Food Program: DOD Should Formalize Its Process for Revising Food Ingredients and Better Track Dining Facility Use and Costs

GAO-22-103949 Published: Mar 24, 2022. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Looking at the Department of Defense's food program—which aims to provide nutritious and cost-effective food service for its servicemembers—we found:

  • DOD developed a way to coordinate with other federal agencies and the food industry on changes to food ingredients, but hasn't formalized it
  • While DOD tracks some servicemembers' use of dining facilities, it doesn't track their use of meal benefits—missing opportunities to improve the food program
  • DOD doesn't collect some program cost information from the military services, making it hard to get a full picture of department-wide costs

Our recommendations could help DOD improve its program.

Dining facility at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia

Empty tables and booths in a restaurant

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since 2017, the Department of Defense (DOD) has been working to develop a new process for making food ingredient decisions, based on its menu standards for providing nutritious food to servicemembers. However, GAO found that DOD has not coordinated with all stakeholders or formalized the process. In response to concerns voiced by food industry representatives that DOD was not sufficiently transparent in making food ingredient decisions, such as prohibiting certain ingredients, DOD drafted a process map for including food industry and other federal agency stakeholders in those decisions. However, while DOD actively sought input from the food industry, it did not similarly engage with other federal agencies—such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture—and some DOD components in developing the new process. DOD also did not formalize its food process map by, for example, clearly identifying stakeholder roles and responsibilities in the proposed process. Coordinating with all stakeholders and formalizing the process would help ensure that DOD has a more transparent and reliable method for making informed food ingredient decisions.

GAO also found that DOD does not track key information about its food program. For example, while the military services track head count data—numbers and types of diners who purchase meals at their dining facilities—most do not track the extent to which servicemembers with a meal entitlement use their benefit. Tracking these data would help DOD meet its goal of providing nutritious meals to servicemembers and assess its food program's effectiveness.

Ship's Cabin Galley (Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia) and Kiosk (Fort Carson, Colorado)

Ship's Cabin Galley (Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia) and Kiosk (Fort Carson, Colorado)

In addition, the military services do not track complete and consistent information on key costs, such as food costs and equipment maintenance costs. Further, the military services reported food costs differently in their fiscal year 2021 budget justifications. Specifically, the military services varied in the line items they used in their respective budget exhibits to report food costs for basic trainees or personnel in non-pay status. By collecting standard data on food program costs at military installations, DOD would improve its ability to measure food program performance, compare operations across installations, properly allocate resources, and control or reduce costs. Further, by reporting more consistent information about food costs in its budget submissions, DOD would improve budget transparency and enable Congress to conduct more effective oversight.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD's food program policy is to provide high-quality and cost-effective food service to military and civilian personnel. To fulfill the objectives of its food service program, DOD relies on multiple food supply chains and dining facilities at military installations worldwide.

Two congressional committee reports included provisions for GAO to report on DOD's menu standards, coordination with private industry on food ingredient changes, and military services' use and costs of dining facilities. This report evaluates the extent to which 1) DOD developed and implemented processes to determine and revise menu standards and food ingredient requirements; 2) the military services track the use of their dining facilities by servicemembers with a meal entitlement; and 3) the military services track the costs of their dining facilities to develop budget requests. GAO reviewed laws and guidance; administered questionnaires; and interviewed officials from DOD, other agencies, and private industry.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 11 recommendations to DOD, including that DOD coordinate its revised food ingredient process with all stakeholders and formalize it; track servicemembers' use of meal entitlements; and identify and report standard data on food program costs. 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 Defense Logistics Agency or other DOD entity, such as the forthcoming Defense Feeding and Nutrition Board, coordinates with key stakeholders within DOD and at other federal agencies as well as consults with industry as it develops DOD's formal process for revising food ingredients. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Defense Logistics Agency or other DOD entity, such as the forthcoming Defense Feeding and Nutrition Board, finalizes its formal process for revising food ingredients that includes estimated timeframes for steps in the process and identifies specific key stakeholders from other federal agencies and industry. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Army should ensure that food program officials track the extent to which servicemembers with a meal entitlement use their entitlement. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that food program officials track the extent to which servicemembers with a meal entitlement use their entitlement. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Navy, through the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should ensure that food program officials track the extent to which servicemembers with a meal entitlement use their entitlement. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Army should establish a requirement for food program officials to conduct assessments of the effectiveness and efficiency of their installation-wide food programs, including satellite operations, in providing healthy meals to servicemembers with a meal entitlement. (Recommendation 6)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Navy should establish a requirement for food program officials to conduct assessments of the effectiveness and efficiency of their installation-wide food programs, including satellite operations and nonappropriated fund dining venues as appropriate, in providing healthy meals to servicemembers with a meal entitlement. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Air Force should establish a requirement for food program officials to conduct assessments of the effectiveness and efficiency of their installation-wide food programs, including satellite operations and nonappropriated fund dining venues as appropriate, in providing healthy meals to servicemembers with a meal entitlement. (Recommendation 8)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of the Navy, through the Commandant of the Marine Corps, should establish a requirement for food program officials to conduct assessments of the effectiveness and efficiency of their installation-wide food programs, including satellite operations, in providing healthy meals to servicemembers with a meal entitlement. (Recommendation 9)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), with the assistance of the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition and Sustainment) and in coordination with the military services, establishes guidance that identifies and defines specific categories of costs for use in developing common measures, such as cost per meal, for assessing DOD's food program costs. (Recommendation 10)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), in consultation with the military services, establishes clear and consistent definitions of key terms for use in reporting budgetary and financial information related to enlisted personnel subsistence. This information could be provided as part of DOD's annual Military Personnel budget justification materials. (Recommendation 11)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation.

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