should assess and report to Congress on the extent to which each Service provides sufficient family support personnel and services plans, develop common performance metrics for assignment coordination and family support, and evaluate the results of the Services' monitoring activities. DOD agreed with these recommendations and plans to develop performance metrics for assignment coordination and develop plans to evaluate the Services' monitoring activities.

For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of Special Needs (OSN) to assess the extent to which each Service is (1) providing sufficient resources for an appropriate number of family support providers, and (2) developing services plans for each family with special needs, and to include these results as part of OSN's analysis of any gaps in services for military families with special needs in each annual report issued by the Department to the congressional defense committees. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of Special Needs (OSN) to develop common performance metrics for assignment coordination and family support, in accordance with leading practices for performance measurement. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should implement a systematic process for evaluating the results of monitoring activities conducted by each Service's EFMP. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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