Northern Triangle: DOD and State Need Improved Policies to Address Equipment Misuse

GAO-23-105856 Published: Nov 02, 2022. Publicly Released: Nov 02, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Para la versión de esta página en español, ver a GAO-23-106186.

DOD and the State Department provide equipment—such as vehicles and night-vision goggles—to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This assistance is intended to help address widespread security challenges and totaled over $66 million from FYs 2017-2021.

Some equipment has allegedly been misused. For example, government officials in Guatemala allegedly used Jeeps from DOD to intimidate diplomats.

Neither DOD nor State have policies to record misuse allegations and therefore can't identify potential trends. Also, DOD doesn’t have policies for investigating misuse of certain types of equipment.

Our recommendations address these and other issues.

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras make up the Northern Triangle of Central America

A map outlining the Northern Triangle of Central America, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

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Highlights

Para la versión de esta página en español, ver a GAO-23-106186.

What GAO Found

Within the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State reviewed multiple allegations of misuse of DOD-provided equipment in Guatemala. From August 2018 to October 2021, according to agency officials, DOD-provided Jeeps (shown below) were allegedly misused on multiple occasions for purposes outside their intended operations. In one case, DOD determined they were deployed to intimidate U.S. embassy officials. However, neither DOD nor State recorded most of these allegations because they do not have policies outlining how to record them. As a result, the agencies could not identify potential trends in alleged misuse. Further, DOD does not have policies to investigate alleged misuse for equipment provided under certain authorities, and may not be addressing allegations of misuse effectively.

Jeeps Provided by DOD to the Government of Guatemala

Jeeps Provided by DOD to the Government of Guatemala

DOD established the Golden Sentry program to monitor equipment provided under the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act, but DOD did not complete required end-use monitoring. GAO found that DOD did not maintain accurate data on which equipment is subject to enhanced end-use monitoring. As a result, DOD did not complete all required enhanced end-use monitoring of sensitive equipment. Without accurate data about the equipment and type of required end-use monitoring, DOD cannot account for the equipment it provided.

Federal law requires for certain defense articles and defense services, to the extent practicable, an end-use monitoring program to provide reasonable assurance that recipients use these defense articles and defense services for the purposes for which they are provided. However, DOD officials told GAO that the Golden Sentry program is not designed to verify how recipients use equipment. Instead, according to DOD officials, the program is designed to verify whether the recipient has maintained custody of the equipment and implemented any required physical security protections. DOD officials said they primarily rely on third-party reports to identify misuse but officials had not considered looking into allegations in third-party reports GAO identified. Because it has not designed its program to identify potential misuse, DOD may lack reasonable assurance that recipients are using equipment for authorized purposes only.

Why GAO Did This Study

The three countries that make up the Northern Triangle of Central America have historically faced security challenges. To assist these countries, DOD has provided them with equipment and other support. From fiscal years 2017 to 2021, DOD and State provided over $66 million in assistance to the Northern Triangle.

Section 1336 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 includes a provision for GAO to evaluate DOD's end-use monitoring procedures regarding equipment misuse by Northern Triangle countries. This report examines (1) the extent to which steps taken by DOD and State to address alleged misuse aligned with relevant procedures and guidance, (2) how, and the extent to which, DOD monitored equipment, and (3) the extent to which this monitoring ensures that recipients are using equipment for its intended purposes.

GAO analyzed DOD and State documentation about their response to alleged incidents of misuse and data about DOD's monitoring completed in the Northern Triangle. GAO also interviewed agency officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making five recommendations, including that DOD and State improve their policies for recording allegations and that DOD improves policies to maintain accurate equipment data. State agreed with its recommendation. DOD disagreed with two recommendations, stating that existing guidance is sufficient. GAO maintains that additional guidance is necessary to ensure DOD records allegations and has accurate data.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency develops policies outlining how to record and track alleged incidents of misuse of U.S.-provided equipment. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, in consultation with State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, develops policies for investigating allegations of misuse for DOD-provided equipment not covered by the Golden Sentry program. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should update the Golden Sentry program's guidance to specify who is responsible for verifying that the data in the Security Cooperation Information Portal accurately identifies the equipment subject to enhanced end-use monitoring. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, should evaluate DOD's Golden Sentry program to identify whether the program provides reasonable assurance, to the extent practicable, that DOD-provided equipment is only used for its intended purpose and develop a plan to address any deficiencies identified in the evaluation. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of State The Secretary of State should ensure that the guidance the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is developing for its internal end-use violations tracking document outlines how to record and track alleged incidents of misuse of U.S.-provided equipment. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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