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Professional Military Education: Programs Are Accredited, but Additional Information is Needed to Assess Effectiveness

GAO-20-323 Published: Feb 20, 2020. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 2020.
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Fast Facts

Joint Professional Military Education programs bring together officers from across the military and prepare them to work together in complex operations and major conflicts. However, according to one DOD document, these programs have “stagnated” into a credit-earning exercise.

We found the programs met accreditation standards. However, they did not always include the required mix of students. For example, an Air Force program lacked Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard participation in about a fourth of its seminars. We made 7 recommendations, including that DOD address the student mix and establish better ways to measure program effectiveness.

Military Services’ Intermediate- and Senior-level Colleges that Provide Professional Military Education and Joint Professional Military Education

Map the eastern half of the United States showing locations in Kansas, Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island

Map the eastern half of the United States showing locations in Kansas, Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island

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Highlights

What GAO Found

All of the military services' intermediate- and senior-level officer Professional Military Education (PME) programs have met civilian and met or partially met Joint PME (JPME) accreditation requirements. However, not all of the military services' PME programs met the JPME seminar student mix requirement of at least one student from the nonhost military department. For example, the Army's intermediate-level PME program did not meet its Sea Service (i.e., Navy, Marine Corps, and, in certain instances, Coast Guard) requirement (see table). GAO's analysis found that the Navy could have assigned officers to Air Force and Army programs while not harming participation in its own seminars. Without taking steps to improve Sea Service participation, students lose opportunities to interact with students from other military departments, which officials have identified as critical to joint acculturation.

Air Force and Army Professional Military Education (PME) Intermediate-level Seminars without Required Sea Service Representation, Academic Years 2016-2018

PME program

 

 

Total
number
of
seminars

Seminars
without required
Sea Service
representation

Total
number of
military
students in
seminars

Military students
in seminars
without required
Sea Service
representation

   

Number

Percent

 

Number

Percent

Air Command and Staff College

120

29

24%

1,191

288

24%

Army's Command and General Staff College

216

48

22%

3,021

664

22%

Total

336

77

--

4,212

952

--

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense (DOD) data. | GAO-20-323

Note: For the purposes of Joint Professional Military Education, Navy, Marine Corps, and, in certain instances, Coast Guard officers can count towards meeting the Sea Service seminar student mix requirement.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has taken steps to improve its oversight of the military services' PME programs, but is limited in its ability to assess their effectiveness. Department of Defense (DOD) guidance states that performance measurement is a means of evaluating efficiency, effectiveness, and results and that a balanced performance measurement scorecard includes nonfinancial and financial measures focusing on quality, cycle time, and costs. While OSD is in the process of developing some performance measures, it is not planning to require the military services to track program costs. Implementing its planned measures and establishing costs as a performance measure will better position OSD to assess the effectiveness of PME programs.

The Under Secretary of Defense (USD) (Comptroller's) ability to monitor the military services' PME programs is limited by incomplete and inconsistent reporting of service budget request data. DOD guidance does not require the Marine Corps to submit an annual budget request data exhibit for its senior-level PME program and existing guidance for programs that are reported does not specify how to uniformly account for costs. Without complete and uniform budget request data, USD(Comptroller) is challenged in monitoring these programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD relies on PME and JPME to prepare its military personnel throughout their careers for the intellectual demands of complex contingences and major conflicts that typically involve more than a single military service. However, according to DOD's summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, PME “has stagnated, focused more on the accomplishment of mandatory credit at the expense of lethality and ingenuity.”

The Conference Report accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 included a provision for GAO to evaluate DOD PME and JPME institutions. This report examines the extent to which (1) the military services' PME programs have met civilian and JPME accreditation requirements, (2) OSD has assessed the effectiveness of the military services' PME programs, and (3) USD (Comptroller) has monitored the military services' PME program budget data. GAO analyzed applicable laws and policy, analyzed accreditation and budget information, and interviewed officials from the military services' intermediate- and senior-level resident PME programs.















Recommendations

GAO is making seven recommendations, including that DOD take steps to determine its ability to assign Navy officers to PME programs of other services, implement performance measures–including tracking of costs, and issue guidance for service reporting of PME budget request data. DOD concurred with all of GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of the Navy, determine whether it can assign the required number of Navy officers to the other military departments' JPME programs, consistent with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff guidance. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of April 2021, the Navy developed a plan to provide the required number of Navy officers to the other military departments' JPME programs, consistent with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff guidance. This action meets the intent of our recommendation.
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in coordination with the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the military services, develop policy concerning actions, if any, the military services can take to mitigate JPME seminar student mix shortfalls and still meet the intent of the OPMEP's joint acculturation requirement. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of April 2022, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued guidance requiring JPME programs to determine how joint acculturation is successfully attained within the context of its mission and JPME level, identify the appropriate joint education students should receive by program completion, and document evidence of achieving the program's acculturation outcomes using direct and/or indirect assessment techniques. Further, guidance requires programs to describe their assessment strategy for documenting achievement of joint acculturation outcomes.
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, develop and issue a department-wide mission statement for PME that will explain the program's purpose and goals, and serve as a basis for performance measures. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of February 2023, DOD stated that it is planning to issue an OSD PME mission statement memo and expect to issue it in December 2023.
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issue and implement performance measures—to include the tracking of costs—that align with the department-wide mission statement for PME. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of February 2023, DOD stated that it is planning to Issue a memo outlining reporting requirements for outcomes-based military education by December 2023.
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, require the military services to periodically report information to its office about the military services' PME and JPME programs—such as results of program reviews. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of February 2023, DOD stated that it is planning to Issue a memorandum outlining reporting requirements under DoDI 1322.35, volume 1 that will delineate reporting requirements with greater granularity. DOD expects this to be complete by December 2023.
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense(Comptroller) updates the DOD Financial Management Regulation to require the Marine Corps to include a budget request data exhibit for the Marine Corps War College in support of DOD's annual budget request. (Recommendation 6)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of February 2023, DOD stated that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) will issue Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Estimate Submission (BES)/President's Budget (PB) guidance which requires the United States Marine Corps to include a budget exhibit for the Marine Corps War College in support of the Department of Defense's annual portion of the President's Budget request. The BES/PB directive will be codified in the DoD Financial Management Regulation 7000.14-R, Volume 2B, Chapter 19, Exhibit PB-24 Professional Military Education Schools during the next scheduled revision. DOD expects this action to be complete by December 2023.
Office of the Secretary of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), in coordination with the military services and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issue guidance to standardize the cost data that the military services should include in their annual PME budget request data submissions. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of February 2023, DOD stated that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) will issue Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Estimate Submission (BES)/President's Budget (PB) guidance to the Services in order to standardize the cost data included in their annual PB-24 Professional Military Education Schools budget exhibit submissions. The BES/PB directive will be codified in the DoD Financial Management Regulation 7000.14-R, Volume 2B, Chapter 19, Exhibit PB-25 Professional Military Education Schools during the next scheduled revision. DOD stated that they expected this action to be complete in December 2023.

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Military educationInstitution accreditationMilitary forcesEducational standardsStudentsBudget requestsPerformance measurementMilitary readinessCompliance oversightSchoolsFinancial managementEducational curriculumSpecial operationsNational defenseMission statementAgency evaluationsHigher educationMilitary personnelTeachingMilitary departmentsNaval warfareDefense budgetsEmployee developmentNational securityStudent achievementReorganizationWarfareInternal controlsDefense capabilitiesEducation programsDistance education