DOD conducted several reviews of its nuclear forces in 2014-2015, leading to hundreds of recommendations to improve leadership, morale, and more.
We found that DOD has made headway implementing recommended changes. However, some of its measures of progress need reassessment. For example, we found that a measure of the work environment—its command climate survey—contained unreliable data.
Additionally, DOD created a new nuclear oversight organization but has not defined specific roles and responsibilities for it or how it will communicate with key organizations.
Our recommendations address these and other issues.
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense (DOD) continues to make progress implementing the recommendations from the 2014 nuclear enterprise reviews and the 2015 nuclear command, control, and communications enterprise review. From the 2014 reviews, DOD identified 175 recommendations. From these 175, DOD identified 247 actions it referred to as sub-recommendations, meaning that a recommendation made to multiple DOD components would be counted as one sub-recommendation for each of those components. Since GAO's March 2020 report, DOD has closed an additional nine of these sub-recommendations, and recommended 11 sub-recommendations for final closure. DOD has also closed one additional recommendation from the 13 made in its 2015 review, with four of the remaining five recommended for final closure.
Regarding the 2014 recommendations related to nuclear security forces, DOD identified initial metrics and milestones for tracking the progress addressing the identified challenges, but GAO found that a key measure for many of the recommendations contained unreliable data. Additionally, more recent reviews of security forces have identified additional metrics and milestones that could help DOD in assessing the progress of recommendation implementation. However, DOD has not reassessed these measures to determine if they are appropriate. As a result, DOD is not in a position to effectively measure progress or assess whether the actions taken have addressed the underlying issues.
In November 2018, GAO found that DOD had taken steps to improve nuclear enterprise oversight in response to the 2014 reviews. However, GAO found a key organization lacked clear roles, responsibilities, and methods to collaborate with other nuclear oversight organizations. Subsequently, in January 2021, DOD created a new entity, the Secretary of Defense Nuclear Transition Review, to take over responsibility for oversight of the defense nuclear enterprise (see figure). However, DOD has not defined specific roles and responsibilities for this organization or how it will communicate internally and with other organizations.
Selected Oversight Groups in the Nuclear Enterprise
In addition, DOD and the military services have made some progress in identifying areas for monitoring the health of the nuclear enterprise, but DOD has not identified the means by which it will monitor long-standing issues related to the long-term health of the enterprise.
Why GAO Did This Study
In 2014, the Secretary of Defense directed two reviews of DOD's nuclear enterprise. The reviews made recommendations to address long-standing issues with leadership, investment, morale, policy, and procedures, as well as other shortcomings adversely affecting the nuclear deterrence mission. In 2015, DOD conducted a review focused on nuclear command, control, and communications systems, resulting in additional recommendations.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's processes for addressing these recommendations. GAO assessed the extent to which DOD has (1) made progress implementing the recommendations; (2) evaluated the metrics and milestones for implementing the 2014 nuclear enterprise review recommendations related to nuclear security forces; and (3) implemented oversight mechanisms, including developing an approach for monitoring long-standing issues. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed DOD officials on the recommendations' status and DOD's oversight.
GAO is making four recommendations for DOD to provide guidance to require its components to assess implementation metrics and milestones; and document roles, responsibilities, and communication methods for the new oversight group, as well as a means to monitor long-standing nuclear enterprise issues. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Director of CAPE—as the office responsible for providing analytic guidance and overseeing the analysis of the recommendations—in coordination with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, and the Joint Staff Deputy Director for Strategic Stability, as other co-chairs of the Nuclear Deterrent Senior Oversight Group, provide guidance that the Nuclear Deterrent Working Group members periodically assess the process and outcome metrics and milestones for the remaining 2014 nuclear enterprise review recommendations to determine whether they are the most appropriate for evaluating implementation progress and whether the actions, once implemented, address the underlying problems. (Recommendation 1)||
Closed – Implemented
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, as co-chairs of SNTR's Nuclear Transition Steering Committee, document the roles and responsibilities of the SNTR and its supporting organizations. (Recommendation 2)||
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, as co-chairs of SNTR's Nuclear Transition Steering Committee, document how the SNTR will communicate with other organizations that have oversight responsibilities for portions of the nuclear enterprise. (Recommendation 3)||
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, as co-chairs of SNTR's Nuclear Transition Steering Committee, document guidance that identifies the means for monitoring long-standing issues including the associated metrics and information sources. (Recommendation 4)||