Defense Nuclear Enterprise:

DOD Continues to Address Challenges but Needs to Better Define Roles and Responsibilities and Approaches to Collaboration

GAO-19-29: Published: Nov 1, 2018. Publicly Released: Nov 1, 2018.

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Joseph W. Kirschbaum
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kirschbaumj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in implementing the recommendations from the 2014 nuclear enterprise reviews and a 2015 nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) review and has improved its tracking and evaluation of this progress. For example, since GAO last reported—in October 2017—an additional 74 of the 247 sub-recommendations from the 2014 reviews have been closed; 96 remain open. In January 2018, in response to a GAO recommendation, the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) issued guidance to aid the military services in identifying, assessing, and documenting risks associated with the 2014 recommendations, such as unintended consequences from their implementation. The guidance calls on them to update their risk assessments periodically as new data become available. The Air Force and Navy have begun to provide risk information in CAPE's and their own tracking tools. In July 2018, in response to a GAO recommendation, DOD's Chief Information Officer issued guidance to improve tracking and evaluation of progress in implementing the 2015 recommendations.

DOD and the military services have taken steps to improve oversight of the nuclear enterprise in response to the 2014 reviews but lack clear roles and responsibilities and methods for collaboration. The Secretary of Defense created the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group (NDERG) in 2014 to ensure the long-term health of the nuclear enterprise by addressing resourcing, personnel, organizational, and enterprise policy issues. However, DOD guidance has not clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the NDERG or provided methods for the NDERG to communicate and collaborate with other nuclear oversight organizations, including those shown in the figure. Nor has NC3 oversight guidance been updated to reflect changes in roles and responsibilities and to include methods for communication and collaboration among NC3 oversight groups. In the absence of defined roles and responsibilities for the NDERG and NC3 oversight bodies and methods for how the NDERG and NC3 oversight groups are to communicate and collaborate, senior leaders may not be in a position to effectively manage resourcing and risk across the department.

Selected Nuclear Oversight Groups

Selected Nuclear Oversight Groups

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2014, the Secretary of Defense directed two reviews of DOD's nuclear enterprise. These reviews identified problems with leadership, organization, investment, morale, policy, and procedures, as well as other shortcomings that adversely affected the nuclear deterrence mission. The reviews also made recommendations to address these problems. In 2015, DOD conducted a review focused on NC3 systems, which resulted in additional recommendations.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 includes a provision for GAO to review DOD's processes for addressing these recommendations. This report addresses the extent to which DOD and the military services have (1) made progress in the implementation, tracking, and evaluation—including identifying and documenting risk—of the recommendations of the 2014 nuclear enterprise reviews and the 2015 NC3 report and (2) improved oversight of the defense nuclear enterprise and managed roles, responsibilities, and collaboration among various organizations. GAO reviewed relevant documents and interviewed agency officials from DOD and the military services.

What GAO Recommends

GAO makes four recommendations for DOD to clarify roles, responsibilities, and methods of communication and collaboration for both the NDERG and NC3 oversight bodies. DOD concurred with all four recommendations and provided information about planned actions to implement them.

For more information, contact Joseph W. Kirschbaum at (202) 512-9971 or kirschbaumj@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 ensure that the Deputy Secretary of Defense--in coordination with the military departments; U.S. Strategic Command; the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs; CAPE; and other relevant components of DOD--identify in the planned charter and DOD directive clear roles and responsibilities for the members of the NDERG. (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 ensure that the Deputy Secretary of Defense--in coordination with the military departments; U.S. Strategic Command; the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs; CAPE; and other relevant components of DOD--establish in the planned charter and DOD directive methods for the NDERG to communicate and collaborate with other organizations that have oversight responsibilities for portions of the nuclear enterprise. (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 ensure that the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--in coordination with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (as the Council on Oversight of the National Leadership Command, Control, and Communications System (NLC3S Council) co-chairs), and U.S. Strategic Command--update the applicable DOD guidance (such as the NLC3S Council's and Executive Management Board's charters) and identify whether there is a need to request changes to statutory or presidential guidance in order to clarify changes to roles and responsibilities for NC3 oversight. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. 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 ensure that the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--in coordination with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (as NLC3S Council co-chairs),and U.S. Strategic Command--update the applicable guidance to establish methods for communication and collaboration among organizations that have oversight responsibilities for portions of the nuclear enterprise as changes are considered for charters, guidance, and laws to reflect the changes to NC3 oversight. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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