Defense Management: DOD Needs to Improve Future Assessments of Roles and Missions

GAO-14-668 Published: Jul 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2014.
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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense's (DOD) July 2012 submission to Congress following its most recent Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review did not provide sufficiently detailed information about most of the statutorily required elements of the assessment. Specifically, DOD's July 2012 submission included the results of a 2011 review that led to the January 2012 release of a new strategic guidance document (hereinafter referred to as the Defense Strategic Guidance) as well as the Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review report. Although DOD is not statutorily required to report on all elements of the assessment, the submission that it provided to Congress was lacking key information. A key principle for information quality indicates that information presented to Congress should be clear and sufficiently detailed; however, neither the Defense Strategic Guidance nor the Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review included sufficiently detailed information about certain key elements of the roles and missions assessment. For example, while the submitted documents identify the core missions of the armed services and provide some information on capabilities associated with these missions, neither document provides other information required by the roles and missions assessment—including identifying the DOD components responsible for providing the identified core competencies and capabilities and identifying plans for addressing any unnecessary duplication or capability gaps.

DOD's process for assessing roles and missions missed key principles associated with effective and comprehensive assessments. Specifically, DOD limited its process to leveraging the prior review that resulted in the Defense Strategic Guidance; by doing so its process did not include the following:

A planned approach : DOD did not develop or document a planned approach that included the principles or assumptions used to inform the assessment.

Internal stakeholder involvement: DOD included limited internal stakeholder involvement. For example, DOD gave the armed services a limited opportunity to review the draft prior to its release.

Identification and involvement of external stakeholders : DOD obtained limited input from relevant external stakeholders, such as Congress, on the specific guidance and direction they expected of the roles and missions assessment.

Time frames : DOD did not develop a schedule to gauge progress for conducting the assessment and completing the report, which may have contributed to the report being provided to Congress over 5 months late.

DOD officials stated that the primary reason that they did not perform a separate roles and missions review is that the statutory requirements were duplicative of other reviews and processes, such as the Defense Strategic Guidance. However, by not conducting a comprehensive assessment, DOD missed an opportunity to conduct a department-wide examination of roles and missions. Instead, by relying on processes established for other purposes, DOD has limited assurance that it has fully identified all possible cost savings that can be achieved through the elimination of unnecessary duplication and that it has positioned itself to report clear and sufficient information about the statutorily required assessment to Congress.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD is one of the largest organizations in the world, with its budget representing over half of the U.S. federal government's discretionary spending. According to DOD, the global security environment presents an increasingly complex set of challenges. Congress requires DOD to assess and report on its roles and missions every 4 years. In July 2012, DOD submitted its most recent Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review report.

In June 2013, GAO was mandated to review DOD's process for conducting the latest Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review. GAO evaluated the extent to which DOD developed a sufficiently detailed report and conducted a comprehensive process for assessing roles and missions. GAO compared DOD's July 2012 report with the statutory requirements for the assessment, and compared DOD's assessment process with key principles derived from a broad selection of principles GAO and other federal agencies have identified.

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GAO recommends that, in conducting future assessments of roles and missions, DOD develop a comprehensive process that includes a planned approach, involvement of key internal and external stakeholder involvement, and time frames. DOD partially concurred, stating that it had leveraged other processes. GAO maintains that the roles and missions report was insufficiently detailed and continues to believe the recommendation is valid, as discussed in the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To assist DOD in conducting any future comprehensive assessments of roles and missions that reflect appropriate statutory requirements, the Secretary of Defense should develop a comprehensive process that includes (1) a planned approach, including the principles or assumptions used to inform the assessment, that addresses all statutory requirements; (2) the involvement of key DOD stakeholders, such as the armed services, Joint Staff, and other officials within the department; (3) an opportunity to identify and involve appropriate external stakeholders, to provide input to inform the assessment; and (4) time frames with milestones for conducting the assessment and for reporting on its results.
Closed – Implemented
In their written comments included with GAO's report, DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. DOD agreed that it is important to make strategy-driven decisions regarding its missions and to assign and clarify roles and responsibilities to its components; however, they felt that its approach to the prior roles and missions review met the statutory requirement. Subsequently, as part of the creation of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, DOD developed a comprehensive process for an assessment of roles and missions. Based on our review of the 2018 National Defense Strategy report, we determined this process addressed statutory requirements through a planned approach that included principles and assumptions, in the form of an identification of the strategic problem presented by the current security environment, drivers of national advantage and disadvantage, and key trends for the next 20-30 years. Based on our review of documentation from the National Defense Strategy and testimonial evidence from DOD, we determined that DOD implemented our recommendation. Specifically, the team of experts conducting the assessment were provided input from key internal stakeholders from across the military services, Joint Staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense as well as external stakeholders such as the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General. According to documentation from DOD, the Secretary of Defense tasked the team to work along a deliberate time frame to allow for the development of a framework for-and reporting of-the National Defense Strategy and force planning priorities to inform the 2019 Program Budget Review process. According to the DOD official from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy with lead for conducting the assessment of roles and missions as part of the National Defense Strategy, GAO's recommendation informed the report's findings and their discussions in everything they did, including the use of a process and methodology that was more inclusive of stakeholder interests and perspective. By utilizing a planned approach that includes key stakeholders for the roles and missions assessment conducted as part of the development of the National Defense Strategy, DOD's assessment was better positioned to provide detailed results of its comprehensive assessment.

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