Fast Facts

The National Guard counterdrug program has supported domestic law enforcement counterdrug activities for more than 30 years.

In our review of the program, we found:

DOD's strategy is out of date and doesn't reflect current drug threats.

In 2014, the National Guard rescinded its guidance for states on how to operate and administer the program—and hasn't replaced it yet.

DOD has funded state counterdrug activities without first approving their plans.

We recommended ways for DOD and the National Guard to address these issues.

These National Guard counterdrug program helicopters helped law enforcement seize more than 20,000 marijuana plants worth more than $23 million.

Two helicopters in a field.

Two helicopters in a field.

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) lacks current strategy and guidance to implement the National Guard counterdrug program. Although a number of key national-level strategies, such as the National Drug Control Strategy, have been updated since 2011 to address changing drug threats, GAO found that DOD's 2011 Counternarcotics and Global Threats Strategy has not been updated to reflect these changes. In addition, the National Guard lacks detailed procedures and processes for the states to implement the National Guard counterdrug program, such as how to conduct cross-state aerial reconnaissance. Without current strategy or guidance, it will be difficult for the National Guard to operate its counterdrug program effectively.

DOD's processes to approve state counterdrug plans and distribute funding to the state-level counterdrug programs could be improved. Since at least 2009, DOD has provided funding to the states without first approving state plans for counterdrug activities, as required by statute. GAO found that the delay in approval of state counterdrug plans has worsened since fiscal year 2009; in fiscal year 2018, approval took over 9 months (283 days); see figure below. In 2018, DOD took some steps to address the timely review of state plans, but GAO found that those steps did not rectify the problem.

Number of Days Between the Beginning of the Fiscal Year and when DOD Approved All State Counterdrug Plans, Fiscal Years 2009 through 2018

Number of Days Between the Beginning of the Fiscal Year and when DOD Approved All State Counterdrug Plans, Fiscal Years 2009 through 2018

GAO also found that the process used by the National Guard to distribute funding to the states within the program does not incorporate DOD's strategic counternarcotics priorities, such as the U.S. southwest and northern border areas. GAO's work on results-oriented management states that strategy should inform program activities and resourcing. Until National Guard's process to distribute funding to state counterdrug programs is improved, it risks directing funding toward lower priority counterdrug activities at the expense of higher priority activities.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 1989, DOD has received billions of dollars to fund the National Guard's participation in a counterdrug program focused on domestic drug interdiction activities. DOD received $261 million for this program in fiscal year 2018. This program provides military support to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement organizations with counterdrug activities and operates in 54 states and territories across the United States.

Senate Report 115-125 included a provision for GAO to evaluate the National Guard counterdrug program. This report (1) evaluates the extent to which DOD has strategy and implementing guidance for the National Guard counterdrug program, and (2) assesses DOD's processes to approve states' counterdrug plans and distribute funding to the program, among other things. GAO reviewed DOD's counterdrug strategy and guidance; DOD funding and personnel data; and its processes to distribute funding.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO is making a total of five recommendations, including, among others, that DOD issue a strategic framework that addresses current drug threats, the National Guard issue guidance with detailed procedures on how states should administer the program, DOD assess the revised process for approving state plans, and the National Guard incorporate DOD's strategic counternarcotics priorities into its funding distribution process. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats issues its counternarcotics and global threats strategic framework that incorporates relevant national-level strategies and reflects current drug threats, and update it, as appropriate, upon issuance of the new National Drug Control Strategy. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with our recommendation, and in official its official comments stated that is was in the process of drafting the framework. In May 2019, the Department of Defense issued the Department of Defense (DOD) Framework to Counter Drug Trafficking and Other Illicit Threat Networks, as GAO recommended in January 2019. DOD's Framework to Counter Drug Trafficking and Other Illicit Threat Networks outlines DOD's role in addressing the persistent, low-intensity, but high-impact threats posed by drug trafficking and other illicit networks to U.S. national security. It supports and complements other defense, diplomatic, and law enforcement guidance including: the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, National Drug Control Strategy, Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, National Strategy for Counterterrorism, and other related strategies. DOD's actions to issue this framework meet the intent of our recommendation and will ensure programs, such as the National Guard counterdrug program, focus activities and resources on DOD priorities and current drug threats.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau issues interim guidance that provides detailed procedures and processes on how to operate and administer the National Guard counterdrug program. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with our recommendation and in its official comments stated that the National Guard Bureau had begun drafting interim guidance to address the lack of detailed procedures and processes. In June 2020, the National Guard Bureau issued guidance to state counterdrug programs that, until the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Manual is published, they may refer to National Guard Regulation 500-2 for procedural guidance in implementing their counterdrug programs. Because the National Guard Bureau issued interim guidance as we recommended, state counterdrug programs now have clear instructions and detailed procedures and processes on how to operate and administer the counterdrug program in their states until the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Manual is issued.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau take steps to ensure it issues a manual to accompany Chief National Guard Bureau Instruction 3100.01A, National Guard Counterdrug Support, by June 2019. (Recommendation 3)
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated that the National Guard Bureau had begun updating Chief of the National Guard Bureau Instruction 3100.01A to comply with the most recent published Secretary of Defense guidance and that they planned to expedite the issuance of the accompanying manual. On July 30, 2021, DOD issued Chief of the National Guard Bureau Manual 3100.01, entitled National Guard Counterdrug Support, thereby implementing our recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, in coordination with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, assess the revised process for reviewing states' plans for their counterdrug activities, and take actions based on the assessment to ensure the plans are approved by the Secretary of Defense before funding is provided to state counterdrug programs, as statutorily required. (Recommendation 4)
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated that the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats would continue to work with the National Guard Bureau to improve the state plans review process for fiscal year 2020 and beyond. In June 2021, DOD reported that for fiscal year 2021 its updated state plan approval process resulted in all state plans being approved by 7 October 2020, approximately 8-months earlier than the fiscal year 2020 state plans. DOD also reported that its updated State Plans approval process will result in timely submission and approval of State Plans for fiscal year 2022 and future years. The actions taken by DOD to evaluate and improve the State Plans approval process implement our recommendation and will help ensure state plans are approved prior to funding being distributed, as statutorily required.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau incorporate the strategic counternarcotics priorities, to be outlined in DOD's counternarcotics and global threats strategic framework, into the National Guard Bureau's funding distribution process. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated that officials from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats would work with the National Guard Bureau to support its efforts to incorporate and align DOD strategic priorities into its planning and resource allocation processes. In September 2021, a DOD official stated that this recommendation was assigned to the National Guard counterdrug program's Threat Based Resource Model team for action and provided an estimated completion date of January 2022.

Full Report

GAO Contacts