The U.S. and its allies face terrorism and other security threats. The U.S. government helps partner nations address such threats through security cooperation programs.
One such program requires DOD and the State Department to jointly plan and develop "train and equip" projects—for example, training crisis response teams or providing military trucks for troop transport.
But DOD hasn't worked with State to specify how and when State should be involved. Without a process for State's input, projects could be duplicative, not matched to partners' needs, or not aligned with State or U.S. priorities.
Our recommendations address this and other issues.
Helicopters provided by DOD to the Regional Helicopter Training Center in Melgar, Colombia.
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense (DOD) has instituted a multiyear planning process for projects funded under one of its largest security cooperation programs (known as Section 333) to build foreign partners' security capacity. Initial planning occurs at DOD's geographic combatant commands. Combatant command officials described improvements as well as challenges related to the new planning process. For example, officials cited financial planning targets as improvements but also noted challenges related to guidance and timelines, among others.
Examples of Section 333 Training and Equipment Provided to Partner Nations
The Department of State has had inconsistent involvement in Section 333 projects due to the lack of a joint DOD–State planning process and insufficient training. Section 333 requires DOD and State to jointly plan and develop projects and requires State concurrence to conduct or support these projects. However, officials at overseas posts reported varying levels of State participation in planning, and GAO found State officials' involvement in reviewing more detailed proposals occurs later in the planning process. DOD has not worked with State to define a joint process, including timelines for State's review, which has hindered State's ability to contribute expertise. For example, State officials told GAO there is pressure to concur on projects quickly, without sufficient time for review. As a result, projects may have negative outcomes, such as assistance that cannot be used. In addition, State officials overseas lack training in security cooperation, which limits their participation in project planning.
DOD has not addressed longstanding gaps in project planning related to its consideration of partner nations' capacity to absorb and sustain DOD-provided training and equipment. GAO has previously identified gaps related to DOD's planning for these elements, and DOD has found that associated challenges have hindered project success. Most of the Section 333 project proposals GAO reviewed lacked one or more key planning elements critical to project success. For example, 42 of 46 proposals did not fully document a plan for project sustainment, an analysis of the partner nation's absorptive capacity, or measurable objectives. GAO also found that DOD's required congressional notifications provided limited information about its analysis of partner nations' absorptive capacity and its plans for sustainment. As a result, DOD risks continued gaps in its planning that endanger project success.
Why GAO Did This Study
The U.S. provides training and equipment through DOD's Section 333 authority to build the capacity of partner countries' national security forces to conduct specific operations. In fiscal years 2018 through 2022, DOD allocated nearly $5.6 billion for Section 333 projects. DOD is required to jointly develop and plan such projects with State.
The fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision for GAO to review Section 333 projects. This report examines (1) changes in the processes DOD uses for planning Section 333 projects, (2) the extent to which State is involved in planning the projects, and (3) the extent to which DOD addressed key planning elements in selected project proposals and congressional notifications.
GAO analyzed program documents for a nongeneralizable sample of 46 projects notified to Congress in fiscal years 2018 through 2021—the most recent data available at the time of selection. GAO also interviewed DOD and State officials in Washington, D.C.; at the six geographic combatant commands; and at five overseas posts, selected on the basis of factors such as location and project funding.
GAO is making four recommendations to DOD—to define a joint planning process, establish associated guidance, and improve proposals and notifications. GAO is also making two recommendations to State—to establish planning guidance and enhance security cooperation training. DOD and State concurred with these recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should work with the Secretary of State to define and document, such as through a memorandum of understanding, a joint process that specifies when and how State should be involved in the planning of Section 333 projects, including timelines for State's review of concurrence packages. (Recommendation 1)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should establish guidance to support the joint process for planning of Section 333 projects. (Recommendation 2)|
|Department of State||The Secretary of State should establish guidance to support the joint process for planning of Section 333 projects. (Recommendation 3)|
|Department of State||The Secretary of State should ensure that the Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, working with the Foreign Service Institute, improves political-military officers' and other relevant staff's access to, and awareness of, training on security cooperation authorities by, for example, encouraging staff to use DOD online training. (Recommendation 4)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should develop a mechanism for ensuring that Section 333 project proposals include all elements required by DOD guidance. (Recommendation 5)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure that DOD's congressional notifications for Section 333 projects include detailed information about partner nations' absorptive capacity and DOD's planning for capability sustainment. (Recommendation 6)|