Service Acquisitions: DOD’s Report to Congress Identifies Steps Taken to Improve Management, But Does Not Address Some Key Planning Issues

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on contractors to provide a wide array of services, including support for management, information technology, and weapon systems. DOD obligated about $190 billion on service acquisitions in fiscal year 2019 (see figure).

Department of Defense Obligations for Service Acquisitions by Military Department and Defense Agencies and Field Activities, Fiscal Year 2019

Since 2001, GAO has highlighted service acquisitions as an issue for oversight within the DOD Contract Management area in its High-Risk List. Among other things, the High-Risk List and GAO’s prior work have identified that:

  • DOD’s service requirements reviews were narrowly focused on individual contracts rather than entire capability portfolios,
  • DOD’s efforts to use its inventory of contracted services to inform management decisions were hindered by data collection issues, and
  • DOD’s budget exhibits did not clearly identify service acquisitions.

In October 2020, DOD issued a report to Congress describing its current mechanisms and plans for managing and overseeing service contracts. GAO found that this report addresses some of the key issues identified in GAO’s High-Risk List, but does not address others.

Requirement reviews. The DOD report summarizes guidance the department issued in January 2020 that links requirements reviews to budget trade-offs, and clarifies the relationship between service acquisition management and category management activities. Category management is an Office of Management and Budget-led, government-wide initiative to reorganize government spending around fewer, larger contracts and use the government’s purchasing power to buy like a single enterprise. These efforts have the potential to improve how requirements reviews support budget trade-off decisions within and across capability portfolios.

Inventory of contracted services. The DOD report discusses the department’s recent transition to the government-wide system other federal agencies use to collect data for their inventories of contracted services, and explains that this transition is intended to reduce the burden of data collection for defense contractors and improve compliance. However, the report does not discuss how DOD plans to use this data to inform decision-making and workforce planning, the key issues GAO has identified in past work.

Future-year spending plans. The DOD report does not discuss our finding in a prior report that DOD could improve its ability to strategically manage service acquisitions by improving visibility on future budgetary requirements. Instead, DOD’s report states that DOD plans to address capability gaps in budget planning for service contracts in a separate effort in response to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that might address GAO’s recommendations. DOD officials told GAO they are working to better understand that provision before initiating their effort.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Senate report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on current mechanisms for overseeing defense service contracts, and for GAO to assess this report. DOD issued its report to Congress in the second week of October 2020. This GAO report assesses the extent to which that DOD report addresses service acquisition issues identified in GAO’s High-Risk List and other products.

GAO reviewed DOD’s report to Congress on defense service acquisitions and GAO’s past reports on defense service acquisitions, including GAO’s 2019 High-Risk List and 11 other products issued between 2011 and 2018. GAO collected and assessed additional documentation from DOD offices and military departments, and interviewed officials from these offices and departments to collect additional information about DOD plans to improve service acquisitions.

For more information, contact Timothy DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or DiNapoliT@gao.gov.

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    In 1996 Congress provided DOD with authorities enabling it to obtain private-sector financing and management to repair, renovate, construct, and operate military housing. DOD has since privatized about 99 percent of its domestic housing. The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in addressing weaknesses in its privatized housing program, and GAO has identified additional opportunities to strengthen the program. GAO reported in March 2020 on DOD's oversight and its role in the management of privatized housing. Specifically, GAO found that 1) the military departments conducted some oversight of the physical condition of privatized housing, but some efforts were limited in scope; 2) the military departments used performance metrics to monitor private developers, but the metrics did not provide meaningful information on the condition of housing; 3) the military departments and private developers collected maintenance data on homes, but these data were not captured reliably or consistently, and 4) DOD provided reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some data in these reports were unreliable, leading to misleading results. GAO made 12 recommendations, including that DOD take steps to improve housing condition oversight, performance indicators, maintenance data, and resident satisfaction reporting. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations. As of February 2021, DOD fully implemented 5 recommendations and partially implemented 7 recommendations. DOD should also take action to improve the process for setting basic allowance for housing (BAH)—a key source of revenue for privatized housing projects. In January 2021, GAO reported on DOD's process to determine BAH. GAO found that DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. GAO recommended that DOD review its methodology to increase sample sizes. GAO has also determined, in a report to be issued this week, that DOD should improve oversight of privatized housing property insurance and natural disaster recovery. GAO assessed the extent to which the military departments and the Office of the Secretary of Defense exercise oversight of their projects' insurance coverage. GAO found that the military departments have exercised insufficient oversight, and that the Office of the Secretary of Defense has not regularly monitored the military departments' implementation of insurance requirements. Without establishing procedures for timely and documented reviews, the military departments cannot be assured that the projects are complying with insurance requirements and assuming a proper balance of risk and cost. The draft of this report, which GAO provided to DOD for official comment, included 9 recommendations, 2 of which DOD addressed in January 2021 by issuing policy updates. The final report's 7 remaining recommendations, including that the military departments update their respective insurance review oversight procedures, will help strengthen DOD's oversight of privatized housing, once implemented. DOD concurred with all of the recommendations. Congress enacted the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) in 1996 to improve the quality of housing for servicemembers. DOD is responsible for general oversight of privatized housing projects. Private-sector developers are responsible for the ownership, construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair of about 99 percent of military housing in the United States. GAO has conducted a series of reviews of MHPI, following reports of hazards (such as mold) in homes, questions about DOD's process to determine the basic allowance for housing rates, which is a key revenue source for privatized housing, and concerns about how DOD ensures appropriate property insurance for privatized housing projects impacted by severe weather. This statement summarizes 1) steps DOD has taken to strengthen oversight and management of its privatized housing program, and work remaining; 2) actions needed to improve DOD's BAH process; and 3) actions needed to enhance DOD's oversight of privatized housing property insurance. The statement summarizes two of GAO's prior reports, and a report to be issued, related to privatized housing. For this statement, GAO reviewed prior reports, collected information on recommendation implementation, and interviewed DOD officials. In prior reports, GAO recommended that DOD improve oversight of housing conditions; review its process for determining basic allowance for housing rates; and that the military departments update their housing insurance review oversight procedures. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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  • Courts Suspending Jury Trials as COVID-19 Cases Surge
    In U.S Courts
    About two dozen U.S. district courts have posted orders that suspend jury trials or grand jury proceedings, and scale back other courthouse activities in response to a sharp nationwide rise in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. The surge in new court orders in recent weeks marks a significant pause in efforts by federal courts to resume full operations.
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  • Surface Transportation Security: TSA Has Taken Steps to Improve its Surface Inspector Program, but Lacks Performance Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Surface Transportation Security Inspector Operations Plan (TSA's plan), surface transportation security inspectors—known as surface inspectors—are to enter key details for program activities in the Performance and Results Information System (PARIS)—TSA's system of record for all surface inspector activities. In December 2017, GAO reported that TSA was unable to fully account for surface inspector time spent assisting with non-surface transportation modes, including aviation, due to data limitations in PARIS, and recommended TSA address these limitations. Since GAO's report, TSA updated PARIS to better track surface inspector activities in non-surface transportation modes. Transportation Security Administration Surface Inspectors Assess Security of a Bus System TSA's plan outlines steps to align work plan activities with risk assessment findings. However, TSA cannot comprehensively ensure surface inspectors are targeting program resources to high-risk modes and locations because it does not consistently collect information on entity mode or location in PARIS. According to officials, TSA plans to update PARIS and program guidance to require inspectors to include this information in the system by the end of fiscal year 2020. TSA's plan outlines performance measures for the surface inspector program, but does not establish quantifiable performance targets for all activities. Targets indicate how well an agency aspires to perform and could include, for example, entity scores on TSA security assessments, among others. By developing targets, TSA would be better positioned to assess the surface inspector program's progress in achieving its objective of increasing security among surface transportation entities. Surface transportation—freight and passenger rail, mass transit, highway, maritime and pipeline systems—is vulnerable to global terrorism and other threats. TSA is the federal agency primarily responsible for securing surface transportation systems. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires TSA to submit a plan to guide its Surface Transportation Security Inspectors Program. The Act includes a provision for GAO to review TSA's plan. This report examines the extent to which TSA's plan and its implementation: (1) address known data limitations related to tracking surface inspector activities among non-surface modes, (2) align surface operations with risk assessments, and how, if at all, TSA ensures inspectors prioritize activities in high-risk modes and locations, and (3) establish performance targets for the surface inspector program. GAO reviewed TSA's June 2019 plan and analyzed data on inspector activities for fiscal years 2017 through 2019. GAO interviewed officials in headquarters and a non-generalizable sample of 7 field offices selected based on geographical location and the presence of high-risk urban areas. GAO recommends that TSA establish quantifiable performance targets for the surface inspector program's activity-level performance measures. DHS concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Triana McNeil at (202) 512-8777 or McNeilT@gao.gov.
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  • Religious Freedom Concerns in Russia
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    In Crime News
    Today, following months of virtual meetings, testimony and study, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr submitted the final report of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to the White House.  This report represents the first comprehensive study of law enforcement in more than 55 years.
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  • Judges Share 50 Years as Colleagues and Friends
    In U.S Courts
    On the same afternoon in October 1970, the Senate confirmed four new federal judges from Florida. This month, three are celebrating a half-century on the bench, as well as a strong, continuing friendship.
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  • Medicaid Program Integrity: Action Needed to Ensure CMS Completes Financial Management Reviews in a Timely Manner
    In U.S GAO News
    Since fiscal year 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has initiated 49 financial management reviews (FMR) to examine state Medicaid agencies' compliance with a variety of federal policies. These 49 FMRs frequently found one or more instances of states' non-compliance. CMS identified instances of non-compliance that had a financial impact totaling about $358 million. CMS identified internal control weaknesses and directed states to make changes to their Medicaid policies. However, FMRs have not always examined topics or states that reflect the areas of highest expenditures. In 2018, GAO recommended that CMS improve its targeting of oversight resources. CMS agreed with this recommendation, but has not yet implemented it. In addition, CMS guidance generally expects draft FMR reports to be completed in the year they began. However, two-thirds of FMRs (26 of 39) initiated in fiscal years 2016 to 2019 were still under review in June 2020, which can delay state actions to address program vulnerabilities. CMS officials said that at least five states would not take actions—such as returning federal funds for unallowable expenditures—until they received a complete report. Status of Financial Management Reviews (FMR) Initiated in Fiscal Years 2016 to 2019, as of June 2020 CMS officials cited competing priorities, decreased staff, and the agency's review process—which involves multiple steps and levels of review—as factors affecting their use of FMRs for oversight. CMS took steps during the course of GAO's review to complete FMRs that had been under review for several years. The agency has not established time frames for the completion of individual review steps or for its overall review of FMR reports. Developing and implementing such time frames would provide a tool to help monitor CMS's progress in completing FMRs and ensure prompt action on FMR findings. Over the last two decades, Medicaid—a joint, federal-state health care financing program for low-income and medically needy individuals—more than tripled in expenditures and doubled in enrollment. CMS estimates the program will continue to grow, exceeding $1 trillion in expenditures and 81 million enrollees in 2028. The size and growth of Medicaid present oversight challenges. CMS is responsible for assuring that states' Medicaid expenditures comply with federal requirements, and FMRs are one of its financial oversight tools. CMS generally directs its regional offices to conduct one focused FMR each year on an area of high risk within their regions, typically within one state. GAO was asked to examine CMS's use of FMRs. In this report, GAO examines the extent to which CMS has used FMRs to oversee state Medicaid programs. GAO reviewed CMS documentation on FMR findings and their status, and resources assigned to FMRs and other financial review functions. GAO also interviewed CMS officials from all 10 regional offices and the central office, and assessed CMS's FMR policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. CMS should develop and implement time frames to ensure the timely completion of FMRs. The Department of Health and Human Services concurred with our recommendation. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • UK National Sentenced to Prison for Role in “The Dark Overlord” Hacking Group
    In Crime News
    A United Kingdom national pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit aggravated identity theft and computer fraud, and was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
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  • Financial Stability: Agencies Have Not Found Leveraged Lending to Significantly Threaten Stability but Remain Cautious Amid Pandemic
    In U.S GAO News
    In the years before the economic shock from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) and others assessed the potential risks to financial stability that leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligation (CLO) securities may pose. Generally, leveraged loans are those made to businesses with poor credit and high debt, and CLO securities are backed by these loans. FSOC and others found that riskier borrower profiles and looser underwriting standards left leveraged lending market participants vulnerable to losses in the event of a downturn. After the COVID-19 shock in March 2020, loans suffered record downgrades and increased defaults, but the highest-rated CLO securities remained resilient. Although regulators monitoring the effects of the pandemic remain cautious, as of September 2020, they had not found that leveraged lending presented significant threats to financial stability. Based on regulators' assessments, leveraged lending activities had not contributed significantly to the distress of any large financial entity whose failure could threaten financial stability. Large banks' strong capital positions have allowed them to manage their leveraged lending exposures, and the exposure of insurers and other investors also appeared manageable. Mutual funds experienced redemptions by investors but were able to meet them in part by selling leveraged loan holdings. While this may have put downward pressure on already-distressed loan prices, based on regulators' assessments, distressed leveraged loan prices did not pose a potential threat to financial stability. Present-day CLO securities appear to pose less of a risk to financial stability than did similar securities during the 2007–2009 financial crisis, according to regulators and market participants. For example, CLO securities have better investor protections, are more insulated from market swings, and are not widely tied to other risky, complex instruments. FSOC monitors leveraged-lending-related risks primarily through its monthly Systemic Risk Committee meetings, but opportunities exist to enhance FSOC's abilities to respond to financial stability threats. FSOC identified leveraged lending activities as a source of potential risk to financial stability before the COVID-19 shock and recommended continued monitoring and analysis. However, FSOC does not conduct tabletop or similar scenario-based exercises where participants discuss roles and responses to hypothetical emergency scenarios. As a result, FSOC is missing an opportunity to enhance preparedness and test members' coordinated response to financial stability risks. Further, as GAO reported in 2016, FSOC does not generally have clear authority to address broader risks that are not specific to a particular financial entity, such as risks from leveraged lending. GAO recommended that Congress consider better aligning FSOC's authorities with its mission to respond to systemic risks, but Congress had not done so as of September 2020. GAO maintains that changes such as broader designation authority would help FSOC respond to risks from activities that involve many regulators, such as leveraged lending. The market for institutional leveraged loans grew from an estimated $0.5 trillion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion in 2019, fueled largely by investor demand for CLO securities. Some observers and regulators have drawn comparisons to the pre-2008 subprime mortgage market, noting that loan origination and securitization may similarly spread risks to the financial system. These fears are being tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected leveraged businesses. This report examines assessments by regulators, FSOC, and others—both before and after the COVID-19 shock to the economy—of the potential risks to financial stability stemming from leveraged lending activities, and the extent to which FSOC monitors and responds to risks from broad-based activities like leveraged lending, among other objectives. GAO examined agency and private data on market size and investor exposures; reviewed agency, industry, and international reports; and interviewed federal financial regulators and industry participants. GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Treasury, as Chairperson of FSOC, conduct scenario-based exercises intended to evaluate capabilities for responding to crises. GAO also reiterates its 2016 recommendation (GAO-16-175) that Congress consider legislative changes to align FSOC's authorities with its mission. FSOC neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but said that it would take further actions if it determined necessary. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Abusive Tax Schemes: Offshore Insurance Products and Associated Compliance Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    Federal law provides certain tax benefits for transactions involving genuine insurance products, including insurance products held offshore. While taxpayers may lawfully hold offshore insurance products, they contain features that make them vulnerable for use in abusive tax schemes. For example, offshore insurance products can be highly technical and individualized, making enforcement challenging, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials. Furthermore, insurance is not defined by federal statute, potentially making a determination of what constitutes genuine insurance for federal tax purposes unclear. Offshore micro-captive insurance products, which are made by small insurance companies owned by the businesses they insure, may be abused if the corporate taxpayer improperly claims deductions for payments made to a micro-captive for federal tax purposes. Courts have applied certain considerations to determine whether these deductions can be claimed. For example, one consideration is whether the insurance legitimately distributes risk across participating entities. IRS officials said they expend significant resources reviewing these schemes because of the varied ways insurance companies may work. Offshore variable life insurance products, which are insurance policies with investment components over which the insured has certain control, may be abused if the individual taxpayer fails to meet IRS reporting requirements or pay appropriate federal income taxes. Federal regulations require that taxpayers with certain foreign life insurance accounts report this information to IRS and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The structure of life insurance products may vary and taxpayers are required to pay taxes based on the underlying type of financial product the policy represents. The figure below shows how noncompliance may occur when taxpayers use life insurance and micro-captive insurance in abusive tax schemes. Abusive Use of Micro-captive and Life Insurance When structured in abusive ways, insurance products held offshore can be designed to aid in unlawful tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers. Two products that IRS has recently warned have the potential for such abuse include micro-captive insurance and variable life insurance policies. GAO was asked to review how taxpayers may abuse offshore insurance products. This report describes (1) how offshore insurance tax shelters provide opportunities for income tax abuse; (2) how offshore micro-captive insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes; and (3) how offshore variable life insurance is used and how it is used in abusive tax schemes. GAO reviewed IRS tax and information return forms, relevant U.S. case law and IRS guidance, academic and trade publications, and applicable statutes and regulations. GAO also interviewed IRS officials and professionals in the tax preparation and insurance industries. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or LucasJudyJ@gao.gov.
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  • Courts Making Juror Safety a Top Priority
    In U.S Courts
    A small group of judges around the country have presided over jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number is growing as the backlog of criminal cases becomes an increasing concern among courts acutely aware that defendants are entitled to a fair, impartial, and timely trial. 
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  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    An Albuquerque man was charged on Sept. 29, 2020, in federal court for possessing fentanyl, heroin, and more than a kilo of methamphetamine, as well as four firearms.
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  • United States Reaches Settlement with Federal Way Public Schools to Resolve Student Complaints of Harassment on the Basis of Religion and National Origin
    In Crime News
    Today the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced a settlement agreement with Federal Way Public Schools in Washington to resolve an investigation into allegations of peer-on-peer harassment on the basis of religion and national origin.
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