Sexual Harassment and Assault: Guidance Needed to Ensure Consistent Tracking, Response, and Training for DOD Civilians

GAO-21-113 Published: Feb 09, 2021. Publicly Released: Feb 09, 2021.
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Fast Facts

Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace can cause long-term trauma for victims and may affect the Department of Defense's more than 900,000 federal civilian employees.

DOD estimated that about 49,700 of its civilian employees experienced sexual harassment and about 2,500 experienced work-related sexual assault in FY2018, but it does not fully track reports of these behaviors. Also, civilian employees may not have access to DOD-provided reporting and support services available to servicemembers.

Our 19 recommendations include tracking civilian sexual harassment and assault incidents and expanding access to reporting and support services.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to track reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault involving its federal civilian employees, but its visibility over both types of incidents is hindered by guidance and information-sharing challenges. While employees may not report all incidents for a variety of reasons, DOD also lacks visibility over those incidents that have been reported. For example, from fiscal years 2015 through 2019, DOD recorded 370 civilian employees as victims of sexual assault and 199 civilian employees as alleged offenders. However, these data do not include all incidents of sexual assault reported over this time period. Specifically, based on DOD guidance, examples of incidents that could be excluded from these data include those involving civilian employee victims (1) occurring in the continental United States, (2) employed by DOD components other than the military services, such as defense agencies, and (3) who are also military dependents. Without guidance that addresses these areas, DOD does not know the extent to which its civilian workforce has reported work-related sexual assault worldwide.

Number of Department of Defense Federal Civilian Employees Recorded as Victims or Alleged Offenders in Reported Sexual Assault Incidents, Fiscal Years 2015-2019

Number of Department of Defense Federal Civilian Employees Recorded as Victims or Alleged Offenders in Reported Sexual Assault Incidents, Fiscal Years 2015-2019

While DOD has developed policies and procedures to respond to and resolve sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents involving federal civilian employees, gaps exist. For example, DOD issued guidance in June 2020 directing components to establish anti-harassment programs, but it lacks details regarding how such programs should be structured. Without clarifying guidance, components can establish programs that do not align with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance for model anti-harassment programs. Additionally, GAO found that DOD civilian employees' ability to make restricted reports of sexual assault—confidential disclosures that do not initiate official investigations, but allow the victim to receive DOD-provided sexual assault support services—varies across components. According to DOD officials, they have not taken action to resolve this variation due to conflicts with federal statute, among other things. By reporting to and requesting any needed actions from Congress to resolve any conflicts with statute, the department can alleviate such inconsistencies and minimize legal risks for DOD components.

Why GAO Did This Study

With nearly 900,000 federal civilian employees around the world, DOD has responsibilities for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault within its workforce. In fiscal year 2018, DOD estimated that about 49,700 civilian employees experienced sexual harassment and about 2,500 civilian employees experienced work-related sexual assault in the prior year.

House Report 116-120 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's prevention of and response to sexual harassment and assault involving DOD federal civilian employees. GAO's report examines, among other things, the extent to which DOD has (1) visibility over such reported incidents, and (2) developed and implemented policies and procedures to respond to and resolve these incidents. GAO reviewed policies and guidance; analyzed program data from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; interviewed officials at a nongeneralizable sample of five military installations; evaluated DOD training materials; and interviewed DOD, service, and civilian officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 19 recommendations, including that DOD issue guidance for comprehensive tracking of civilian work-related sexual assaults, enhance guidance on the structure of anti-harassment programs for civilians, and report to and request any needed actions from Congress on the ability of civilian employees to make restricted reports of sexual assault. As discussed in the report, DOD generally concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, takes steps to assure that as the department finalizes the development of the central repository for Equal Employment Opportunity data, the planned repository includes data for all DOD components and is updated frequently, such as on a quarterly basis. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) obtained a central repository for data storage in fiscal year 2020. As of February 2022, ODEI plans to work with the 26 DOD Components to identify data needed and how to gather and update such data. DOD expects to have written agreements with each component by the end of April 2022 and to revise DOD Instruction 1020.04 to ensure data is updated frequently by the end of February 2023. DOD stated that it would seek agreement from the Components to provide data on a quarterly basis until updates are made to the policy. DOD will need to provide documentation of these actions, once complete, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, expands guidance that specifies and defines uniform data elements that all DOD components should use when collecting and reporting on allegations of harassment made by DOD federal civilian employees outside of the Equal Employment Opportunity process, such as information about the parties involved, the type of harassment, and actions taken to respond to the allegation. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated that the department reconvened its Civilian Working Group in October 2021 to identify what uniform data elements need to be collected and reported and would take steps to update DOD Instruction 1020.04 accordingly. DOD expects to issue the updated guidance by the end of February 2023. DOD will need to provide documentation of the updated guidance that specifies and defines the uniform data elements, once revised, to fully implement the recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, clarifies guidance regarding the requirement for the Secretaries of the military departments to maintain data on informal complaints of harassment, including the definition of an informal complaint for tracking purposes; how such data should be maintained, including by a headquarters-level organization; and which informal complaints should be reported to the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on an annual basis. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. DOD stated that the department will work with the military departments to identify a shared definition of what constitutes an informal complaint; how data on informal complaints should be maintained by a headquarters-level organization; and which informal complaints should be reported to ODEI on an annual basis. DOD stated that it will update DOD Instruction 1020.03 and DOD Instruction 1350.2 accordingly. As of April 2022, DOD estimated completion of this effort by September 30, 2022. In order to fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation of these efforts once complete.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, issues guidance for the military departments to comprehensively track information about reported work-related sexual assaults involving DOD federal civilian employee victims in the continental United States, regardless of eligibility for DOD-provided sexual assault support services, including the status and affiliation of the victim and alleged offender and actions taken by DOD in response, such as any referrals or support services provided. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that the department plans to update DOD Instruction 1438.06 to require that DOD components, to include the military departments, track information about work-related sexual assaults involving DOD federal civilian employee victims in the continental United States, regardless of eligibility for DOD-provided support services, to include the status of the victim, alleged offender, and actions taken by DOD in response. DOD estimated completion of this effort by June 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD has not provided any additional updates. DOD will need to provide documentation of the updated guidance, once revised, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, issues guidance that requires all DOD components, including agencies and field activities, to track reported work-related sexual assaults involving their federal civilian employees as victims or alleged offenders, including the specific data elements to be collected, such as status and affiliation of the victim and alleged offender and actions taken by DOD in response, and common definitions for those data elements. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that the department plans to update DOD Instruction 1438.06 to require that DOD components, to include agencies and field activities, track information about work-related sexual assaults involving DOD federal civilian employee victims in the continental United States, regardless of eligibility for DOD-provided support services, to include the status of the victim, alleged offender, and actions taken by DOD in response. DOD estimated completion of this effort by June 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD has not provided any additional updates. DOD will need to provide documentation of the updated guidance, once issued, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, issues guidance that directs Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to ensure that all DOD civilian employee victims of sexual assault are categorized in the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database as both federal civilian employees and military dependents, if applicable, for work-related incidents of sexual assault. (Recommendation 6)
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In November 2021, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness issued a memorandum authorizing DOD components, at their discretion, to provide sexual assault prevention and response services from a sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate to DOD civilian employees who allege a sexual assault. The memorandum further states that if the use of this authority is implemented and a DOD civilian employee signs a DD Form 2910 electing an unrestricted report, the sexual assault response coordinator must open a Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database (DSAID) case. DSAID shall reflect, among other things, the status of the victim as a DOD civilian employee, DOD civilian employee who is also a military dependent, or DOD civilian employee who is also a Reservist/National Guard personnel. This action meets the intent of our recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, take steps to provide DOD-credentialed Sexual Assault Response Coordinators across the department, including coordinators assigned to an agency or field activity, access to record and review their components' reported work-related sexual assaults in the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) had convened a working group to develop a system process for field agencies/activities to input cases directly into the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database (DSAID) and submitted the system process for DSAID Change Control Board approval in November 2021. DOD stated that, if approved, funding will be requested and development will be scheduled within the DSAID FY2022-2023 Project Plan. As of February 2022, DOD estimated completion of this effort by Oct. 30, 2023. To fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation that DOD-credentialed Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, including those assigned to an agency or field activity, have access to record and review their components' reported work-related sexual assaults in DSAID. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness takes steps to increase distribution of the biannual DOD Civilian Employee Workplace and Gender Relations reports to ensure that all relevant offices with a responsibility for sexual harassment and assault prevention and response have access to the complete results for use in informing program efforts. These steps could include providing copies of the biannual reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response offices of all DOD components. (Recommendation 8)
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In response to the recommendation, in March 2022, DOD distributed the DOD Civilian Employee Workplace and Gender Relations Reports for fiscal years 2016 and 2018 to the department's Equal Employment Opportunity and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response offices and posted them on the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion's publicly accessible website. DOD officials stated that they plan to also post the fiscal year 2022 report on the website shortly after submission to Congress. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fiscal year 2020 report was postponed and the fiscal year 2022 report will be the next available report.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, clarifies guidance specifying how DOD components' anti-harassment programs should be separated from the formal EEO process when the EEO office oversees the anti-harassment program. (Recommendation 9)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated that it had reconvened its DEORG Civilian Working Group in October 2021 to identify the necessary policy language and would take steps to update DOD Instruction 1020.04 accordingly. DOD estimated completion of this effort by February 2023. To fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation of the updated guidance, once complete, that specifies how DOD components' anti-harassment programs should be separated from the formal EEO process when the EEO office oversees the anti-harassment program. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Secretaries of the military departments, issues guidance that clearly defines which civilians under 10 U.S.C. § 1561 are eligible for command investigations of complaints alleging sexual harassment. (Recommendation 10)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated that it had reconvened its Civilian Working Group in October 2021 to identify a clear definition of which civilians are eligible for command investigations of complaints alleging sexual harassment. The definition will be presented for approval to the DEORG by the end of March 2022, and the department plans to take steps to update DOD Instruction 1020.03 and DOD Instruction 1020.04 as appropriate. DOD estimated completion of this effort by February 2023. DOD will need to provide documentation of the updated guidance, once issued, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, establishes guidance requiring the establishment of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs for federal civilian employees of DOD components, including agencies and field activities, where they do not currently exist. For example, DOD may establish or designate a program for use by multiple DOD agencies or require each component to establish its own program based on common department-wide standards. (Recommendation 11)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that it will conduct a working group to determine if DOD should establish a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program for use by multiple agencies or require each component to establish its own program based on department-wide standards. DOD did not provide details on its plans for implementing this effort, but estimated completion of the effort by June 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD has not provided any additional updates. To fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation of guidance that requires the establishment of SAPR programs for federal civilian employees of DOD components where they do not currently exist. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Secretaries of the military departments, reports to the congressional defense committees on the status of restricted reporting for DOD federal civilian employee victims of sexual assault. This should include, but not be limited to, the history of restricted reporting for DOD federal civilian employees by military department, the anticipated benefits and challenges of extending restricted reporting to DOD federal civilian employees, and requests for congressional actions, if any, that are considered appropriate and necessary to extend restricted reporting to DOD federal civilian employees who are otherwise eligible to file unrestricted reports of sexual assault. (Recommendation 12)
Open
DOD generally concurred with this recommendation. In conjunction with its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for Fiscal Year 2020, in May 2021 DOD provided an annex entitled "Status of Restricted Reporting for DOD Federal Civilian Employee Victims of Sexual Assault" to the congressional defense committees in response to this recommendation. The annex included a brief history of restricted reporting for federal civilian employees, including relevant statutory requirements, and a brief discussion of the anticipated benefits of extending restricted reporting to federal civilian employees. DOD stated it recognizes a fundamental and humanitarian need to provide a confidential reporting option to its federal civilian employees in order to assist victims in their recovery. Further, the department stated that it plans to submit a legislative proposal for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 that would, notwithstanding any other provision of state or federal law, allow DOD federal civilian employees who experience sexual assault to confidentially report an assault to designated DOD personnel and receive assistance. In February 2022, DOD stated that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office had submitted a legislative proposal to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for review. The legislative proposal would require approval by the Secretary of Defense. DOD stated that it would provide an update on the status of this matter in its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for Fiscal Year 2021. DOD estimated completion of this effort by September 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD has not provided further details or documentation related to the proposal, and has not requested congressional actions, if any, that are considered appropriate and necessary to extend restricted reporting to DOD federal civilian employees. DOD will need to provide documentation of these actions, once complete, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, conducts an analysis to determine the feasibility, benefits, and challenges of expanding eligibility for filing unrestricted reports and providing sexual assault support services to all DOD federal civilian employees within the continental United States and reports to Congress on the findings of this analysis. (Recommendation 13)
Open
DOD generally concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that it plans to establish a working group to conduct an analysis of the feasibility, benefits, and challenges of expanding eligibility for filing unrestricted reports and providing sexual assault support services to all DOD federal civilian employees within the continental United States. The department expects to create a written report with findings and recommendations from this analysis, and estimated completion of this effort by September 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD has not provided any additional updates. DOD will need to provide a copy of the report summarizing the conducted analysis, once complete, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, clarifies guidance regarding notification responsibilities of SAPR personnel, if any, when a DOD federal civilian employee who is either not eligible or does not file a restricted or unrestricted report discloses work-related sexual assault. (Recommendation 14)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that it plans to update DOD Instruction 1438.06 to provide clarifying guidance on DOD federal civilian employees who are either not eligible or do not file a restricted or unrestricted report disclosing work-related sexual assault, to include clarifying guidance on notification responsibilities in such cases. DOD estimated completion of this effort by June 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD has not provided any additional updates. DOD will need to provide documentation of the updated guidance, once issued, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should clarify guidance regarding the responsibilities, if any, of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response personnel in notifying military criminal investigative organizations of unrestricted reports of sexual assault in accordance with Department of Defense Instruction 6495.02 to ensure immediacy of these reports. (Recommendation 15)
Closed – Implemented
The Navy concurred with this recommendation. In October 2021, the Department of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office sent requests to the Director, Navy Staff, Director Marine Corps Staff, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Command through the tasker system to reiterate to their Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program personnel that the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator notifies the commander of unrestricted reports, and the commander immediately notifies the military criminal investigative organization. This action meets the intent of our recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, issues additional guidance to clearly specify minimum frequency and required content for mandatory sexual harassment training for DOD federal civilian employees in line with leading practices. (Recommendation 16)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated that it had reconvened its Civilian Working Group to identify the necessary policy language and would take steps to update DOD Instruction 1020.04 accordingly. DOD estimated completion of this effort by February 2023. To fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation of updated guidance that clearly specifies minimum frequency and required content for mandatory sexual harassment training for DOD federal civilian employees in line with leading practices. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, issues guidance for all DOD components to provide training on sexual assault prevention and response to all DOD federal civilian employees and military leaders who supervise federal civilian employees. The guidance should include, but not be limited to, the minimum frequency for such training and required content, in line with leading practices identified by subject-matter experts, such as those identified by GAO or those currently required in Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training for servicemembers, appropriately adapted for the civilian workforce. (Recommendation 17)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated it intends to coordinate training policies for servicemembers and DOD civilian employees to ensure alignment so that civilian employees and servicemembers who supervise them understand the resources available to victims of sexual assault. In April 2021, DOD issued DOD Instruction 6495.02, Volume 2 to update sexual assault prevention and response training policies for civilian employees. The policy applies to civilian employees for prevention efforts and only to civilian employees supervising servicemembers for response efforts. DOD stated that SAPRO is coordinating with relevant organizations to develop training directed to all civilian employees for the response efforts for civilian employees who report being sexually assaulted. DOD estimated completion of this effort by December 31, 2022. To fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation of guidance for all DOD components to provide training on sexual assault prevention and response to all DOD federal civilian employees and military leaders who supervise federal civilian employees that includes the minimum frequency for the training and required content, in line with leading practices. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, incorporates clearly detailed DOD-wide sexual harassment prevention efforts specific to DOD federal civilian employees in existing or additional strategic guidance. (Recommendation 18)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2022, DOD stated that the DOD Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan will identify policies referencing detailed harassment prevention efforts. DOD anticipated completion of this effort by the end of calendar year 2022. To fully implement this recommendation, DOD will need to provide documentation of the strategic plan, once complete, that includes clearly detailed DOD-wide sexual harassment prevention efforts specific to DOD federal civilian employees. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, incorporates clearly detailed DOD-wide sexual assault prevention efforts specific to DOD federal civilian employees in existing or additional strategic guidance. (Recommendation 19)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In June 2021, DOD stated that it will develop guidance specific to civilian employees that supports implementation of newly issued sexual assault prevention policies. Specifically, DOD plans to develop information papers for "sexual assault prevention for DOD civilians" to provide examples of prevention activities that could be used to implement existing policies, and to coordinate and disseminate those information papers through community of practice, prevention personnel trainings, and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) website. DOD estimated completion of this effort by April 30, 2022. As of February 2022, DOD stated that it had prepared the draft information paper and would begin coordination prior to distribution. DOD will need to provide documentation of these actions, once complete, to fully implement this recommendation. We will continue to monitor DOD's efforts to implement this recommendation.

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