oversight

Defense Management: Status of GAO Recommendations Made to the Department of Defense (Fiscal Years 2014-2017)

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2019-02-05.

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

441 G St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20548



February 5, 2019


The Honorable James M. Inhofe
Chairman
The Honorable Jack Reed
Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate

The Honorable Adam Smith
Chairman
The Honorable Mac Thornberry
Ranking Member
Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives

DEFENSE MANAGEMENT: Status of GAO Recommendations Made to the Department of
Defense (Fiscal Years 2014-2017)

GAO’s mission is to support the Congress, and in accomplishing that mission we make
recommendations to improve the accountability, operations, and services of government
agencies. From 2002 through 2018, GAO’s work resulted in over $895 billion in financial
benefits and about 21,600 program and operational benefits that helped change laws, improved
public safety and other services, and promoted better management throughout the government,
including at the Department of Defense (DOD).

Conference Report 115-404 that accompanied the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2018 included a provision for us to submit to the Congressional Armed Services
Committees a briefing on open recommendations made to DOD in fiscal years 2014 through
2017 that have not been fully implemented. 1 This report formally transmits our updated briefing
and communicates the final results of our work. It describes DOD’s (1) progress in implementing
unclassified, classified (SECRET), and sensitive but unclassified (SBU) GAO recommendations
made in fiscal years 2014-2017; (2) initial response to our open recommendations; and (3)
progress in implementing our priority recommendations. 2

To identify the specific recommendations directed at DOD, we queried GAO’s Results Phase
System (RPS) for unclassified recommendations and reviewed GAO records for classified and
SBU recommendations. To determine the status of open recommendations, as of fiscal year
2018, we (1) contacted cognizant DOD officials to obtain information on DOD’s efforts to
implement the recommendations; (2) ascertained, if applicable and when available, DOD

1
H.R. No. 115-404, at 945-946 (2017) (Conf. Rep.).
2
 Priority recommendations are those recommendations that GAO believes warrant priority attention from heads of
key departments and agencies.



Page 1                                                                   GAO-19-245R Defense Management
officials’ rationale for partially implementing or not implementing recommendations or for closing
recommendations that GAO considers open; 3 and (3) determined the implementation status of
each recommendation based on our review of the information collected. For unclassified
recommendations, we summarized the status information for each recommendation and
entered the information into RPS, which, once approved, is posted to GAO’s external website,
https://www.gao.gov/recommendations. For classified and SBU recommendations, we
summarized the number of recommendations made, the number remaining open, the number
that were implemented, and the number that we had closed but DOD had not implemented, as
of fiscal year 2018. For priority recommendations, we queried GAO’s RPS to identify all DOD
priority recommendations made in reports issued in fiscal years 2014 through 2017, and to
obtain the current status of these recommendations.

We conducted this performance audit from December 2017 to January 2019 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and
perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained
provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

In summary, as of November 2018, DOD’s implementation of GAO’s recommendations had
improved in comparison with the prior year. In November 2017 DOD’s implementation rate was
53 percent; 1 year later, it had increased to 67 percent. 4 By comparison, in November 2018 we
reported that on a government-wide basis, 77 percent of our recommendations made 4 years
prior had been implemented.

For the time period we assessed (fiscal years 2014-2017), as of September 30, 2018, we found
the following:

    •    Of the 1,122 unclassified, classified (SECRET), and SBU recommendations made to
         DOD:
             • 464 had been implemented (about 41 percent);
             • 63 had been closed by GAO as not implemented (about 6 percent); 5 and
             • 595 remained open (about 53 percent).

    •    Of the 546 unclassified recommendations made to DOD that remained open, DOD had:
             • concurred with 359 (about 66 percent);
             • partially concurred with 137 (about 25 percent); and
             • non-concurred with 50 (about 9 percent).

    •    Of the 68 recommendations made to DOD that were designated by GAO as priority
         recommendations:

3
 DOD did not always respond to our requests for information. In these situations, we noted this in the
recommendation status information provided on our website. (https://www.gao.gov/recommendations)
4
 GAO measures implementation of recommendations by calculating the percentage of recommendations
implemented after 4 years. For example, the implementation rate for fiscal year (FY) 2018 is the percentage of
recommendations made in FY 2014 that were implemented by the end of FY 2018. Recommendations made in
classified products are not included in the calculations.
5
 GAO closes a recommendation as not implemented when circumstances have changed and the recommendation is
no longer valid or when, in our professional judgment, sufficient time has passed and the agency is unlikely to
implement the recommendation.



Page 2                                                                      GAO-19-245R Defense Management
             •   18 (about 26 percent) had been implemented;
             •   2 (about 3 percent) had been closed by GAO as not implemented; 6 and
             •   48 (about 71 percent) remained open.

Detailed information on the status of unclassified recommendations can be obtained at
https://www.gao.gov/recommendations.

We are not making any recommendations in this report.

Agency Comments

We provided a draft of this report to DOD for review and comment. DOD’s written comments are
reprinted in enclosure II. DOD also provided technical comments separately, which we
incorporated as appropriate.

                                                     -----

We are sending copies of this report to appropriate congressional committees and the Acting
Secretary of Defense. This report is also available at no charge on the GAO website at
http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff has any questions about this report, please contact me at (202) 512-2775 or
FieldE1@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs
may be found on the last page of this report. GAO staff who made key contributions to this
report include Alissa Czyz, Assistant Director; Mattias Fenton, Kevin Keith, Carter Stevens, and
Mike Silver.

Sincerely yours,




Elizabeth Field
Acting Director, Defense Capability and Management Team

Enclosures - 2




6
 These two recommendations related to the acquisition of the Littoral Combat Ship. Subsequent DOD actions in this
area made these recommendations no longer applicable, and therefore we closed the recommendations as
unimplemented.



Page 3                                                                    GAO-19-245R Defense Management
                 Enclosure I: Status of GAO Recommendations Made to the Department of Defense
                                          (Fiscal Years 2014-2017)



  Status of GAO Recommendations
  Made to the Department of Defense
       (Fiscal Years 2014-2017)

     Information Provided to the Armed Services
                    Committees
                 November 28, 2018




For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or FieldE1@gao.gov.             Page 4
Table of Contents
•   Introduction
•   Source of the Work and Objectives
•   Scope and Methodology
•   Background
•   Summary Information on All Recommendations
•   Unclassified Recommendations
•   Classified Recommendations
•   Sensitive But Unclassified Recommendations
•   DOD’s Progress in Implementing Priority GAO Recommendations




                                                                  Page 5
    Introduction
•    GAO’s mission is to support the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities. We
     make recommendations to improve the accountability, operations, and services of
     government agencies, so as to contribute to increasing the effectiveness of federal
     spending and enhancing the taxpayers’ trust and confidence in their government.
•    From 2002 to 2018, GAO’s work throughout the government has resulted in over $895
     billion in financial benefits and about 21,600 program and operational benefits that helped
     change laws, improved public safety and other services, and promoted better management
     throughout the government, including at the Department of Defense (DOD).
•    It is DOD’s policy to cooperate fully with GAO and respond constructively to and take
     appropriate corrective actions on the basis of our reports.1
•    Since 2015 we have sent annual letters to a number of agencies, including DOD,
     highlighting priority recommendations that we believe require immediate attention.




1Department  of Defense Instruction 7650.02, Government Accountability Office (GAO) Reviews and Reports (November 20, 2006) (incorporating
change 1, effective January 6, 2017).


                                                                                                                                     Page 6
Source of the Work and Objectives
•       Conference Report 115-404 that accompanied the National Defense
        Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 included a provision for GAO to
        submit to the Congressional Armed Services Committees a briefing
        summarizing an assessment of open recommendations made to DOD in FY
        2014 through 2017 that have not been fully implemented.2
•       This briefing summarizes information on
         • DOD’s progress in implementing unclassified, classified, and sensitive but
            unclassified (SBU) GAO recommendations made in FYs 2014-2017;
         • DOD’s initial response to our open recommendations; and
         • DOD’s progress in implementing our priority recommendations.




2H.R.   No. 115-404, at 945-946 (2017) (Conf. Rep.).

                                                                               Page 7
Scope and Methodology
•   The scope of the engagement was
     • all recommendations made to DOD in unclassified, classified (SECRET),
       and SBU GAO reports issued in FYs 2014 through 2017.
•   To identify the specific recommendations directed at DOD,
     • we queried GAO’s Results Phase System (RPS)—the database GAO
        uses to house information about recommendation status —for unclassified
        recommendations; and
     • reviewed GAO records for classified and SBU reports with
        recommendations targeted at DOD.




                                                                         Page 8
Scope and Methodology (continued)
•    We obtained DOD’s initial response to our open recommendations from its
     written comments on the associated draft reports.
•    To determine the status of open recommendations, as of FY 2018, we
      • interviewed or corresponded with cognizant DOD officials to obtain
         information on DOD’s efforts to implement the recommendations, and we
         collected documentary evidence supporting these efforts;
      • ascertained from DOD officials, if applicable and when available, their
         rationale for partially implementing or not implementing recommendations
         or for closing recommendations that GAO considers open;3 and
      • determined the implementation status of each recommendation, based on
         information collected.
•    For unclassified recommendations, we summarized the status information for
     each recommendation and entered it into RPS.
3DOD  did not always respond to our requests for information. In these situations, we noted this in the recommendation status
information provided on our website. (https://www.gao.gov/recommendations)


                                                                                                                                Page 9
Scope and Methodology (continued)
•   For the classified and SBU recommendations, we summarized the number of
    recommendations made, the number remaining open, the number
    implemented, and the number that we had closed but DOD had not
    implemented, as of the end of FY 2018. The results do not include the status
    of recommendations made in 18 classified and SBU reports that were also
    issued in unclassified versions of those reports. The status of those
    recommendations is reported as part of the information on unclassified
    reports.




                                                                          Page 10
Scope and Methodology (continued)
•     We queried GAO’s RPS to identify DOD priority recommendations made in
      reports issued from FY 2014 to FY 2017 and to obtain the current status of
      those recommendations.

•     We assessed the reliability of the RPS and the Engagement Results Phase
      data by (1) reviewing related documentation, (2) interviewing GAO staff
      knowledgeable about the data, and (3) reviewing the results of any testing
      performed on data reliability.4 We determined that the data were sufficiently
      reliable for the purposes of our work.

•     We received technical comments on a draft of this briefing from DOD and
      incorporated the comments, as appropriate. In providing technical comments,
      DOD noted that, in recent years, it has made significant improvements in its
      process for closing GAO recommendations.


4InMarch 2018, GAO’s RPS replaced a legacy database that housed recommendation statuses, called the Engagement Results Phase system. We
conducted a data reliability assessment of both systems because the data used by RPS were collected and compiled by the Engagement Results
Phase system.


                                                                                                                               Page 11
Background
•   In GAO’s recommendation follow-up process,
     • GAO follows up with the audited entity to determine the extent to which it
        has implemented GAO’s recommendations and whether benefits
        attributable to GAO’s work have been realized. To keep the information
        current, GAO engagement teams are encouraged to update the status of
        open recommendations at least twice a year. At a minimum, teams update
        the information by September 30 of each fiscal year.
     • GAO analysts follow up by discussing the status of recommendations with
        cognizant agency officials; obtaining copies of agency documents
        supporting the recommendations' implementation; and performing
        sufficient work to verify that the recommended actions were taken.
     • Based on a review of all available agency information, GAO analysts and
        managers determine whether a recommendation should remain open, be
        closed as implemented, or be closed as not implemented.



                                                                          Page 12
Background (continued)
  • After GAO analysts update the status of unclassified recommendations,
    the updated status information is reviewed by GAO management and
    GAO’s Audit Policy and Quality Assurance office. Once approved, the
    recommendation status is then posted to GAO’s external website,
    https://www.gao.gov/recommendations.

  • GAO analysts follow up on classified and SBU recommendations in a
    similar manner; however, the status of these recommendations is not
    reported on GAO’s website.




                                                                     Page 13
Background (continued)
•   Within DOD, the Washington Headquarters Service (WHS) is GAO’s primary point
    of contact for recommendation follow-up. WHS assumed this role from DOD’s
    Office of Inspector General in October 2016.
•   Recently, WHS has taken steps to encourage and help DOD components close
    recommendations. For example, WHS
     • required cognizant DOD offices to submit detailed Corrective Action Plans
        (CAP) in response to GAO recommendations. The CAPs are to include (1)
        key corrective actions/milestones; (2) estimated completion dates; and (3)
        measures to capture demonstrated results. The CAPs are approved by an
        Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD), ASD equivalent, or higher authority.
     • established Senior Leadership Reviews (SLR) in July 2017. SLRs are
        meetings at which DOD senior leaders responsible for implementing GAO
        recommendations provide information on CAPs and implementation status to
        the Assistant Deputy Chief Management Officer.
     • required DOD offices to include in their responses to GAO draft reports (1) a
        point of contact—person or office—responsible for implementing
        recommendations; and (2) a time frame for implementing recommendations.


                                                                              Page 14
Background (continued)
•   WHS plans to make the following additional improvements:
     • WHS will institute a quality assurance process for reviewing draft CAPs
       before submission to GAO, to better ensure that DOD’s response
       addresses the intent of GAO recommendations.
     • WHS will invite GAO to have a representative attend future SLRs.
     • WHS will in the future initiate follow-up meetings between GAO and DOD
       responsible parties to address recommendations on which GAO and DOD
       differ regarding status.




                                                                          Page 15
Summary Information on All
Recommendations
•      DOD’s implementation of GAO’s recommendations has improved since
       November 2017, when its implementation rate was 53 percent.5 As shown in
       table 1, 66 percent of all FY 2014 classified (SECRET), SBU, and unclassified
       recommendations were implemented as of September 30, 2018.
•      By comparison, in November 2018, we reported that on a government-wide basis
       77 percent of our recommendations made 4 years prior had been implemented.
•      We recognize that it takes time for an agency to implement recommendations.
       Thus, we would anticipate more recommendations made in fiscal year 2014 to be
       closed by September 2018 (over a roughly 4-year period) than those issued in
       fiscal year 2016 (over a roughly 2-year period). Table 1 reflects this, showing that
       66 percent of recommendations made in fiscal 2014 were closed by September
       30, 2018 versus 36 percent of recommendations made in fiscal year 2016.

5GAO  measures implementation of recommendations by calculating the percentage of recommendations implemented after 4 years. For example,
the implementation rate for FY 2018 is the percentage of recommendations made in FY 2014 that were implemented by the end of FY 2018.
Recommendations made in classified products are not included in the calculations, but those recommendations made in SBU reports are included.


                                                                                                                                   Page 16
Summary Information on All
Recommendations
Table 1: Number of Department of Defense Recommendations Made in Fiscal Years (FY) 2014-2017 That
GAO Considered Open, Closed and Not Implemented, or Closed and Implemented, as of September 30, 2018

                                               FY 2014             FY 2015   FY 2016       FY 2017           Total       Percent
                                                                                                                         of total
  Recommendations made                                272              273      309              268        1,122            100%

  Recommendations open                                  64             135      188              208          595              53%

  Recommendations                                       28              21         9                5           63              6%
  closed - not implemented

  Recommendations                                     180              117       112               55         464              41%
  closed - implemented
  Percentage implemented                             66%               43%      36%             21%          41%
Source: GAO analysis of GAO Results Phase System data. | GAO-19-245R

Note: This table reports the status of all recommendations made to the Department of Defense from FY 2014 through FY 2017. It
includes recommendations from unclassified reports, sensitive but unclassified reports, and classified reports at the SECRET level or
below.

                                                                                                                             Page 17
Summary Information on Unclassified
Recommendations
Table 2: Status of Recommendations Made to the Department of Defense in Unclassified Reports Issued in
Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 through 2017, as of September 30, 2018

                                               FY 2014             FY 2015   FY 2016   FY 2017   Total   Percent
                                                                                                         of total

  Recommendations made                                252              257      289       246    1,044     100%

  Recommendations open                                  59             129      171       188     547       52%


  Recommendations                                       28              16        9         5      58        6%
  closed - not implemented

  Recommendations                                     165              112      109        53     439       42%
  closed - implemented
  Percentage implemented                             65%               44%      38%       22%     42%
Source: GAO analysis of GAO Results Phase System data. | GAO-19-245R




                                                                                                          Page 18
DOD Response to Unclassified Open
Recommendations
Table 3: Number of Department of Defense (DOD) Open Recommendations in Unclassified Reports Issued in
Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 through 2017, by DOD’s Initial Response, as of September 30, 2018

  DOD initial                   FY 2014               FY 2015          FY 2016   FY 2017               Total      Percent of
  response                                                                                                             total

  Concur                                  39                   93         109          118               359                 66%

  Partially                               14                   32          44           47               137                 25%
  concur

  Non-concur                                6                    4         17           23                 50                9%

  Total                                   59                 129          170         188                546

Source: GAO analysis of GAO Results Phase System data. | GAO-19-245R

Note: DOD did not provide an initial response to one recommendation made in FY 2016, presented in GAO, Military Personnel:
Oversight Framework and Evaluations Needed for DOD and the Coast Guard to Help Increase the Number of Female Officer
Applicants, GAO-16-55 (Washington D.C.; Nov. 13, 2015).



                                                                                                                        Page 19
Unclassified Recommendations (GAO
Database)
•    More details on the current status of DOD open unclassified
     recommendations can be found on https://www.gao.gov/recommendations.
     The information includes
      • DOD’s initial response to the recommendation;
      • what actions, if any, DOD has taken to implement the recommendation;
         and
      • if applicable and when available, DOD’s rationale for not implementing or
         partially implementing a recommendation, or for closing a
         recommendation we consider open.6




6DOD  did not always respond to our requests for information. In these situations, we noted this in the recommendation status
information provided on our website.


                                                                                                                                Page 20
Unclassified Recommendations (Differences
between WHS and GAO Data)
•   DOD’s WHS and GAO differ as to how many unclassified recommendations remain open.
•   For example, on September 25, 2018, WHS reported that, according to its records, the total
    number of open unclassified recommendations issued in FYs 2014 through 2017 was 407.
    On that same day, GAO had 550 open unclassified recommendations from reports issued
    during the same period.
•   WHS officials have attributed this difference to the existence of recommendations they
    consider “closed unresolved”—that is, recommendations that they have closed but that they
    know we consider open. They identified two situations in which they close a
    recommendation as unresolved:
     • when DOD senior leadership non-concurs with a recommendation and thereby has no
        planned actions for implementing the recommendation or a suitable alternative; and
     • when DOD senior leadership determines that the planned corrective actions have been
        completed and meet the intent of the recommendation.
•   WHS officials stated that they change a recommendation status from “closed unresolved” to
    “closed” when they are notified that GAO has closed the recommendation.



                                                                                      Page 21
Unclassified Recommendations (Differences
between WHS and GAO Data), continued
•   We close a recommendation as implemented when
     • we obtain information and supporting documentation indicating that the
       recommendation has been implemented or actions have been taken that
       essentially meet the recommendation’s intent.
•   We close a recommendation as not implemented when
     • circumstances have changed and the recommendation is no longer valid;
       or
     • in our professional judgment, sufficient time has passed and the agency is
       unlikely to implement the recommendation.




                                                                          Page 22
Classified Recommendations
Table 4: Status of Recommendations Made to the Department of Defense in Classified (SECRET) Reports
Issued in Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 through 2017, as of September 30, 2018
                                       FY 2014           FY 2015          FY 2016          FY 2017           Total        Percent
                                                                                                                          of total
  Recommendations made                           8               12                9               16           45           100%

  Recommendations open                           4                6                8               14           32             71%

  Recommendations                                0                1                0                0             1             2%
  closed - not implemented

  Recommendations                                4                5                1                2           12             27%
  closed - implemented
  Percentage implemented                     50%              42%              11%              13%           27%
Source: GAO data. | GAO-19-245R

Note: The table does not include the status of 37 recommendations made in 11 classified reports that were also issued in unclassified or
sensitive but unclassified (SBU) versions of the reports. The status of these recommendations is included in the data on unclassified and
SBU recommendations.


                                                                                                                             Page 23
SBU Recommendations
Table 5: Status of Recommendations Made to the Department of Defense in Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU)
Reports Issued in Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 through 2017, as of September 30, 2018

                                               FY 2014             FY 2015   FY 2016     FY 2017            Total        Percent
                                                                                                                         of total
  Recommendations made                                  12              4         11              6             33          100%

  Recommendations open                                    1             0         9               6             16              48%

  Recommendations                                         0             4         0               0               4             12%
  closed - not implemented

  Recommendations                                       11              0         2               0             13              39%
  closed - implemented
  Percentage implemented                             92%               0%       18%            0%            39%

Source: GAO analysis of GAO Results Phase System data. | GAO-19-245R

Note: The table does not include the status of 28 recommendations made in 9 SBU reports that were also issued in unclassified
versions of the reports. The status of these recommendations is included in the data on unclassified recommendations.


                                                                                                                          Page 24
DOD’s Progress in Implementing Priority
GAO Recommendations
We designated 68 recommendations to DOD as priority recommendations. These
recommendations were presented in reports issued from FY 2014 through FY 2017.
Table 6: Status of Priority Recommendations Made to the Department of Defense in Reports Issued in Fiscal Years (FY) 2014
through 2017, as of September 30, 2018
  Topic area                                                           Open            Closed -               Closed – not               Total        Percent of
                                                                                   implemented               implemented                                   total

  Acquisition and contract management                                    17                      6                       2a                 25               37%

  Readiness                                                              14                      0                        0                 14               21%

  Financial management                                                    7                      4                        0                 11               16%

  Health care                                                             5                      2                        0                   7              10%

  Cybersecurity                                                           1                      4                        0                   5                7%

  Headquarters management                                                 2                      1                        0                   3                4%

  Support infrastructure                                                  2                      0                        0                   2                3%

  Information technology                                                  0                      1                        0                   1                1%

  Total                                                                  48                    18                         2                 68

  Percentage of total                                                  71%                   26%                        3%
Source: GAO analysis of GAO Results Phase System data. | GAO-19-245R
Note: Priority recommendations are those that GAO believes warrant priority attention from the heads of key departments and agencies.
aThese two recommendations related to the acquisition of the Littoral Combat Ship. Subsequent DOD actions in this area made these recommendations no longer applicable, and

therefore we closed the recommendations as unimplemented.


                                                                                                                                                                Page 25
Enclosure II

               Comments from the Department of Defense




 (102516)



Page 26                                        GAO-19-245R Defense Management
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