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Highlights

The Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on special operations forces to conduct military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and to perform other tasks such as training foreign military forces. To meet the demand for these forces, DOD established a Marine Corps service component under the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to integrate Marine Corps forces. Under the authority of the Comptroller General, GAO assessed the extent to which (1) the Marine Corps special operations command has identified its force structure requirements, (2) the Marine Corps has developed a strategic human capital approach to manage personnel in its special operations command, and (3) USSOCOM has determined whether Marine Corps training programs are preparing its forces for assigned missions. GAO performed its work with the Marine Corps and USSOCOM and analyzed DOD plans for this new command.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense 1. To facilitate the development of a strategic human capital approach for the management of personnel assigned to the Marine Corps special operations command and to validate that Marine Corps special operations forces are trained to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to direct the Commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, to conduct an analysis of the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in Marine Corps special operations forces units and establish milestones for conducting this analysis. This analysis should be used to assess the effectiveness of current assignment policies and to develop a strategic human capital approach for the management of these personnel.
Closed - Implemented
In our September 2007 report Special Operations Forces: Management Actions Are Needed to Effectively Integrate Marine Corps Forces into the U.S. Special Operations Command, GAO-07-1030, we reported that the Marine Corps had not developed a strategic human capital approach to manage personnel in its special operations command because the Command had not conducted a comprehensive analysis to identify the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in its special operations forces units. We reported that without the benefit of such analyses, the Marine Corps had developed an interim policy to assign some personnel to special operations forces units for extended tour lengths to account for the additional training and skills needed by these personnel, but the policy was inconsistent with the Marine Corps special operations command's goal for the permanent assignment of some personnel within the special operations community. We recommended that the Commandant of the Marine Corps direct the Commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command to conduct an analysis of the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in Marine Corps special operations forces units and that the service use this analysis to assess the effectiveness of current assignment policies in developing a strategic human capital approach for the management of these personnel. Consistent with our September 2007 recommendation, the Marine Corps announced in March 2011 that, based on the results of a series of analyses, it was increasing the size of its special operations command to account for additional numbers of combat support and combat service support personnel who will be assigned for 5-year tours and that the command's "critical skill operators" will be permanently assigned to the command. This approach will allow the Marine Corps special operations command to maximize the return on investment made for the additional training provided to its operators.
Department of Defense 2. To facilitate the development of a strategic human capital approach for the management of personnel assigned to the Marine Corps special operations command and to validate that Marine Corps special operations forces are trained to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, USSOCOM, to establish a framework for evaluating Marine Corps special operations forces training programs, including their content and standards, to ensure the programs are sufficient to prepare Marine Corps forces to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces.
Closed - Implemented
In our September 2007 report Special Operations Forces: Management Actions Are Needed to Effectively Integrate Marine Corps Forces into the U.S. Special Operations Command, GAO-07-1030, we reported that U.S. Special Operations Command had not formally validated that the training programs developed by the Marine Corps special operations command met special operations forces standards and prepared forces to be fully interoperable with the department's other special operations forces. We reported that although U.S. Special Operations Command had taken some limited steps to evaluate the training provided to Marine Corps special operations forces, the Command had not formally assessed the training programs used by the Marine Corps special operations command to prepare its forces for deployments, despite the fact that U.S. Special Operations Command was responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of all training programs and ensuring the interoperability of all of DOD's special operations forces. Therefore, U.S. Special Operations Command could not demonstrate the needed assurances to the geographic combatant commanders that Marine Corps special operations forces were trained to special operations forces standards and that these forces met department wide interoperability goals for special operations forces, thereby potentially affecting the success of future joint operations. We recommended that the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command establish a framework for evaluating Marine Corps special operations forces training programs, including their content and standards, to ensure the programs were sufficient to prepare Marine Corps forces to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces. For completed actions in response to this recommendation, DOD stated that it has taken a number of steps to develop a framework to assess Marine Corps special operations forces training programs. For example, the Command has institutionalized recurring processes that fully support the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mandated Joint Training System, which included the development of meaningful metrics to evaluate all training programs and the combat capabilities they produce. Additionally, in April 2010, U.S. Special Operations Command published the Command's Training Assessment Plan that directs component commands (e.g., Marine Corps Special Operations Command) to conduct assessments of the progress of training programs in achieving required levels of proficiency of forces to perform assigned missions. U.S. Special Operations Command has also taken steps to ensure interoperable training occurs for special operations unique equipment. In particular, DOD reported that in November 2010, U.S. Special Operations Command training standards branch personnel visited Marine Corps Special Operations Command to observe training and evaluate the effectiveness of training programs for select special operations equipment. Taken together, these and other actions cited by the department provide U.S. Special Operations Command with a more comprehensive basis to evaluate training programs for Marine Corps special operations forces.

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