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Highlights

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report states that the Department of Defense (DOD) must be prepared to respond to and mitigate the effects of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attacks at home or overseas. Moreover, the Secretary of Defense directed the U.S. military to define the nature and potential requests for military capabilities needed to respond to 15 National Planning Scenarios issued by the Homeland Security Council. The Army's chemical units are key players in this mission. GAO was asked to evaluate the preparedness of the Army's chemical and biological units, including the extent to which (1) units tasked with providing chemical and biological defense support to combat units and commands are adequately staffed, equipped, and trained and (2) units also tasked with a homeland defense mission--especially National Guard and Reserve units--are adequately prepared for this mission. During this review, we analyzed readiness data and other preparedness indicators for 78 Army chemical units.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop a specific plan to address the long-standing chemical unit personnel shortages that have been exacerbated by ongoing operations, particularly for chemical operations specialists. This plan should specifically address and discuss options such as the need for temporarily prohibiting the transfer of personnel from chemical units with homeland defense missions into units supporting other operations; requiring soldiers in chemical occupational specialties to return to assignments requiring that specialty after deployments, as long as shortages continue in that specialty; other steps designed to mitigate the loss of these personnel; and the risks associated with not taking such steps.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD non concurred with this recommendation and further stated that promotion, reclassification, and incentive programs are constantly adjusted to react to the changing needs of the Army.
Department of Defense To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to determine how many and which active, National Guard, and Army Reserve chemical units will be needed to perform homeland defense missions, including responding to multiple, near-simultaneous CBRNE attacks on the United States, and set forth a plan to ensure that for these units, the homeland defense mission is given priority over other missions.
Closed - Not Implemented
Recent GAO work (see GAO-10-123) has found that DOD still relies on "dual-capability" forces to provide chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive ( CBRNE) consequence management capabilities in addition to existing overseas missions. These CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force Packages are rotational and not dedicated to homeland defense. They will come under operational control of U.S. Northern Command only in the event of an incident.
Department of Defense To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and approve a plan for addressing DOD's decontamination equipment shortages until new joint systems are fielded beginning in fiscal year 2009. This plan should determine the total number of systems needed during the interim period, by type of system (M12, M17, Karcher, or Falcon) to maintain the needed decontamination capability; how the interim systems will be integrated with retained M12 and M17 systems; how training and logistical support for the interim systems will be addressed; and whether the interim systems should be type-classified and standardized as official military equipment with a national stock number, and added to units' official equipment lists.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD noncurred with this recommendation and stated that the recommendation does not accurately reflect the current situation.
Department of Defense To align DOD's stated emphasis on responding to and mitigating the effects from WMD incidents at home and abroad with the readiness of Army chemical units, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to set a definitive deadline for completing chemical and biological defense doctrine to reflect new homeland defense missions.
Closed - Implemented
DOD revised and published Army Field Manual 3-11.21 "Multiservice Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Consequence Management Operations" in April 2008. It includes the agreed-upon guidance to reflect homeland defense missions.

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