Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

The support provided to families with special needs through the Department of Defense's (DOD) Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) varies widely for each branch of Military Service. Federal law requires DOD's Office of Special Needs (OSN) to develop a uniform policy that includes requirements for (1) developing and updating a services plan for each family with special needs and (2) resources, such as staffing, to ensure an appropriate number of family support providers. OSN has developed such a policy, but DOD relies on each Service to determine its compliance with the policy. However, Army and Navy officials said they have not received feedback from OSN about the extent to which their Service-specific guidance complies. Federal internal control standards call for developing clear policies to achieve agency goals. In addition, DOD's most recent annual reports to Congress do not indicate the extent to which each Service provides services plans or allocates sufficient resources for family support providers. According to GAO's analysis, the Military Services have developed relatively few services plans, and there is wide variation in the number of family support providers employed, which raises questions about potential gaps in services for families with special needs (see table).

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Personnel and Services Plans at Continental United States Installations, Fiscal Year 2016

Military Service

Total number of installations

Total number of exceptional family members

Total number of family support providers and related personnel

Total number of services plans (SP) createda

Air Force

58

34,885

58

160

Army

39

43,109

92

5,004

Marine Corps

13

9,150

88

552

Navy

50

17,533b

74

31c

Source: GAO analysis of the Military Services' fiscal year 2016 EFMP data. | GAO-18-348

aCan include more than one enrolled family member.
bAs of November 2016.
cAdditional SPs may have been modified in fiscal year 2016, but could not be reported by the Navy.

Each Service uses various mechanisms to monitor how servicemembers are assigned to installations (assignment coordination) and obtain family support, but DOD has not established common performance measures to assess these activities. DOD has taken steps to better support families with special needs, according to the DOD officials GAO interviewed. For example, DOD established a working group to identify gaps in services. However, OSN officials said that DOD lacks common performance measures for assignment coordination and family support because the Services have not reached consensus on what those measures should be. In addition, OSN does not have a process to systematically evaluate the results of the Services' monitoring activities. Federal internal control standards call for assessing performance over time and evaluating the results of monitoring activities. Without establishing common performance measures and assessing monitoring activities, DOD will be unable to fully determine the effect of its efforts to better support families with special needs and the adequacy of the Services' EFMPs as required by federal law.

Why GAO Did This Study

Military families with special medical and educational needs face unique challenges because of their frequent moves. To help assist these families, DOD provides services plans, which document the support a family member requires. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to review the Services' EFMPs, including DOD's oversight of these programs.

This report examines the extent to which (1) each Service provides family support and (2) the Services monitor and DOD evaluates assignment coordination and family support.

GAO analyzed DOD and Service-specific EFMP guidance and documents; analyzed fiscal year 2016 EFMP data (the most recent available); visited seven military installations, selected for their large numbers of military-connected students; and interviewed officials responsible for implementing each Service's EFMP, as well as officials in OSN that administer DOD's EFM policy.



Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO makes a total of three recommendations to DOD. DOD should assess and report to Congress on the extent to which each Service provides sufficient family support personnel and services plans, develop common performance metrics for assignment coordination and family support, and evaluate the results of the Services' monitoring activities. DOD agreed with these recommendations and plans to develop performance metrics for assignment coordination and develop plans to evaluate the Services' monitoring activities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of Special Needs (OSN) to assess the extent to which each Service is (1) providing sufficient resources for an appropriate number of family support providers, and (2) developing services plans for each family with special needs, and to include these results as part of OSN's analysis of any gaps in services for military families with special needs in each annual report issued by the Department to the congressional defense committees. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD agreed with this recommendation. In August, 2021, DOD officials reported that its pilot of a staffing tool that will help the Services determine the number of family support providers needed at each installation was almost completed. DOD officials also noted that the Department has standardized its case management processes for military families with special needs through its family needs assessment form. Among other things, this form is meant to help family support providers address requirements for individualized services plans and gain a better understanding of each family's current needs and goals. Further, DOD officials said the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 requires an individualized services plan to be developed and updated only for those families that request services from family support providers. As of August 2021, we will consider closing this recommendation when the staffing tool is finalized and OSN has assessed each Service's number of family support providers and efforts to develop services plans.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of Special Needs (OSN) to develop common performance metrics for assignment coordination and family support, in accordance with leading practices for performance measurement. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DOD officials noted that each Service submits data for assignment coordination and family support to the EFMP data repository on a quarterly basis. According to DOD officials, in August 2021, OSN was still in the process of developing additional performance metrics for assignment coordination and family support. DOD also noted that it will continue to use the data repository and a newly developed online family support feedback tool to identify gaps and trends related to assignment coordination and family support, including collecting data from each installation. As of August 2021, we await documentation that OSN has developed performance metrics for assignment coordination and family support and uses them to identify gaps and trends across the Services.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should implement a systematic process for evaluating the results of monitoring activities conducted by each Service's EFMP. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, DOD said the family support component is monitored and evaluated through the each Service's certification process which includes specific standards for the EFMP. In addition, OSN participated in monitoring site visits in December 2018 and 2019. DOD officials also noted it was in the process of formalizing monitoring standards for each Service's certification process. As of August 2021, we will consider closing this recommendation when DOD implements a process to evaluate the results of each Service's certification process.

Full Report

GAO Contacts