oversight

Special Operations Forces: Additional Actions Are Needed to Effectively Expand Management Oversight

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2019-05-13.

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

             United States Government Accountability Office
             Report to Congressional Committees




             SPECIAL
May 2019




             OPERATIONS
             FORCES

             Additional Actions Are
             Needed to Effectively
             Expand Management
             Oversight




GAO-19-386
                                            May 2019

                                            SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES
                                            Additional Actions Are Needed to Effectively Expand
                                            Management Oversight
Highlights of GAO-19-386, a report to
congressional committees




Why GAO Did This Study                      What GAO Found
As DOD increased its reliance on            Since 2017 the Department of Defense (DOD) has made recommendations,
special operations forces, SOCOM’s          developed actions, and taken steps to address requirements in section 922 of the
budget has increased from $5.2 billion      National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 to expand the
in 2005 to $12.3 billion in 2018.           Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict’s
Section 922 of the NDAA for Fiscal          (ASD-SO/LIC) roles and responsibilities. DOD officials noted that they have taken
Year 2017 included provisions to            an incremental implementation approach to addressing section 922. In 2018, DOD
enhance the Assistant Secretary of          identified 166 recommendations to change the ASD-SO/LIC’s oversight of special
Defense for Special Operations and          operations forces (SOF). These recommendations were used to develop 87 actions
Low-Intensity Conflict’s responsibilities   that were necessary to implement section 922. Since February 2019, DOD has
to be similar to those of a military        implemented 56 of these actions. For example, the Deputy Secretary of Defense
department secretary regarding the          approved a new Special Operations Policy and Oversight Council directive that
organization, training, and equipping of    identified the ASD-SO/LIC as the lead for that council. The Deputy Secretary of
special operations forces.                  Defense also delegated the ASD-SO/LIC with authority to approve waivers to hire
                                            civilian personnel during a civilian hiring freeze.
The Joint Explanatory Statement
accompanying the fiscal year 2018
                                            Although the office of the ASD-SO/LIC has taken many actions to implement section
NDAA included a provision for GAO to
                                            922, DOD faces two key challenges in completing its implementation of the ASD-
assess DOD’s actions in response to
                                            SO/LIC’s new roles and responsibilities:
section 922. This report assesses (1)
the extent to which DOD has identified      •   Lack of time frames. As of February 2019, 28 out of 31 unimplemented actions
and taken actions to implement section          associated with section 922 did not have clear time frames for implementation.
922; (2) what, if any, challenges it            According to ASD-SO/LIC and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM)
faces in completing implementation;             officials, they did not prioritize establishing time frames because they took an
and (3) the extent to which its hiring          incremental approach to implementing actions and addressed them on a case-
approach for the office of the ASD-             by-case basis. Without clear time frames for implementation, ASD-SO/LIC and
SO/LIC has incorporated strategic               SOCOM may be less effective in implementing section 922.
workforce planning principles. GAO
reviewed relevant documents and             •   Unclear guidance. Current guidance about ASD-SO/LIC responsibilities is
interviewed DOD officials.                      outdated: for example, it states that the ASD-SO/LIC shall report directly to the
                                                Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. However, section 922 states that special
What GAO Recommends                             operation forces-related administrative matters are managed directly by the
                                                Secretary of Defense to the ASD-SO/LIC. The special operations force enterprise
GAO is making three                             is a complex system, and unless roles and responsibilities are clarified in
recommendations to DOD to establish             guidance, other DOD stakeholders, such as the military services, may not know
time frames for section 922 actions;            the extent of the ASD-SO/LIC’s and SOCOM’s authorities and responsibilities.
update applicable guidance to clarify           DOD officials expressed some concerns that until these matters are clarified in
roles and responsibilities for the ASD-         guidance, it will remain unclear whether the ASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM should
SO/LIC and SOCOM; and develop a                 work together—for example, on personnel issues—and how their relationships
strategic workforce plan that                   with stakeholders with oversight authority will be managed. DOD partially
incorporates key principles. DOD                concurred, and based on its comments, GAO modified one recommendation.
partially concurred with the
recommendations and GAO continues           The office of the ASD-SO/LIC has made efforts to develop a workforce plan,
to believe the recommendations are          including commissioning a manpower study and taking steps to develop a hiring plan;
valid, as discussed in the report. GAO      however, these efforts do not fully incorporate some leading principles for a strategic
also modified one recommendation to         workforce plan. For example, ASD-SO/LIC did not share the hiring plan with its staff,
address DOD concerns regarding its          including key officials from the office of the ASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM. Without
applicability.                              completing a comprehensive strategic workforce plan that includes key principles, the
                                            office of the ASD-SO/LIC may not know what gaps exist in skills and competencies in
View GAO-19-386. For more information,
contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or
                                            order to develop effective workforce strategies to fill those gaps. These issues could
russellc@gao.gov.                           put the office of the ASD-SO/LIC at risk of hiring personnel who may not adequately
                                            meet its needs as defined by section 922.
                                                                                      United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                    1
              Background                                                                  4
              DOD Has Made Recommendations, Developed Actions, and
                Taken Steps to Address Requirements in Section 922                        8
              Lack of Clear Time Frames and Guidance Are Challenges to
                Completing Implementation of the ASD-SO/LIC’s Roles and
                Responsibilities                                                         13
              DOD Has Taken Steps to Develop a Hiring Plan but Has Not Fully
                Incorporated Some Key Strategic Workforce Planning
                Principles                                                               20
              Conclusions                                                                25
              Recommendations                                                            26
              Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                         26

Appendix I    Comments from the Department of Defense                                    29



Appendix II   GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                     32


Table
              Table 1: Identification of Elements in the Department of Defense’s
                      (DOD) March 2018 Report to Congress                                 7

Figures
              Figure 1: Department of Defense (DOD) Recommendations
                       Regarding Potential Roles of the Assistant Secretary of
                       Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity
                       Conflict’s (ASD-SO/LIC) in the Management of Special
                       Operations Forces                                                 10
              Figure 2: Increased Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
                       (SO/LIC) Personnel Associated with Implementation of
                       Section 922                                                       22




              Page i                                     GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Abbreviations

ASD-SO/LIC                 The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special
                           Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
DOD                        Department of Defense
FTE                        Full Time Equivalents
NDAA                       National Defense Authorization Act
OASD-SO/LIC                Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for
                           Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict
POM                        Program Objective Memorandum
SAP                        Special Access Programs
SOCOM                      Special Operations Command
SOF                        Special Operations Forces
USD (P)                    Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
USD (P&R)                  Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and
                           Readiness


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Page ii                                             GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                       Letter




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




                       May 13, 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

                       For more than a decade the Department of Defense (DOD) has increased
                       its reliance on U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), growing from
                       45,000 SOF personnel in 2001 to 70,000, carrying out a broad range of
                       activities that include counterterrorism, crisis response, and contingency
                       force operations. To support these activities, funding for U.S. Special
                       Operations Command (SOCOM) increased from $5.2 billion in 2005 to
                       $12.3 billion in 2018. Despite the growth in activities and resourcing,
                       oversight of SOCOM’s responsibilities to organize, train, and equip has
                       remained largely the same. SOCOM has a unique structure and
                       responsibilities in that it has both combatant command responsibilities
                       and military service-like functions for organizing, training, and equipping
                       SOF. Under sections 164 and 167 of Title 10, United States Code, the
                       SOCOM commander is responsible for, among other things, training and
                       ensuring the combat readiness of assigned forces and monitoring the
                       preparedness of SOF assigned to unified combatant commands to carry
                       out assigned missions. 1

                       To strengthen the oversight of SOCOM and SOF, section 922 of the
                       National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017

                       1
                        The term “combatant command” means a unified or specified command with a broad
                       continuing mission under a single commander established and so designated by the
                       President, through the Secretary of Defense and with the advice and assistance of the
                       Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
                       (January 2019).




                       Page 1                                              GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
(hereinafter referred to as section 922) included a number of reforms
designed to enhance the role of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (hereinafter referred to as
ASD-SO/LIC). 2 Taken together, these reforms are intended to give the
ASD-SO/LIC responsibilities similar to those of a military department
secretary with regard to certain SOF-peculiar administrative matters, such
as budgeting, programming, and personnel matters related to the
organization, training, and equipping of SOF. This “service secretary-like”
role was further reinforced in section 917 of the John S. McCain National
Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. 3 The Office of the
Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
(hereinafter referred to as OASD-SO/LIC) assists the ASD-SO/LIC in
carrying out his roles and responsibilities.

Section 1074 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 directed the Secretary of
Defense to submit a report on the implementation of requirements
specified in section 922. 4 The joint explanatory statement accompanying
the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision for us to review
DOD’s report and any actions taken to implement section 922. 5 For this
report, we assess (1) the extent to which DOD has identified and taken
actions in response to section 922 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2017; (2)
what challenges, if any, DOD faces in completing its implementation of
the ASD-SO/LIC’s new service secretary-like roles and responsibilities;
and (3) the extent to which DOD has incorporated strategic workforce
planning principles into its hiring approach for OASD-SO/LIC.

For objective one, we reviewed monthly reports from September 2018
through February 2019 submitted by OASD-SO/LIC to Congress on the
steps DOD has taken to address requirements in section 922. Two
analysts independently assessed the extent to which OASD-SO/LIC’s and
SOCOM’s combined recommendations for OASD-SO/LIC’s
implementation of section 922 established new roles and responsibilities.
In cases where two independent analysts disagreed on an assessment,
we compared the two sets of observations, discussed the assessments,
and reconciled any differences. We analyzed the action items listed in the

2
    Pub. L. No. 114-328, § 922 (2016) and codified at 10 U.S.C. § 138(b).
3
    Pub. L. No. 115-232, § 917 (2018).
4
    Pub. L. No. 115-91, § 1074 (2017).
5
    H.R. Rep. No. 115-404 at 930 (2017).




Page 2                                                 GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
monthly reports to determine the items that were implemented. The
monthly reports indicate whether each action item was implemented. To
conduct the evaluation, an analyst reviewed the action items listed in
these reports to determine how many action items had been implemented
or had not been implemented, whether the description of the action item
referred to OASD-SO/LIC’s involvement in a meeting, and whether the
description of the action item referred to OASD-SO/LIC’s “coordination”
role.

For objective two, we reviewed challenges to completing the
implementation of ASD-SOLIC’s roles and responsibilities under section
922. Specifically, we analyzed the extent to which the action items listed
in the monthly reports to Congress were linked to clear time frames for
implementation. To conduct the evaluation, an analyst reviewed the
action items listed in these reports to determine whether the action items
that had not been implemented were linked to clear time frames for
implementation. We also compared existing guidance with the ASD-
SO/LIC’s evolving roles and responsibilities under section 922. Based on
the monthly reports to Congress and the combined OASD-SO/LIC and
SOCOM recommendations on implementing the section 922 roles and
responsibilities, we assessed the extent to which the ASD-SO/LIC has
taken steps to strengthen its roles and responsibilities and support new
service secretary-like authorities under section 922. We also reviewed
potential challenges we identified against Standards for Internal Control in
the Federal Government, which states that establishing time frames is
important for agency reform efforts and that management should define
objectives clearly throughout the organization. 6

For objective three, we reviewed steps that DOD has taken to develop a
hiring plan and the extent to which the plan fully incorporates key
strategic workforce planning principles. For example, DOD commissioned
a study by the Army’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Manpower and
Reserve Affairs (hereinafter referred to as the Army study) that
determined personnel requirements needed to implement section 922.
We also compared OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring plan against key strategic
workforce-planning principles that state, for example, that workforce
planning should involve both employees and management, and we met
with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Manpower and Reserve

6
 GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO-14-704G
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 10, 2014).




Page 3                                           GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                             Affairs, which performed the manpower study to discuss personnel
                             requirements. 7 We compared OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring plan against key
                             principles for strategic workforce planning that we identified in prior work
                             and compiled as part of this review.

                             To address all of the objectives in this report, we also interviewed officials
                             responsible for implementing section 922 in OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM;
                             the Office of the Chief Management Officer; Office of the Director, Cost
                             Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE); Office of the Under
                             Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD (P)); and Office of the Under
                             Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).

                             We conducted this performance audit from July 2018 to May 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.



Background
Roles and Responsibilities   SOCOM has a unique structure and responsibilities in that it has both
of SOCOM and the ASD-        combatant command responsibilities and military service-like functions for
                             organizing, training, and equipping SOF. Under sections 164 and 167 of
SO/LIC
                             Title 10, United States Code, the SOCOM commander is responsible for
                             training and ensuring the combat readiness of assigned forces and
                             monitoring the preparedness to carry out assigned missions of SOF
                             assigned to unified combatant commands. In addition, SOCOM is
                             responsible for developing special operations strategy, doctrine, and
                             tactics; the employment of forces of the command to carry out assigned
                             missions; requirements validation; acquisition of special operations-
                             peculiar equipment; and formulating and submitting requirements for

                             7
                              GAO, Key Principles for Effective Strategic Workforce Planning (GAO-04-39). To identify
                             strategic workforce planning principles and illustrative agency examples, we selected five
                             examples of agencies’ workforce planning activities to present in the report. We met with
                             human capital and program officials and analyzed documents related to these examples
                             to more fully understand the specific workforce planning issues associated with the
                             examples and how the agencies addressed these issues.




                             Page 4                                              GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
intelligence support, among other things. In its combatant command
function, the commander of SOCOM is responsible for and has the
authority to conduct the following special operations activities: (1) direct
action, (2) strategic reconnaissance, (3) unconventional warfare, (4)
foreign internal defense, (5) civil affairs, (6) military information support
operations, (7) counterterrorism, (8) humanitarian assistance, (9) theater
search and rescue, and (10) other activities such as may be specified by
the President or the Secretary of Defense.

Congress initially established the position of the ASD-SO/LIC in the
NDAA for Fiscal Year 1987. 8 As previously discussed, in 2016 Congress
enhanced the role of the ASD-SO/LIC in section 922, which is codified in
section 138(b) of Title 10, United States Code. The ASD-SO/LIC’s current
statutory responsibilities include overall supervision, including policy and
resources, of special operations activities listed above; exercising
authority, direction, and control of all special operations-peculiar
administrative matters relating to the organization, training, and equipping
of SOF; and assisting the Secretary of Defense and USD (P) in the
development and supervision of policy, program planning and execution,
and allocation and use of resources for irregular warfare, combating
terrorism, and special operations activities.

DOD Directive 5111.10, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special
Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC), first issued in 1995 and
most recently updated in 2011, also prescribes the roles and
responsibilities for the ASD-SO/LIC. 9 Among other things, the ASD-
SO/LIC serves as the principal staff assistant to the USD (P) and the
Secretary of Defense on special operations and low-intensity conflict
matters and counterdrug policy, among others. 10 DOD Directive 5111.10
also establishes responsibilities, functions, relationships, and authorities

8
    See Pub. L. No. 99-661, § 1311 (1986).
9
  DOD Directive 5111.10, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low
Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) (October 21, 2011).
10
  The principal staff assistants are the Under Secretaries of Defense; the Deputy Chief
Management Officer; the General Counsel of DOD; the Inspector General of DOD; and
those Assistant Secretaries of Defense, Assistants to the Secretary of Defense, and Office
of the Secretary of Defense Directors, and equivalents who report directly to the Secretary
or Deputy Secretary of Defense. The principal staff assistants provide advice, assistance,
and support to the Secretary of Defense in managing the Department and in carrying out
such duties as may be prescribed by the Secretary or by law. DOD Directive 5100.01,
Functions of the Department of Defense and Its Major Components (Dec. 21, 2010).




Page 5                                              GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                           for the ASD-SO/LIC on issues such as the coordination and oversight of
                           policy for humanitarian assistance, refugee affairs, and foreign disaster
                           relief activities (e.g., emergency relief for Ebola).

                           Prior to the enactment of section 922, OASD-SO/LIC coordinated
                           regularly with SOCOM on administrative matters, such as reviewing
                           SOCOM’s budget materials. Specifically, the administrative chain of
                           command for SOF-related matters was formally changed by section 922
                           to give the ASD-SO/LIC more oversight over SOCOM through direct
                           interaction with the Secretary of Defense. 11 Section 922 provided the
                           ASD-SO/LIC with the statutory authority to exercise authority, direction,
                           and control of all special operations-peculiar administrative matters
                           relating to organizing, training, and equipping SOF. Section 922 did not
                           alter SOCOM’s operational chain of command as a combatant command.


DOD’s Report               Section 1074 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 directed DOD to submit a
Summarizing Its Progress   report on the progress the department had made in implementing the
                           requirements identified in section 922. Section 1074 specified seven
in Implementing Section
                           reporting elements, such as the accounting of personnel currently
922                        assigned, that DOD’s report should address. DOD submitted its report on
                           March 12, 2018, wherein it identified a high-level summary of actions
                           taken, as shown in table 1 below. 12




                           11
                             The administrative chain of command refers to the exercise of authority, direction, and
                           control with respect to the special operations-peculiar administration and support of
                           SOCOM, including the readiness and organization of SOF, resources and equipment, and
                           civilian personnel.
                           12
                             Department of Defense, Management of Special Operations Forces and Special
                           Operations: Section 1074 Report on Implementation of Requirements in Connection with
                           the Organization of the Department of Defense for Management of Special Operations
                           Forces and Special Operations (Mar. 12, 2018).




                           Page 6                                             GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Table 1: Identification of Elements in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) March 2018 Report to Congress

Element in section 1074 of National Defense                                            DOD’s response
Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2018                                                  in the report
Element 1: A statement of the responsibilities of the Assistant                        Provides an overview of the change to the administrative
Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity                          chain of command for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Conflict that is consistent with the covered authority, including an                   Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and Special
identification of any responsibilities to be divested by the Assistant                 Operations Command (SOCOM).
                                                a
Secretary pursuant to the covered authority.
Element 2: A resource-unconstrained analysis of manpower                 Includes the results of an analysis of personnel based on
requirements necessary to satisfy the responsibilities akin to those of unconstrained resources, which was conducted by the Army’s
the secretary of a military department that are specified by the covered Office of Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
authority.
Element 3: An accounting of civilian, military, and contractor                         Details the 14 individuals assigned to implement the
personnel currently assigned to fulfill responsibilities akin to those of              Secretariat responsibilities. As of February 2019, the number
the secretary of a military department that are specified by the covered               of individuals assigned to Secretariat responsibilities had
authority, including responsibilities relating to budget, personnel,                   risen to 28.
programs and requirements, acquisition, and special access
programs.
Element 4: A description of actions taken to implement the covered                     Details the actions taken to implement section 922, the
authority as of the date of the report, including the assignment of any                majority of which were the inclusion of the Assistant Secretary
additional civilian, military, or contractor personnel to fulfill additional           of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
responsibilities akin to those of the secretary of a military department               in relevant meetings and hiring of new full-time equivalents.
that are specified by the covered authority.
Element 5: An explanation of how the responsibilities akin to those of                 Explains that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special
the secretary of a military department that were assigned to the                       Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict is evaluating options to
assistant secretary by the covered authority will be fulfilled in the                  meet the intent of Congress, including receiving personnel
absence of additional personnel being assigned to the office of the                    from other parts of the Office of Secretary Defense as well as
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-                         realigning staff internally.
Intensity Conflict.
Element 6: An assessment of whether the responsibilities specified in                  Explains that the creation of an undersecretary would solve a
section 138(b)(4) of Title 10, United States Code, could be                            long-standing issue of the hybrid nature of Special Operations
accomplished more effectively if the Assistant Secretary of Defense                    and Low-Intensity Conflict’s role under the Under Secretary of
for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict were elevated to an                  Defense for Policy. However, the report states that it would
Under Secretary, including the potential benefits and negative                         increase the bureaucracy in the department and require a
consequences of such a change.                                                         large amount of resources.
Element 7: Any other matters the secretary considers appropriate.                      Officials did not indicate any additional matters.
Source: GAO analysis of DOD information. | GAO-19-386
                                                        a
                                                         Covered authority refers to all of the changes made to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special
                                                        Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict’s responsibilities by section 922 of the National Defense
                                                        Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.




                                                        Page 7                                                     GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
DOD Has Made
Recommendations,
Developed Actions,
and Taken Steps to
Address
Requirements in
Section 922

DOD Identified            In 2018, DOD identified 166 recommendations to address the reforms
Recommendations and       required by section 922 that are aimed at increasing the ASD-SO/LIC’s
                          role in the management of SOF and special operations. To identify these
Developed Actions to
                          recommendations and support the implementation of service secretary-
Address Requirements in   like responsibilities under section 922, OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM
Section 922               created a “tiger team” to review broad functional areas typically performed
                          by the military service secretariats and determine the need for potential
                          changes to the roles and responsibilities of OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM
                          related to addressing requirements in section 922. The tiger team
                          included five working groups to review potential roles and responsibilities
                          for budget, special access programs, personnel and readiness, program
                          and requirements, and acquisition functions. 13 Two officials, respectively
                          representing OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM, co-led each of these working
                          groups. 14

                          OASD-SO/LIC established design principles to help the working groups
                          identify new roles and responsibilities for OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM
                          under section 922. These principles included the following three broad
                          categories of authorities that OASD-SO/LIC could be expected to take on:

                          •    Monitor: This role requires that OASD-SO/LIC be informed, observe,
                               and check the progress or quality of an activity throughout the lifetime
                          13
                             According to OASD-SO/LIC officials, other functional areas such as Inspector General,
                          Public Affairs, and Legislative Affairs, were not included in each of the five working
                          groups, but were addressed jointly by OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM officials.
                          14
                           Working groups also included a representative from the military departments and
                          additional DOD personnel as needed.




                          Page 8                                              GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
     of the activity. This includes, for example, monitoring SOCOM’s
     submission of its presidential budget justification material to
     Congress.
•    Review and coordinate: This role requires that OASD-SO/LIC
     review, analyze, and coordinate throughout the lifetime of an activity
     to ensure compliance with authoritative policy and with statutory and
     other regulatory issuances, and to ensure achievement of broad
     program goals. Coordination does not imply authority to compel
     agreement, however. An example of the review and coordinate role is
     that OASD-SO/LIC liaises with the military departments on military
     personnel issues.
•    Approve: This role requires OASD-SO/LIC’s concurrence to give
     explicit or official sanction, permission, or ratification of an activity. An
     example of approval authority is that ASD-SO/LIC approves
     SOCOM’s Program Objective Memorandum (POM). 15
We found the largest share of the 166 recommendations made by the
working groups strengthened OASD-SO/LIC’s roles related to monitor
and to review and coordinate, as shown in figure 1. Specifically, 80 out of
166 recommendations (48 percent) would strengthen OASD-SO/LIC’s
role regarding monitor or review and coordinate. Twenty-two out of 166
recommendations (13 percent) would give OASD-SO/LIC approval
authority—requiring OASD-SO/LIC’s concurrence to give explicit or
official sanction, permission, or ratification of an activity. Of these 22
recommendations, 16 involved either joint approval—requiring both
OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM to jointly approve the action—or partial
approval—that is, OASD-SO/LIC would have approval authority on
certain aspects of an action item. Sixty-four out of 166 recommendations
(39 percent) did not recommend any change to OASD-SO/LIC’s role. In
addition, the majority of the recommendations, about 156 out of 166
(about 94 percent) would not change SOCOM’s roles.




15
  The Program Objective Memorandum (POM) is the final product of the programming
process within DOD. A component’s POM displays the resource allocation decisions of
the military department in response to and accordance with Defense Planning Guidance.
The POM shows programmed needs 5 years hence (for example, in fiscal year 2016,
POM 2018–2022 will be submitted). Defense Acquisition University Glossary of Defense
Acquisition Acronyms and Terms (as of March 2019).




Page 9                                            GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Figure 1: Department of Defense (DOD) Recommendations Regarding Potential
Roles of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-
Intensity Conflict’s (ASD-SO/LIC) in the Management of Special Operations Forces




a
  A “Monitor” role requires that ASD-SO/LIC be informed, observe, and check the progress or quality
of an activity throughout the lifetime of the activity.
b
  A “Review and Coordinate” role requires that ASD-SO/LIC review, analyze, and coordinate
throughout the lifetime of an activity.
c
  An “Approval” role requires ASD-SO/LIC’s concurrence to give explicit or official sanction,
permission, or ratification of an activity.


OASD-SO/LIC used the 166 recommendations to inform the development
of 87 actions in OASD-SO/LIC’s monthly reports to Congress. 16 We found
that with regard to the 87 actions identified in OASD-SO/LIC’s February
2019 monthly report, 49 percent of the action items (43 out of 87) focused
on OASD-SO/LIC’s participation in meetings. For example, prior to the
implementation of section 922, OASD-SO/LIC attended Joint Resources

16
   Beginning in September 2018, ASD-SO/LIC has been providing monthly reports to
Congress that give updates on the implementation of section 922. These reports list action
items that either have been implemented or are planned to be implemented.




Page 10                                                     GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                             Management Board meetings. After implementing section 922, OASD-
                             SO/LIC exercised its review and coordinate responsibility by attending
                             Joint Resources Management Board meetings, thereby formalizing
                             OASD-SO/LIC’s prior role. According to DOD officials, there is a value in
                             adding OASD-SO/LIC as a participant in key meetings and formalizing
                             OASD-SO/LIC’s review and coordinate role. For example, officials
                             explained that, by participating in meetings, OASD-SO/LIC can have
                             more situational awareness about key topics and can better advocate for
                             the SOF enterprise.


DOD Has Taken Several        DOD, through OASD-SO/LIC, has taken various actions, including
Actions to Address Section   changes in roles and responsibilities, related to addressing requirements
                             in section 922. According to OASD-SO/LIC officials, its actions reflect an
922 Requirements
                             incremental approach to strengthening OASD-SO/LIC’s roles and
                             responsibilities. In February 2019 OASD-SO/LIC reported to Congress
                             that it had completed 56 of its 87 actions. For example, one of the actions
                             identified in the February 2019 monthly report was the need to enhance
                             OASD-SO/LIC’s role in the development and approval of SOF-related
                             program and budget matters. The report further identified a number of
                             actions, including having OASD-SO/LIC approve SOCOM’s POM.
                             According to the report, OASD-SO/LIC was briefed on and approved
                             SOCOM’s POM for fiscal years 2020-2024. As another example, the
                             report identified the need to enhance OASD-SO/LIC’s oversight of SOF-
                             related military construction activities and contingency basing. This
                             included a requirement that OASD-SO/LIC co-chair SOCOM’s Military
                             Construction Summit, which according to officials deals with acquisition-
                             related issues regarding military construction and is used to inform the
                             POM. According to the February 2019 report, OASD-SO/LIC co-chaired
                             the summit for fiscal year 2019, and its formal role as co-chair will be
                             reflected in future updates to SOCOM guidance. The February report also
                             explained that the Deputy Secretary of Defense approved a new Special
                             Operations Policy and Oversight Council directive that identified the ASD-
                             SO/LIC as the lead for that council. The Deputy Secretary of Defense
                             also delegated the ASD-SO/LIC with authority to approve waivers to hire
                             civilian personnel during a civilian hiring freeze.

                             Many of the actions taken thus far formalize pre-existing, informal
                             relationships between OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM. According to OASD-
                             SO/LIC officials, a formalization of a pre-existing role occurs when OASD-
                             SO/LIC identifies a role that OASD-SO/LIC performed informally before




                             Page 11                                    GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
addressing requirements under section 922 and continues to maintain the
role officially under its section 922 responsibilities. 17 Based on the
February 2019 report to Congress, we found that 26 out of 56
implemented action items (about 50 percent) formalize ongoing OASD-
SO/LIC roles and responsibilities that were previously conducted
informally. Officials stated that all of the actions relating to budget
execution are formalizations of previously existing informal roles and
responsibilities. For example, according to OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM
officials, OASD-SO/LIC had an informal role in reviewing SOCOM’s POM
prior to section 922, such as participating in the review of the POM
without formal approval authority. According to DOD officials familiar with
the POM process, giving OASD-SO/LIC approval authority for SOCOM’s
POM essentially formalized what had been done in the past, while
allowing OASD-SO/LIC to perform a more thorough review. Similarly,
officials stated that OASD-SO/LIC had an informal role in developing
SOCOM’s budget justification books prior to the passage of section 922. 18
Another action identified in DOD’s February 2019 monthly report is
OASD-SO/LIC’s role in budget submission. Officials explained that, in an
effort to enhance OASD-SO/LIC’s role in budget submission, OASD-
SO/LIC has formalized this role. According to the officials, the benefit of
this formalization is that OASD-SO/LIC has greater access to the process
of producing justification books. There have been similar examples of
formalization of pre-existing roles in other areas as well. For example,
prior to section 922, SOCOM’s public affairs requirements were
coordinated with USD (P)’s public affairs office. Rather than duplicate
SOCOM’s existing public affairs role with an additional public affairs office
for the ASD-SO/LIC, OASD-SO/LIC coordinates with the USD (P)’s public
affairs office.




17
   ASD-SO/LIC’s formal role does not include clarifying the role in written DOD guidance,
such as a DOD directive. ASD-SO/LIC’s formal role is clarified in monthly reports to
Congress and in tiger team recommendations.
18
 The budget justification is a document that an agency submits to the appropriations
committees in support of its budget request.




Page 12                                              GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Lack of Clear Time
Frames and
Guidance Are
Challenges to
Completing
Implementation of the
ASD-SO/LIC’s Roles
and Responsibilities

Most Actions That Remain   Most of the actions remaining to be implemented do not have clear time
to Be Implemented Do Not   frames for implementation. Based on our analysis of the February 2019
                           monthly report, we found that 31 out of 87 identified actions remain
Have Clear Time Frames
                           unimplemented. Of these 31 actions, three have clear time frames for
                           implementation. For example, one of the remaining actions involves
                           enhancing the ASD-SO/LIC’s role in SOF military personnel-related
                           issues. Among other things, this includes liaising with the military
                           departments on relevant military personnel issues and coordinating on
                           related policy issues. The February 2019 monthly report includes an
                           action related to OASD-SO/LIC’s plans to coordinate a process to monitor
                           promotions of SOF personnel and communicate issues with military
                           departments. The report specifies that the ASD-SO/LIC expected to
                           implement this process in 2019. As another example, documenting and
                           funding for the Secretariat for Special Operations was expected to be
                           resolved by the first quarter of fiscal year 2019. 19

                           However, the remaining 28 actions do not have time frames for
                           implementation. For example, some of the actions associated with
                           implementing the ASD-SO/LIC’s key functions, such as acquisitions and
                           legislative affairs, do not have clear time frames for implementation.

                           19
                              ASD-SO/LIC established the Secretariat for Special Operations to focus on organize,
                           train, and equip functions for special operations. The Secretariat was divested from other
                           policy functions (for example, policy development related to irregular warfare). See DOD’s
                           Monthly Report to Congress, “Report on Implementation of Requirements for
                           Management of Special Operations Forces and Special Operations” (Nov. 30, 2018).




                           Page 13                                             GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Regarding acquisitions, OASD-SO/LIC is developing standard operating
procedures, such as regular coordination and meetings, but it has not
established time frames for the creation or implementation of these
procedures. Similarly, OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM are prescribing roles
with regard to legislative affairs pending further departmental guidance,
but they have not established time frames within which these roles will be
defined.

DOD officials identified some reasons for not having identified time
frames for the remaining actions. First, according to OASD-SO/LIC
officials, their initial efforts were focused on identifying and prioritizing the
list of actions needed to implement section 922, as reflected in the March
2018 report required by law. Since then, according to OASD-SO/LIC and
SOCOM officials, OASD-SO/LIC has taken an incremental approach to
implementing these actions, addressing items on a case-by-case basis as
they occur. For example, OASD-SO/LIC initially placed a higher priority
on implementing its fiscal roles and responsibilities, partly because the
POM cycle included deadlines associated with the President’s Budget for
Fiscal Year 2020. Throughout the cycle, OASD-SO/LIC determined its
specific role in each step of the POM process as the step arose. Second,
OASD-SO/LIC officials stated that they had not established clear time
frames linked to action items because the ASD-SO/LIC was new in that
role and they were waiting for him to determine OASD-SO/LIC’s broader
strategy and goals, which they could use to inform implementation time
frames. However, we note that the ASD-SO/LIC has been in that position
since December 2017, and OASD-SO/LIC has hired new personnel who
could help develop and track time frames.

Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government emphasizes the
need to establish time frames to implement actions effectively, and as we
reported in June 2018, establishing time frames with key milestones and
deliverables to track implementation progress are important for agency
reform efforts. 20 Failure to do so can have significant consequences. For
example, by not establishing clear time frames for updating guidance that
defines the ASD-SO/LIC’s acquisition roles, the ASD-SO/LIC is at risk for
having unclear roles and responsibilities that may overlap between

20
   GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO-14-704G
(Washington, D.C.: September 2014). For more detail about agency reform efforts, our
prior work identified leading practices for efficiency and government streamlining, see
GAO, Government Reorganization: Key Questions to Assess Agency Reform Efforts,
GAO-18-427 (Washington, D.C.: June 13, 2018).




Page 14                                             GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                              SOCOM and the Office of the Secretary of Defense on functions related
                              to acquisitions. According SOCOM officials, having clearer time frames to
                              update DOD guidance could enable OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM to
                              operate more efficiently and effectively. Without establishing clear time
                              frames for the implementation of key oversight functions and other
                              actions, the ASD-SO/LIC may not be able to fully execute OASD-
                              SO/LIC’s service secretary-like authority, and DOD decision-makers may
                              not be well positioned to track progress and evaluate whether or how the
                              ASD-SO/LIC’s completed and pending actions support the full
                              implementation of section 922.


Outdated Guidance Limits      While the ASD- SO/LIC’s responsibilities, functions, relationships, and
Clarity of Understanding of   authorities are established in DOD Directive 5111.10, Assistant Secretary
                              of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD
the ASD-SO/LIC’s Broader
                              SO/LIC) (Mar. 22, 1995) (incorporating Change 2, Oct. 21, 2011), this
Roles and Responsibilities    directive is outdated and does not reflect the ASD- SO/LIC’s statutory
under Section 922             roles under section 922 and codified at 10 U.S.C. § 138. 21 For example,
                              DOD Directive 5111.10 states that the ASD- SO/LIC shall serve under the
                              authority, direction, and control of the USD (P). However, section 922
                              states that the ASD- SO/LIC’s exercise of authority of all special
                              operations-peculiar administrative matters related to the organization,
                              training, and equipping of SOF shall be subject to the authority, direction,
                              and control of the Secretary of Defense. According to DOD officials, while
                              there is other guidance that broadly lays out DOD roles and
                              responsibilities, this guidance lacks details concerning operationalizing
                              ASD- SO/LIC’s roles and responsibilities under the new administrative
                              chain of command, creating potential confusion regarding the ASD-
                              SO/LIC’s roles and responsibilities on some key SOF-related issues. For
                              example:

                              •    SOF personnel issues: SOF personnel activities include readiness
                                   reporting, training, education, warrior care, awards, decorations, and
                                   death notification. Support for SOF personnel issues is generally
                                   dispersed among different components, including the military
                                   services, SOCOM, the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for
                                   Personnel and Readiness (USD (P&R)), and OASD- SO/LIC.
                                   Although DOD Directive 5111.10 states that the ASD- SO/LIC “shall
                                   advise and coordinate with the Under Secretary of Defense for

                              21
                                DOD Directive 5111.10, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-
                              Intensity Conflict (Mar. 22, 1995) (incorporating change 2, Oct. 21, 2011).




                              Page 15                                           GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
    Personnel and Readiness on manpower” issues, it does not define
    whether manpower issues include SOF career management, such as
    special pay and promotion. According to DOD officials, DOD lacks
    overarching guidance that would clarify ASD-SO/LIC’s role on
    manpower issues. DOD Directive 5111.10 also does not provide
    specific information about the extent of the ASD- SO/LIC’s
    coordination role as it relates, for example, to issues such as career
    management, retirement, pay, or promotion with regard to USD (P&R)
    responsibilities on SOF personnel management. As a result,
    according to DOD officials, the lack of clear and updated guidance
    has caused some confusion among DOD components. According to
    OASD-SO/LIC officials, after section 922 was implemented, OASD-
    SO/LIC’s initial attempts to provide strategic outreach for SOF
    personnel faced some challenges because officials were not included
    in key personnel meetings. For example, OASD-SO/LIC officials told
    us they were not included in some meetings that discussed delegating
    civilian hiring waivers. By not participating in some key SOF
    personnel-related meetings, OASD-SO/LIC could have missed the
    opportunity to advocate for similar waiver authority. According to DOD
    officials, USD (P&R) officials did not fully understand the ASD-
    SO/LIC’s authorities under section 922 when OASD-SO/LIC officials
    attended some meetings.
    Despite this confusion, the ASD-SO/LIC has taken some steps to
    strengthen its role on SOF personnel issues. For example, according
    to DOD officials, during the federal government civilian employee
    hiring freeze, DOD delegated civilian employee hiring waivers to the
    secretaries of the military departments but did not include waivers for
    the ASD-SO/LIC or SOCOM. Without the waiver authority to re-instate
    SOF personnel, SOCOM would have to request a waiver separately
    through the military services. OASD-SO/LIC officials told us that by
    ensuring the ASD-SO/LIC was granted a similar waiver authority,
    OASD-SO/LIC officials streamlined the process and supported
    SOCOM’s efforts to hire additional SOF civilian personnel. However,
    the ASD-SO/LIC’s authority on SOF personnel matters remains
    unclear and SOF personnel issues are generally dispersed among the
    authorities of USD (P&R), military services, and SOCOM. Overall, it
    remains unclear what, if any, authorities the ASD-SO/LIC has with
    respect to leading and coordinating the department’s SOF personnel
    issues.
•   Budgetary authority: SOF-related budgetary issues include the
    SOCOM special operations–specific–funding budget materials, the
    POM, acquisition, and congressional requests for information, among
    other things. DOD officials told us that before section 922 was



Page 16                                    GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
     enacted, the ASD-SO/LIC reviewed SOF-peculiar budget materials
     (generally linked to major force program funding) prior to submission
     of the POM, and the ASD-SO/LIC was notified of SOF-related
     congressional unfunded priority list submissions. 22 The ASD-SO/LIC
     did not have principal staff assistant authority to approve the POM.
     DOD Directive 5111.10 states that the ASD-SO/LIC will provide
     overall supervision of the preparation and justification of the SOF
     budget and programs and will review the SOCOM POM. However, the
     DOD directive has not been updated to provide the ASD-SO/LIC with
     clear oversight and approval authority over special operations–
     specific funding, which traditionally has been controlled by SOCOM.
     DOD Directive 5111.10 also states that the ASD-SO/LIC will advise
     and coordinate with the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
     and Technology on acquisition priorities, but this does not provide the
     ASD-SO/LIC with oversight of the SOF acquisition process. 23 In
     addition, DOD does not have any guidance that gives ASD-SO/LIC
     clear oversight roles regarding the SOF acquisition process. By
     comparison, SOCOM is responsible for the development and
     acquisition of special operations-peculiar equipment, materiel,
     supplies, and services in accordance with section 167(e) of Title 10,
     U.S. Code, and it executes funding in operation and maintenance,
     procurement, and military construction accounts, among other things.
     According to OASD-SO/LIC senior officials, the ASD-SO/LIC has
     some authority over special operations–specific funding through the
     POM process. According to OASD-SO/LIC officials, after
     implementing section 922, the ASD-SO/LIC established a new
     principal staff assistant authority to approve the POM in 2018.
     However, DOD officials familiar with SOF-related budgetary issues
     stated that it is unclear how much authority the ASD-SO/LIC has over
     funding issues to adjudicate potential disagreements between the


22
  A major force program is an aggregation of program elements that reflects a force or
support mission of DOD, such as special operations, and contains the resources
necessary to achieve a broad objective or plan relating to that mission. Special
operations–specific funding, also known as MFP-11 funding, provides appropriated funds
to SOCOM to procure SOF-peculiar equipment and services required to meet its
requirements. Throughout this document we will refer to this funding as special
operations–specific funding.
23
   The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology was later renamed as
the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and then in
February 2018 reorganized into two positions: the Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition and Sustainment and the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and
Engineering.




Page 17                                           GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
     services and SOCOM on either SOF-specific or common funding
     issues.
•    Special Access Programs (SAP): SAPs are programs established
     for a specific class of classified information that impose safeguarding
     and access requirements that exceed those normally required for
     information at the same classification level. Given the sensitive nature
     of these programs, DOD has established different levels of authorities
     to create and manage SAPs. According to DOD Directive 5205.07,
     Special Access Program (SAP) Policy, the Deputy Secretary of
     Defense designates certain DOD component heads, or DOD agency
     heads—for example, the secretary of a military department or the
     Commander, SOCOM—as cognizant authorities to manage and
     execute their respective SAPs. 24 While the ASD-SO/LIC has always
     played a role in SOF-related SAPs, DOD officials stated that the role
     is expected to evolve as part of the implementation of section 922.
     OASD-SO/LIC’s February 2019 monthly report includes several
     actions intended to enhance the ASD-SO/LIC’s role in the
     management of SAPs, and OASD-SO/LIC has already begun
     participating in various SAP-related conferences and meetings.
     However, according to DOD officials, the ASD-SO/LIC’s future role
     related to SAPs remains unclear in existing guidance. For example,
     DOD Directive 5111.10 states that the ASD-SO/LIC will provide
     oversight over all special operations and low-intensity conflict related
     sensitive SAPs. Although the ASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM officials told
     us that they are currently further defining these roles, the DOD
     directive has not been updated to clarify whether the ASD-SO/LIC
     should be included in the SAP governance process, which includes
     designating the ASD-SO/LIC as a cognizant authority with service
     secretary-like SAP responsibilities. DOD officials expressed some
     concerns that until these matters are clarified in guidance, it will
     remain unclear whether the ASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM should work
     together on SAP issues, and how their relationships with the various
     Under Secretaries of Defense with oversight authority will be
     managed.
Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that
management should define objectives clearly and assign responsibility for
key roles throughout the organization. 25 Specifically, the standards call for
24
 See DOD Directive 5205.07, Special Access Program (SAP) Policy, (July 1,
2010)(incorporating change 1, Aug. 31, 2018).
25
  GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO-14-704G
(Washington, D.C.: September 2014).




Page 18                                          GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
management to define objectives in specific terms so that they are
understood at all levels of the entity. This involves clearly defining what is
to be achieved, who is to achieve it, how it will be achieved, and time
frames for its achievement. We have also previously reported that
management practices key to program success include clearly identifying
organizational roles and responsibilities and clarifying program
objectives. 26 OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM officials stated that updated
guidance is needed to help clarify the ASD-SO/LIC’s roles and
responsibilities under section 922. In December 2018 OASD-SO/LIC
officials told us that they were starting to update guidance on the ASD-
SO/LIC’s roles and responsibilities under section 922 in DOD directive
5111.10. However, OASD-SO/LIC officials did not provide details about
the information that would be updated, and did not provide a copy of that
draft guidance. In addition, OASD-SO/LIC officials did not have clear time
frames regarding when the guidance will be updated.

As DOD updates the ASD-SO/LIC’s roles and responsibilities either in
DOD Directive 5111.10 or through new guidance, it has an opportunity to
clarify changes in its relationship with DOD components involved in
overseeing SOF administrative matters related to personnel, budgetary
authority, and SAPs. The SOF enterprise is a complex system, and
without clearly identified roles and responsibilities for a service secretary-
like role for the ASD-SO/LIC, other DOD components—such as the
military departments, USD (P), and USD (P&R) —may not know the
extent of the ASD-SO/LIC’s and SOCOM’s authorities in key issues
where they have vested interests. For example, it will remain unclear
what authorities the ASD-SO/LIC has with regard to SOF-related
administrative matters, and which entities will have visibility over any
problems or resourcing decisions related to the SOF enterprise. By
clarifying the ASD-SO/LIC’s roles and responsibilities with regard to its
relationship with SOCOM and other DOD components, DOD can more
effectively implement the intent of section 922.




26
   GAO, Defense Management: DOD Needs to Establish Clear Goals and Objectives,
Guidance, and a Designated Budget to Manage Its Biometrics Activities, GAO-08-1065
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 26, 2008).




Page 19                                          GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
DOD Has Taken
Steps to Develop a
Hiring Plan but Has
Not Fully
Incorporated Some
Key Strategic
Workforce Planning
Principles

OASD-SO/LIC Has Hired      OASD-SO/LIC has taken steps to develop a hiring plan to identify
Additional Personnel and   personnel requirements and an approach to hiring additional personnel.
                           DOD’s efforts began in 2017, when OASD-SO/LIC commissioned the
Taken Steps to Develop a
                           Army Office of Manpower and Reserve Affairs to conduct a manpower
Hiring Plan to Guide       study to provide an analysis of manpower requirements based on
Future Growth              unconstrained resources that are necessary to satisfy the service
                           secretary-like responsibilities under section 922. The Army’s manpower
                           study was based on nine functions, including budget, acquisitions, and
                           legislative activities. 27 For each function, the study identified
                           corresponding tasks and the average man hours, or time needed, to
                           complete each task. The study, which was included in DOD’s March 2018
                           report to Congress, ultimately estimated that up to 64 full-time equivalent
                           (FTE) positions might be needed to implement the ASD-SO/LIC’s section
                           922 responsibilities. According to OASD-SO/LIC officials, the study
                           provided an initial framework for OASD-SO/LIC to determine its staffing

                           27
                             According to the Army study, the nine functions include: exercise authority, direction,
                           and control over all budget & execution relating to special operations activities; monitor the
                           promotions of special operations forces (SOF); supervise the development of SOF
                           requirements and program planning and execution; exercise authority, direction, and
                           control over all acquisitions relating to SOF activities; exercise authority, direction, and
                           control over all Special Access Programs relating to SOF; exercise authority, direction,
                           and control over all Sensitive Activities relating to SOF; Chair and administer the Special
                           Operations Policy and Oversight Council; exercise authority, direction, and control over all
                           legislative activities related to SOF; and exercise authority, direction, and control over all
                           public affairs activities related to SOF man, train , and equip issues. See Department of
                           the Army, “Manpower Analysis to Transform the Special Operations and Irregular Warfare
                           Directorate to Align with Section 922” (Oct. 24, 2017).




                           Page 20                                               GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
needs, but the study was not comprehensive and OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring
needs will likely continue to change in the future.

Over the past 2 years, according to OASD-SO/LIC officials, OASD-
SO/LIC has begun to hire personnel to fulfill various roles and
responsibilities. Specifically, the number of FTEs hired to support OASD-
SO/LIC’s implementation of section 922 increased from 14 in March 2018
to 24 as of December 2018. In addition, section 361 of the John S.
McCain NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019 gave the ASD-SO/LIC additional
flexibility to hire staff in fiscal year 2019. For example, section 361
directed that not less than $4 million in fiscal year 2019 shall be used to
fund additional civilian personnel to help implement section 922. 28 Section
361 also provided the OASD-SO/LIC an exemption from the statutory
civilian personnel limitation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense
imposed by 10 U.S.C. § 143. Figure 2 shows OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring
actions to date, along with key events related to the implementation of
section 922.




28
     Pub. L. No. 115-232, § 361 (2018).




Page 21                                     GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Figure 2: Increased Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) Personnel Associated with Implementation of
Section 922




                                         In December 2018 OASD-SO/LIC officials completed a basic hiring plan
                                         to guide future personnel growth as OASD-SO/LIC continues to
                                         implement actions related to section 922. 29 The plan—documented in a
                                         10 slide presentation—includes OASD-SO/LIC’s short-term hiring goals
                                         through the start of fiscal year 2020, a hiring approach involving a mix of
                                         permanent and temporary staff, and the identification of targeted skillsets
                                         for personnel hired. For example, the plan includes targets related to
                                         achieving key skills, such as force planning and shaping the President’s


                                         29
                                              The plan is entitled “Secretariat for Special Operations: Growth Plan (U/FOUO).”




                                         Page 22                                                GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                            Budget for Fiscal Year 2021. The plan also calls for OASD-SO/LIC to
                            grow from 27 current FTEs to a total of 55 FTEs in fiscal year 2020.


OASD-SO/LIC’s Hiring        While OASD-SO/LIC’s current hiring plan represents a first step toward
Plan Does Not Fully         developing a broad overview of its hiring goals and some key hiring
                            considerations, it does not fully incorporate some leading practices for
Incorporate Key Strategic
                            strategic workforce-planning. As we have previously reported, strategic
Workforce-Planning          workforce planning addresses two critical needs: (1) aligning an
Principles                  organization’s human capital program with its current and emerging
                            mission and programmatic goals; and (2) developing long-term strategies
                            for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic
                            goals. 30 While agencies’ approaches to workforce planning will vary, we
                            have previously identified several key principles that strategic workforce
                            planning should address, irrespective of the context in which the planning
                            is done. GAO’s prior work on workforce planning identified the following
                            five key principles: involve top management, employees, and other
                            stakeholders in developing the strategic workforce plan; determine the
                            critical skills and competencies needed to achieve long-term goals;
                            develop strategies that are tailored to address critical competency gaps;
                            build the capacity needed to address requirements important to
                            supporting workforce strategies; and monitor and evaluate the agency’s
                            progress toward its human capital goals. However, we found that as of
                            December 2018, the OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring plan had not fully
                            incorporated several of these key strategic workforce-planning principles,
                            as described below:

                            •    The hiring plan was not fully aligned with long-term goals. A key
                                 principle in strategic workforce planning is strategic alignment, which
                                 occurs when an agency’s human capital program is linked with its
                                 mission and goals. However, we found that OASD-SO/LIC has not
                                 clearly linked its hiring plan with its overall mission and goals. For
                                 example, the hiring plan mentions short-term goals, such as analyzing
                                 the budget for fiscal year 2021 and long-term goals, such as strategic
                                 assessment and aligning the organization with National Defense
                                 Strategy requirements. However, the plan does not define strategic
                                 assessment, and it lacks detail about how newly hired personnel in
                                 fiscal year 2019 will help OASD-SO/LIC meet long-term goals related
                                 to strategic assessment. For example, OASD-SO/LIC recently hired

                            30
                             GAO, Human Capital: Key Principles for Effective Strategic Workforce Planning,
                            GAO-04-39 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 11, 2003).




                            Page 23                                           GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
     seven personnel, but it is not clear whether the newly hired personnel
     have skills that match competencies, such as the ability to work with
     Special Access Programs, identified in OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring plan. 31
     We have previously reported that unless hiring needs are clearly
     linked with long-term goals, the hiring plan may be incomplete or
     premature.
•    OASD-SO/LIC’s approach did not fully involve stakeholders.
     While stakeholder involvement is not statutorily required, another key
     principle of effective strategic workforce planning is to involve top
     management, employees, and other stakeholders in developing,
     communicating, and implementing strategic workforce plans. We
     found several cases in which OASD-SO/LIC did not involve
     stakeholders in its key efforts. For example, although OASD-SO/LIC
     senior officials shared information about the hiring plan with one
     senior official at SOCOM, several OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM
     officials stated that OASD-SO/LIC did not communicate the hiring
     plan’s expectations or strategies more broadly, to involve a full range
     of OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM officials and other stakeholders, such
     as USD (P). In another example, when OASD-SO/LIC hired personnel
     from September 2018 through December 2018, several OASD-
     SO/LIC and SOCOM officials were unclear about the specific roles
     and responsibilities of new personnel hired.
•    The hiring plan did not include strategies to address critical
     competency gaps and identify related personnel requirements.
     Leading principles of effective strategic workforce planning hold that
     agencies should develop strategies to address critical skill gaps and
     systematic personnel requirements processes, which are considered
     a good human capital practice across government. However, we
     found that OASD-SO/LIC’s hiring plan did not include completed
     competency-gap assessments or have procedures in place to
     periodically reassess personnel requirements. Without a systematic
     process to periodically assess personnel requirements, OASD-SO/LIC
     could not determine whether the Army study’s initial estimates were
     the most efficient choice for the workforce. For example with regard to
     the legislative affairs positions, OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM officials
     told us that the Army manpower study’s initial estimate of eight FTEs
     was too high. OASD-SO/LIC officials eventually hired two FTEs for
     the legislative affairs office, but the hiring plan did not include a
     methodology to analyze the workforce and explain why two FTEs
31
 OASD-SO/LIC hired seven personnel between the period of September 2018 through
January 2019.




Page 24                                        GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                  would fit within the Army study’s framework. According to OASD-
                  SO/LIC officials, OASD-SO/LIC also did not use a standardized
                  process to assess whether two FTEs would meet its requirements.
              According to OASD-SO/LIC officials, the hiring plan is the first step in
              developing an initial framework, and they stated that it lacked
              implementation details. OASD-SO/LIC officials stated that they anticipate
              building upon the hiring plan as the current workforce plan evolves over
              time. In addition, OASD-SO/LIC officials stated that key priorities include
              strengthening OASD-SO/LIC’s participation and oversight of SOF
              resources through the POM and fiscal guidance processes. As a result,
              the hiring plan includes information about new personnel focused on
              fiscal oversight, such as analyzing the budget in fiscal years 2020 through
              2021, but it does not clarify long-term goals, competency gaps, and
              program results tied to other priorities, such as legislative and acquisition-
              related functions. Officials from OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM agreed that
              incorporating key principles in the strategic workforce plan would help
              them determine the most appropriate size and composition of OASD-
              SO/LIC’s workforce.

              Until OASD-SO/LIC completes a comprehensive strategic workforce plan
              that includes key principles as outlined above, OASD-SO/LIC may not
              know what gaps exist in skills and competencies, and what their
              workforce strategies to fill those gaps should be. These issues could put
              OASD-SO/LIC at risk of hiring personnel who may not adequately meet
              its needs as defined by section 922.


              As DOD increasingly relies on SOF, the department has taken steps to
Conclusions   implement section 922. Given the expanded statutory authority under
              section 922, the ASD-SO/LIC has greater authority to oversee and
              advocate for the SOF enterprise. The ASD-SO/LIC has implemented
              several actions to clarify and strengthen its oversight roles and
              responsibilities, and it has many additional planned actions underway.
              However, without time frames to implement action items and revised or
              new guidance that clearly articulates the ASD-SO/LIC’s roles and
              responsibilities with regard to SOCOM and the wider SOF enterprise,
              these changes may not be fully effective. In addition, without a strategic
              workforce plan that fully incorporates leading practices to ensure that the
              department has the right people, in the right place, at the right time,
              OASD-SO/LIC may not be well prepared to respond to future workload
              changes and manage its human capital strategically. As OASD-SO/LIC
              makes progress in its hiring plan, it is important for OASD-SO/LIC to



              Page 25                                      GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
                     develop a strategic workforce plan to ensure that it appropriately
                     addresses the human-capital challenges of the future and better
                     contributes to the agency’s efforts to meet its missions and goals.


                     We are making three recommendations to the Secretary of Defense:
Recommendations
                     The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of
                     Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict defines time
                     frames for completing action items necessary to implement the Assistant
                     Secretary of Defense for SO/LIC’s expanded section 922 responsibilities.
                     (Recommendation 1)

                     The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of
                     Defense for the Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict updates
                     existing guidance or develops new guidance to clarify the roles and
                     responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for SO/LIC and
                     relationships with DOD components that have vested interests in the SOF
                     enterprise—such as the military services, SOCOM, the Under Secretary
                     of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and the Under Secretary of
                     Defense for Policy. (Recommendation 2)

                     The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Assistant Secretary of
                     Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict builds upon its
                     hiring plan by developing a strategic workforce plan that incorporates key
                     principles, such as aligning the plan with long-term mission goals; fully
                     involving stakeholders in developing the plan; and including strategies to
                     address critical competency gaps and identify related personnel
                     requirements. (Recommendation 3)


                     In written comments on the draft of this report, DOD partially concurred
Agency Comments      with our recommendations. Comments from DOD are summarized below
and Our Evaluation   and reprinted in appendix I. DOD also provided technical comments,
                     which we incorporated as appropriate.

                     DOD partially concurred with the first recommendation that the ASD-
                     SO/LIC define time frames for completing action items necessary to
                     implement the ASD-SO/LIC‘s expanded section 922 responsibilities. In
                     its response, DOD stated that most time frames have been established or
                     the action completed. Additionally, DOD noted that some actions may not
                     be completed because they depend on events, actions or leadership
                     decisions that are outside of OASD-SO/LIC’s control. We agree that


                     Page 26                                    GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
some DOD leadership decisions have yet to be made. However, 28 out of
31 already identified actions do not have clear time frames for
implementation. Further, time frames can be modified as events change
or better information becomes available. As we discuss in the report,
establishing time frames with key milestones to track implementation
progress are important for agency reform efforts. Without clear time
frames, ASD-SO/LIC may not be able to fully execute its service
secretary-like authority.

DOD partially concurred with the second recommendation that the ASD-
SO/LIC update DOD Directive 5111.10 to clarify the roles and
responsibilities of the ASD-SO/LIC and relationships with DOD
components that have vested interests in the SOF enterprise. DOD is in
the process of revising this directive, but DOD noted that the purpose of
DOD Directive 5111.10 is to define only specific Department-wide roles
and missions for ASD-SO/LIC and is not the appropriate issuance to
define ASD-SO/LIC’s relationship with other DOD components in the SOF
enterprise. Given that DOD does not believe DOD Directive 5111.10 is
the appropriate issuance to clarify ASD-SO/LIC’s relationships with DOD
components, we modified our recommendation from focusing solely on
updating DOD Directive 5111.10 to updating existing guidance and/or
developing new guidance. Updating or developing guidance that clarifies
ASD SO/LIC’s relationship with DOD components, such as the military
departments, USD (P), and USD (P&R) would likely allow for improved
oversight of and collaboration on SOF matters related to personnel,
budgetary authority and SAPs.

DOD partially concurred with the third recommendation that the ASD-
SO/LIC build upon its hiring plan by developing a strategic workforce
plan that incorporates key principles, such as aligning the plan with long-
term mission goals; fully involving stakeholders in developing the plan;
and including strategies to address critical competency gaps and identify
related personnel requirements. In its response, DOD agreed that there is
room to improve the involvement of stakeholders. In addition, DOD stated
that it developed a strategic workforce plan that aligns with long-term
mission goals and has identified strategies to address critical competency
gaps, including target skillsets. However, as noted in our report, the 10
slide presentation that constitutes the hiring plan lacks details that would
be included in a comprehensive workforce plan. For example, the hiring
plan did not explain how the hiring needs would be specifically tied to
long-term goals, such as National Defense Strategy requirements.
Although the hiring plan mentions some skillsets, it does not include a
competency gap assessment or assess personnel requirements. As


Page 27                                     GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
noted in our report, OASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM officials stated that the
initial personnel requirements developed by the Army study were
inaccurate for several reasons, including the lack of a standardized
process to assess personnel requirements. Accordingly, we continue to
believe that until OASD-SO/LIC develops a comprehensive strategic
workforce plan that includes key principles outlined in our report, OASD-
SO/LIC could be at risk of hiring personnel who may not adequately meet
its needs to perform the roles and responsibilities of section 922.


We are sending copies of this report to other interested congressional
committees and the Acting Secretary of Defense. In addition, this report
will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at
http://www.gao.gov.

If you have any questions regarding this report, please contact me at
(202) 512-5431 or at russellc@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last page
of this report. Key contributors are listed in appendix II.




Cary Russell
Director
Defense Capabilities and Management




Page 28                                    GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Appendix I: Comments from the Department
             Appendix I: Comments from the Department of
             Defense



of Defense




             Page 29                                       GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Appendix I: Comments from the Department of
Defense




Page 30                                       GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Appendix I: Comments from the Department of
Defense




Page 31                                       GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
Appendix II: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Appendix II: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments


                  Cary Russell, (202) 512-5431 or russellc@gao.gov
GAO Contact:
                  In addition to the contact named above, Jim Reynolds (Assistant
Staff             Director), Tracy Barnes, Mikey Erb, Amie Lesser, Mike Silver, Cheryl
Acknowledgments   Weissman, and Yee Wong (Analyst-in-Charge) made key contributions to
                  this report.




(102910)
                  Page 32                                 GAO-19-386 Special Operations Forces
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