GAO Identifies Five Major Challenges for DOD

The Government Accountability Office has identified five major problem areas for the Department of Defense, including readiness, threats in the cyberspace domain, controlling escalating costs of weapons systems and medical care, managing human capital, and improving the efficiency of business practices.

The report, released on Tuesday, says that since 2006, the GAO has offered more than 3,000 recommendations to the DOD in these problem areas, noting that “if implemented, could strengthen DOD’s accountability, programs, and services.” Yet, the Department has implemented only 69 percent of those recommendations, leaving more than 1,000 open. Of these, 78 open recommendations are identified by GAO as “high priority.”

The report cites a “lack of sustained leadership involvement” as one of four reasons why these long-identified problems have yet to be sufficiently addressed by the department. The report also cites “inefficient strategic planning” as a major problem—one area in which the Air Force is criticized in the report.

The report notes that “the Air Force is taking a number of steps to try to mitigate any potential negative impacts from its proposed A-10 divestments, but it has not established clear requirements for the missions the A-10 performs, and in the absence of these requirements has not fully identified the capacity or capability gaps that could result from its divestment”

GAO says it has recommended in the past that USAF “develop quality information to inform its decision” before moving forward with the A-10 divestment, and it says the service’s FY18 budget request “appears to align with this recommendation.”

On manning issues, the report states that the Air Force “has not comprehensively reassessed the assumptions underlying the annual training requirements for its combat aircrews since 2012. We raised questions as to whether the assumptions used by the Air Force about the total annual live-fly sortie requirements by aircraft, the criteria for designating aircrews as experienced or inexperienced, and the mix between live and simulator training account for current and emerging training needs.”

Former Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow has said many of those questions will be answered by the ongoing defense strategy review.

The Air Force also has failed to correctly gauge the “crew ratios” needed to fulfill its RPA pilot requirements, according to GAO, and both USAF and the Army have failed to address the pilot shortage by “evaluating the extent to which federal civilians could be used as pilots.”

However, the Air Force unveiled a massive overhaul of its remotely piloted aircraft enterprise in December 2015. The get-well plan opened up the doors to enlisted airmen to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk and looked to revamp career tracks for officer operators and enlisted maintainers. It also sought additional help from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

As to the pilot shortage, senior Air Force leaders have met several times with the airline industry in an effort to find solutions that work for both the military and commercial aviation, including the possibility of allowing pilots to split time between military and commercial flying.

Overall, the GAO insists “the department has made noteworthy progress addressing key challenges that affect its mission” as outlined by the report, “but significant work remains.” The report makes no new recommendations, but emphasizes those made and left open in the recent past because “the need for progress will be critical in an era of increased uncertainty both domestically and abroad.”