Military Training: DOD Needs a Strategic Plan and Better Inventory and Requirements Data to Guide Development of Language Skills and Regional Proficiency

GAO-09-568 Published: Jun 19, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2009.
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Highlights

Violent extremist movements and ongoing military operations have prompted the Department of Defense (DOD) to place greater emphasis on improving language and regional proficiency, which includes cultural awareness. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which DOD has (1) developed a strategic plan to guide its language and regional proficiency transformation efforts and (2) obtained the information it needs to identify potential language and regional proficiency gaps and assess risk. To conduct this assessment, GAO analyzed DOD's Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, reviewed the military services' strategies for transforming language and regional proficiency capabilities, and assessed the range of efforts intended to help identify potential gaps.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of language and regional proficiency capabilities transformation efforts already under way, as well as future efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to include in a strategic plan or set of linked plans the following specific elements for both language and regional proficiency: (1) measurable performance goals and objectives and (2) investment priorities that are linked to goals.
Closed – Implemented
In February 2011, DOD published the Department of Defense Strategic Plan for Language Skills, Regional Expertise, and Cultural Capabilities (2011-2016). The strategy outlines a broad planning process that includes a vision, goals, and objectives and notes that the department will review the strategy annually and modify it when needed to ensure alignment with overarching DOD guidance. DOD officials told us that a more detailed implementation plan will be issued separately and the plan would likely include action plans that define responsibilities and time frames for completing specific tasks, as well as performance measures to assess progress and guide the allocation of resources.
Department of Defense To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of language and regional proficiency capabilities transformation efforts already under way, as well as future efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in consultation with the Secretaries of the military services and Heads of DOD's defense agencies, to establish a mechanism to assess and validate the full range of regional proficiency capabilities of service members and DOD civilians, including the development of measurable definitions and milestones to achieve an assessment, and incorporate the information into its strategic management tool to allow DOD to determine capability gaps and assess risk effectively.
Closed – Implemented
In commenting on our draft report, DOD concurred with this recommendation. DOD stated that it would provide definitive guidance and definitions for regional proficiency levels in order to enable the military services and defense agencies to measure and determine the appropriate regional proficiency levels for their personnel. At the time of our report, DOD intended to complete this project in March 2010 and to implement assessments of servicemembers' regional proficiency levels not sooner than September 2010. In March 2013, a Regional Proficiency Assessment Tool (RPAT) was delivered to the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) in stand-alone version. RPAT assesses individual regional proficiency across 15 regions on a scale of 0+ to 5, using the same range as the Interagency Language Roundtable scale for language proficiency. RPAT was developed using military personnel but can be adapted for civilian use. The DLNSEO is in the process of evaluating and validating RPAT capabilities, has plans to develop a web-capable version, and discussions to make RPAT results available to the Language Readiness Index during the fiscal year 2014-2015 timeframe are ongoing.
Department of Defense To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of language and regional proficiency capabilities transformation efforts already under way, as well as future efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Joint Staff, in coordination with the military services and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, to develop a transparent, validated methodology to aid combatant commanders, DOD components, and defense agencies in identifying language and regional proficiency requirements for all communities and at all proficiency levels in order for DOD to be able to determine capability gaps, assess risk effectively, and inform strategic planning for language and regional proficiency transformation.
Closed – Implemented
Consistent with this recommendation, in 2010, the Joint Staff, in coordination with the Army, Navy, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, developed a standardized methodology for combatant commands to identify and prioritize language, regional expertise, and culture capability requirements for both professional linguists and general purpose forces to address missions within the combatant command's area of responsibility. They also developed a Joint Staff process that integrates and validates these capability requirements to send to the services for force development. This methodology, which was approved in November 2010, will allow DOD to better assess capability gaps for language and regional proficiency, identify solutions to fill those gaps, conduct risk assessments to monitor and mitigate risk when faced with competing demands, and develop and adapt strategic plans for language and regional proficiency transformation.

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