Posthearing Questions Related to Strategic Human Capital Management and Endangered Species

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-05-21.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                                                                  Comptroller General
                                                                                  of the United States
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548

          May 21, 2003

          The Honorable Duncan Hunter
          The Honorable Ike Skelton
          Ranking Minority Member
          Committee on Armed Services
          House of Representatives

          Subject: Posthearing Questions Related to Strategic Human Capital Management
                    and Endangered Species

          We are responding to questions for the record from your May 1, 2003, hearing on “The
          Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act.”1 Congressmen Neil Abercrombie
          and Sylvestre Reyes submitted the questions.

          Questions from Congressman Abercrombie

          1. Has GAO been able to gather a comprehensive list of bases/ranges and
             types of training activities affected by the need to comply with the
             Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act?

          Our prior work in this area identified various examples to illustrate how compliance
          with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act have
          affected military training on various military bases; however, we have not, nor has the
          Department of Defense (DOD), attempted to aggregate this information for all bases.
          Nonetheless, on the basis of our observations and discussions with officials at
          installations and major commands we visited last year here in the United States, we
          obtained numerous examples where encroachment issues, such as those related to
          compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act,
          had affected some training range capabilities, requiring workarounds—or
          adjustments to training events—and, in some cases, limited training. For example,
          endangered species habitat considerations have limited off-road vehicle training at
          Fort Lewis, Washington, to preserve an endangered plant and at Yakima Training
          Center, Washington, to protect the western sage grouse habitat. In addition, prior to
          the beginning of live-fire exercises in the Atlantic, Navy aircraft and ships search the
            U.S. General Accounting Office, Defense Transformation: DOD’s Proposed Civilian Personnel
          System and Governmentwide Human Capital Reform, GAO-03-741T (Washington, D.C.: May 1, 2003).
            U.S. General Accounting Office, Military Training: DOD Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Manage
          Encroachment on Training Ranges, GAO 02-614 (Washington, D.C.: June 11, 2002) and Military
          Training: DOD Approach to Managing Encroachment on Training Ranges Still Evolving, GAO-03-
          621T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 2, 2003).

                                      GAO-03-777R: Posthearing questions on DOD human capital
training area and then maintain a constant watch for marine mammals during
exercises. If a mammal enters the training area, the exercise is suspended until it

2. Is there quantitative evidence to prove that military readiness has been
   degraded by the need to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the
   Marine Mammal Protection Act? If so, can you please provide these

DOD has accumulated limited quantitative information to fully assess the magnitude
of any impact of compliance with environmental statutes on military training. Our
prior work found that, despite concerns voiced repeatedly by DOD officials about the
effects of encroachment on training, DOD’s readiness reports did not indicate the
extent to which encroachment was adversely affecting training readiness and costs.
This suggests inadequate efforts on the part of DOD to fully assess and report on the
magnitude of the encroachment problem.

In the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, Congress
required the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan for using existing
authorities available to the Secretary of Defense and the secretaries of the military
departments to address training constraints on the use of military lands, marine
areas, and airspace that are available in the United States and overseas for training.
As part of the preparation of the plan, the Secretary of Defense was expected to
conduct an assessment of current and future training range requirements of the
armed forces and an evaluation of the adequacy of current DOD resources (including
virtual and constructive training assets as well as military lands, marine areas, and
airspace available in the United States and overseas) to meet those current and future
training range requirements. The act also requires annual reports to Congress dealing
with encroachment issues beginning this year and requires GAO to review those
reports. The first of those reports was required to be submitted along with the
President’s budget for fiscal year 2004. That report was to describe the progress in
developing a comprehensive plan to address training constraints. However, DOD has
not completed a comprehensive plan or provided Congress with the progress report.
Officials of the Office of the Secretary of Defense said that they plan to report to
Congress later this calendar year. The act also requires the submission of a report
not later than June 30, 2003, on the department’s plans to improve its readiness
reporting to reflect the readiness impact that training constraints have on specific
units of the armed forces.

Page 2                    GAO-03-777R: Posthearing questions on DOD human capital
   Questions from Congressman Reyes
   1. Do you believe that DOD is going too far, too fast?

   We believe that many of the basic principles underlying DOD’s civilian human capital
   proposals have merit and deserve serious consideration. However, given the
   massive size of DOD and the nature and scope of the changes that are being
   considered, DOD’s proposal also has important precedent-setting implications for
   federal human capital management in general, and the Office of Personnel
   Management (OPM), in particular. As a result, the National Security Personnel
   System (NSPS) should be considered in that context. Several critical questions are
   raised by the department’s proposal, including should DOD and/or other agencies be
   granted broad-based exemptions from existing law, and if so, on what basis; and
   whether they have the institutional infrastructure in place to make effective use of
   the new authorities.

   In our view, it would be more prudent and appropriate for Congress to address
   certain authorities that DOD is seeking on a governmentwide basis and in a manner
   that assures that appropriate performance management systems and safeguards are
   in place before the new authorities are actually implemented (or operationalized) in
   any respective agency. This approach would accelerate needed human capital reform
   throughout the government in a manner that assures reasonable consistency on key
   principles within the overall civilian workforce. It also would provide agencies with
   reasonable flexibility while incorporating key safeguards to help maximize the
   chances of success and minimize the chances of abuse. It would also serve to
   prevent further fragmentation within the civil service system.

   We believe that agencies should have the institutional infrastructure to make
   effective use of new authorities. This includes, at a minimum, a human capital
   planning process that integrates the agency’s human capital policies, strategies, and
   programs with its program goals and mission and desired outcomes; the capabilities
   to effectively develop and implement a new human capital system; and importantly,
   the existence of a modern, effective, and credible performance management system
   that includes adequate safeguards, including reasonable transparency and
   appropriate accountability mechanisms, to ensure the fair, effective, and
   nondiscriminatory implementation of a new system.

2. In your written testimony to the Government Reform Committee you state,
   “Quite frankly, in the absence of the right institutional infrastructure,
   granting additional human capital authorities will provide little advantage
   and could actually end up doing damage if the new flexibilities are not
   implemented properly.” In your opinion, does DOD have the right

    U.S. General Accounting Office, Defense Transformation: DOD’s Proposed Civilian Personnel
   System and Governmentwide Human Capital Reform, GAO-03-741T (Washington, D.C.: May 1, 2003)
   and Defense Transformation: Preliminary Observations on DOD’s Proposed Civilian Personnel
   Reforms (Washington, D.C.: April 29, 2003).

   Page 3                     GAO-03-777R: Posthearing questions on DOD human capital
   Based on our experience, while the DOD leadership has the intent and the ability to
   implement the needed infrastructure, it does not have the needed infrastructure in
   place across most of DOD at the present time. Our work has shown that while
   progress is being made, additional efforts are needed by DOD to integrate its human
   capital planning process with the department’s program goals and mission. In
   addition, the practices that have been shown to be critical to the effective use of
   flexibilities provide a validated roadmap for DOD and Congress to consider.

3. Do you believe that DOD has provided the sufficient safeguards in its
   proposal to ensure the fair, merit-based, transparent, and accountable
   implementation of its proposed changes to the civil service system?

   In our view, Congress should consider establishing additional safeguards to ensure
   the fair, merit-based, transparent, and accountable implementation of NSPS. As we
   were asked at the hearing, we have provided suggestions for possible safeguards for
   Congress to consider to help ensure that DOD’s NSPS is designed and implemented in
   a manner that maximizes the chance of success and minimizes the possibility for
   abuse. A copy of that correspondence, dated May 6, 2003, will be provided to
   Congressman Reyes.

   For additional information on our work on human capital issues at DOD, please
   contact me on 512-5500 or Derek Stewart, Director, Defense Capabilities and
   Management, on 512-5559 or at stewartd@gao.gov or J. Christopher Mihm, Director,
   Strategic Issues, on governmentwide human capital issues at 512-6806 or at

   David M. Walker
   Comptroller General
   Of the United States


   Page 4                   GAO-03-777R: Posthearing questions on DOD human capital
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