Quadrennial Defense Review:

Opportunities to Improve the Next Review

NSIAD-98-155: Published: Jun 25, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 1998.

Additional Materials:


Carol R. Schuster
(202) 512-3610


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether: (1) the Quadrennial Defense Review's (QDR) force structure and modernization assessments examined alternatives to the planned force; and (2) opportunities exist to improve the structure and methodology of future QDRs. GAO did not evaluate the rationale for the Department of Defense's (DOD) proposed defense strategy.

GAO noted that: (1) QDR did not examine alternatives that would provide greater assurance that it identified the force structure that is best suited to implement the defense strategy; (2) the QDR's force assessments built on DOD's Bottom-Up Review analysis by examining requirements for a broader range of military operations beyond major theater wars, and by analyzing the potential impact of some key assumptions; (3) only one of the three major force assessments modeled any force structure alternatives; (4) the assessment did not examine alternatives that involved targeted changes because DOD officials foresaw problems in obtaining service consensus and DOD's models are not sensitive enough to assess the effects of some types of force structure changes; (5) although some technologies consistent with Joint Vision 2010 were modeled, none of the assessments fully examined the potential effects of new technologies and war-fighting concepts on DOD's planned force structure; (6) DOD's modernization review examined some variations of the services' procurement plans but did not include a thorough, mission-oriented review of the mix of capabilities the United States will need to counter future threats; (7) DOD divided responsibility for analyzing major procurement programs and investment issues among 17 task forces; (8) this approach did not always provide a mission focus that examined trade-offs or facilitated a fundamental reassessment of modernization needs in light of emerging threats and technological advances; (9) the modernization and force assessment panels conducted most of their work independently and concurrently, which hampered their ability to explore linkages and trade-offs between force structure and modernization alternatives; (10) DOD can provide a more thorough review of U.S. defense needs in the next QDR by preparing early, improving its analytical tools, and considering changes to the structure and design of the QDR process; (11) DOD has not yet developed a formal process to prepare for and coordinate activities related to the next QDR; and (12) delaying the start of the next QDR until later in the next Presidential administration may also facilitate a more thorough review.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Senate version of the fiscal year 2001 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision that would have required a National Defense Panel to conduct an assessment of defense requirements prior to the QDR that will begin in late 2000. However, the House version of the bill did not include this provision, and the provision was not adopted by the conferees. Therefore, there will not be a National Defense Panel for the 2000 QDR.

    Matter: If Congress chooses to establish another panel of experts to provide an independent review of defense needs, it may wish to require the panel to complete its work prior to the next QDR. This approach could provide DOD with a broader set of options to examine in its review.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has taken several steps to prepare for the 2000 QDR in accordance with GAO's recommendation. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Transformation has served as the focal point for much of DOD's coordination and preparation efforts for the 2000 QDR and has recommended that the Deputy Secretary of Defense should have overall responsibility for the effort. In addition, the Joint Staff issued guidance in February 2000 outlining the Joint Staff's role and organization for the 2000 QDR. The Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff have undertaken a number of efforts to prepare for the 2000 QDR including: (1) tasking the Institute of Defense Analysis to provide a lessons learned assessment of the 1997 QDR and identify a framework for the 2000 QDR; (2) funding improvements in DOD wargaming models; (3) sponsoring a wargame series known as Dynamic Commitment 2000 to examine DOD's capability to perform a wide range of military operations; and (4) tasking the National Defense University to conduct several analyses.

    Recommendation: To enhance the value of the next QDR, the Secretary of Defense should assign responsibility for overall oversight and coordination of DOD preparation efforts. Preparation tasks should include identifying the analytical tools and data needed to support force structure and modernization analyses, monitoring the status and funding for efforts to upgrade DOD's models, summarizing lessons learned from the 1997 QDR, and considering the need to change the structure and timing of the QDR process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 20, 2020

Nov 19, 2020

Nov 18, 2020

Nov 5, 2020

Oct 29, 2020

Oct 21, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here