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Highlights

The Department of Defense (DOD), in its response to unconventional threats from terrorists, uses biometrics technologies that identify physical attributes, including fingerprints and iris scans. However, coordinating the development and implementation of biometrics and ensuring interoperability across DOD has been difficult to achieve. Biometrics also is an enabling technology for identity management, a concept that seeks to manage personally identifiable information to enable improved governmentwide sharing and analysis of identity information. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which DOD has established biometrics goals and objectives, implementing guidance for managing biometrics activities, and a designated budget. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed documentation, including DOD biometrics policy and directives, and interviewed key DOD officials involved with making policy and funding decisions regarding biometrics.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense 1. To improve the management of DOD's biometrics activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Principal Staff Assistant and Executive Committee to develop clearly defined goals and measures of success to guide and monitor development of biometrics activities.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with the recommendation. DOD reported progress in a number of areas, including an implementation plan for the DOD Biometrics Enterprise Strategic Plan (2008-2015), which includes tasks, responsibilities, and milestones for completion; and a biometrics metrics plan. Although DOD reported that the metrics plan was completed in 2010, it has responded to GAO's request for the plan only with a copy of the older DOD Biometrics Enterprise Strategic Plan (2008-2015). Since DOD is restructuring its biometrics program and they have not provided GAO with the requested documentation regarding its biometrics planning, we are unable to confirm DOD's progress toward implementing the recommendation.
Department of Defense 2. To improve the management of DOD's biometrics activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Principal Staff Assistant and Executive Committee to issue implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures for the Executive Committee.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with the recommendation and drafted a Department of Defense Instruction in 2009 to clarify and detail the governance process for the Department's biometric enterprise, and to outline the Enterprise-wide procedures necessary for executing the policies and responsibilities outlined in broader guidance (DOD Directive 8521.01E). The instruction was in final review in December 2010 but was pulled back for further revision in response to direction in the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act requiring greater fiscal oversight by the office of Defense Biometrics. DOD reported that it is also making revisions to the instruction to reflect changes to the biometrics organization in DOD (e.g., biometrics responsibilities are moving to the Army's Office of the Provost Marshal General). The final instruction and revised directive should be issued in late 2012 or early 2013. We believe DOD's efforts to create and refine key guidance for the Department's biometrics enterprise address the intent of the recommendation.
Department of Defense 3. To improve the management of DOD's biometrics activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Principal Staff Assistant and Executive Committee to work with the Comptroller to establish a designated biometrics budget.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOD concurred with the recommendation and has taken a number of steps to provide structure to its biometrics efforts. For example, between 2009 and 2011 DOD completed key elements of the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System, which guides the assessment and acquisition of defense capabilities. These steps were intended to be complete in fiscal year 2012, providing a direct path to creating a formal program for biometrics. However, during the course of subsequent biometrics work by GAO in 2011-2012, we found that a designated biometrics budget was not produced by DOD, that much of the money for biometrics was still coming from funding for overseas contingency operations, and that little funding had migrated to the base budgets for the services. DOD projects that transitioning biometrics to designated base budgets would occur in fiscal year 2013 for most of the services, but it remains unclear if DOD will accomplish this goal.

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