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GAO report: Defense Department must increase oversight of its support agencies

The U.S. Capitol, on July 29, 2018.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 6, 2018

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department needs to install a series of new measures to address whether its support agencies, such as human resources, are inefficient, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report calls on the Defense Department to establish more guidelines to routinely assess the need for the 27 agencies, which sometimes overlap and duplicate efforts. 

The defense agencies and Defense Department field activities, also known as “DAFAs,” need the routine assessments to catch wasteful spending, according to the GAO, an investigative arm for Congress that routinely reviews U.S. agencies and programs. The report did not include estimates for how much money the department could save, but it stated such efforts could help the department meet its goals to cut billions each year in spending.

The Defense Department “maintains military forces with unparalleled capabilities; however, it continues to confront organizational and management challenges that hinder collaboration and integration across the department,” the GAO stated in its report to lawmakers following a 13-month study of the DAFAs. “DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain the business functions designed to support the warfighter, such as managing finances, information systems, contracts, and weapon systems. DOD is in the midst of significant management reorganization and reform intended to address long-standing weaknesses in its business operations.”

The Defense Department is required to review services and supplies of the support agencies to ensure they are still necessary, the GAO said. The 27 agencies, which employ more than 380,000 civilian and military personnel, handle areas such as human resources, security, research and development, missile defense and media services. It includes the Defense Health Agency, Missile Defense Agency, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the Washington Headquarters Services and Defense Media Activity, which includes funding for media outlets such as Stars and Stripes.

The agencies have seen more than $100 billion in funding in past fiscal years, the report noted.

The Defense Department “does not comprehensively or routinely assess the continuing need for its defense agencies and DOD field activities,” according to the report, which was released Thursday. It added, “there is fragmentation and overlap within the DAFAs that provide human resources services to other defense agencies or organizations within DOD.” 

Since 2012, the Defense Department has relied on the annual budget process and day-to-day management of the agencies to review their efficiencies.  

But the GAO said those efforts have been insufficient and have not provided enough evidence to ensure the support agencies are effective and economical or are the most efficient option, the GAO concluded in its report mandated by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which directs policies and spending for the Pentagon.

“As such, DOD and congressional decision-makers may not have reasonable assurance of a continuing need for the DAFAs,” the report stated. 

At least six Defense Department organizations, including three of the support agencies known as DAFAs, perform human resources for other parts of the Pentagon. One of the DAFAs receives human resources services from all six organizations.

That overlap creates a maze of human resources across the Defense Department. For example, the Army uses the Defense Financing Accounting Service for some of its human resources when the military branch could handle the same demands, the report stated. The Washington Headquarters Services provides certain human resource services to presidential civilian appointees that could be handled instead by the appointee’s military branch.

Also, Defense Department officials told the GAO that there are more than 800 fragmented information technology systems used to store and record training records across the department, which are costly to maintain, according to the report. A reform team was established to reduce inefficiencies with this function, but it lacks comprehensive information on costs that could help guide reform, among other concerns.

For example, it’s difficult to track a comprehensive estimate for time-to-hire for certain positions, with ranges between 65 days to 120 days across the various organizations, according the report. An effort to consolidate that IT system, which was slated to be completed in January, is now on hold as the Defense Department reconsiders other options, the report stated.

“This has resulted in negative effects, such as inconsistent performance information regarding hiring, fragmented information technology systems, and inefficiencies associated with overhead costs,” the GAO report stated.

The GAO laid out five recommendations to rectify the concerns. The Defense Department concurred with the recommendations, the GAO said.

In its recommendations, the GAO said the Defense Department could develop internal guidance to conduct and record its reviews of DAFAs, collect consistent performance information, document comprehensive overhead cost information, establish time frames for key reform efforts, and ensure routine and comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of ongoing efficiency initiatives.

The Defense Department “agrees with your assessment,” the Pentagon’s Chief Management Officer John Gibson said in an Aug. 24 letter to the GAO. “We concur with the report’s recommendations.”

The report suggested Gibson, who was confirmed this year as Chief Management Officer, a new position within the Pentagon, help direct the reforms.

However, the GAO report comes a day after the Wall Street Journal reported Gibson might be dismissed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for performance issues, sources told the publication. Such a move could delay these reforms for the support agencies.

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter:@cgrisales
 

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