Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations: DOD Needs to Take Action to Help Ensure Superiority

What GAO Found

The electromagnetic spectrum (the spectrum) consists of frequencies worldwide that support many civilian and military uses, from mobile phone networks and radios to navigation and weapons. This invisible battlespace is essential to Department of Defense (DOD) operations in all domains—air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. The interruption of U.S. forces’ access to the spectrum can result in a military disadvantage, preventing U.S. forces from operating as planned and desired.

According to the studies by DOD and others that GAO reviewed for its December 2020 report on military operations in the spectrum, adversaries, such as China and Russia, are also aware of the importance of the spectrum and have taken significant steps to improve their own capabilities that challenge DOD and its operations. For example, studies described how China has formed new military units and fielded new unmanned aerial vehicles with spectrum warfare capabilities, and Russian electromagnetic warfare forces have demonstrated their effectiveness through successful real-world applications against U.S. and foreign militaries. These developments are particularly concerning in the context of challenges to DOD’s spectrum superiority. GAO’s analysis of the studies highlighted DOD management challenges such as dispersed governance, limited full-time senior-level leadership, outdated capabilities, a lengthy acquisition process, increased spectrum competition and congestion, and a gap in experienced staff and realistic training.

GAO found that DOD had issued strategies in 2013 and 2017 to address spectrum-related challenges, but did not fully implement either strategy because DOD did not assign senior leaders with appropriate authorities and resources or establish oversight processes for implementation. DOD published a new strategy in October 2020, but GAO found in December 2020 the department risks not achieving the new strategy’s goals because it had not taken key actions—such as identifying processes and procedures to integrate spectrum operations across the department, reforming governance structures, and clearly assigning leadership for strategy implementation. Also, it had not developed oversight processes, such as an implementation plan, that would help ensure accountability and implementation of the 2020 strategy goals (see figure).

Actions to Ensure DOD Superiority in the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Why GAO Did This Study

The spectrum is essential for facilitating control in operational environments and affects operations in the air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace domains. Spectrum use is pervasive across warfighting domains and thus maintaining or achieving spectrum superiority against an adversary is critical to battlefield success.

This statement summarizes: (1) the importance of the spectrum; (2) challenges to DOD’s superiority in the spectrum; and (3) the extent to which DOD has implemented spectrum-related strategies and is positioned to achieve future goals.

This statement is based on GAO’s December 2020 report (GAO-21-64) and updates conducted in March 2021. For the report, GAO analyzed 43 studies identified through a literature review, reviewed DOD documentation, and interviewed DOD officials and subject matter experts. For the updates, GAO reviewed materials that DOD provided in March 2021.

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    The Navy's July 2020 report identified two key causes and several contributing factors regarding maintenance delays for aircraft carriers, surface ships, and submarines, but did not identify other causes. For public shipyards, the Navy's report identified the key cause of maintenance delays as insufficient capacity relative to growing maintenance requirements. For private shipyards, the Navy's report identified the key cause as the addition of work requirements after a contract is awarded. These causes and other identified factors generally align with factors that GAO has previously identified as originating during the maintenance process. However, the Navy's report did not consider causes and factors originating in the acquisition process or as a result of operational decisions, as shown below. GAO-Identified Factors Contributing to Maintenance Delays That the Navy Identified in Its July 2020 Report The report identified stakeholders needed to implement action plans, but did not fully incorporate other elements of results-oriented management, including achievable goals, metrics to measure progress, and resources and risks. Some examples from the report: Stakeholders: Identified Naval Sea Systems Command as the primary implementer of most initiatives related to maintenance at shipyards. Goals: Included a goal of reducing days of maintenance delay by 80 percent during fiscal year 2020.The Navy did not achieve this goal based on GAO's analysis of Navy data. Metrics: Included some metrics. The Navy is still identifying and developing other key metrics. Resources: Did not identify costs of the actions in the report. Risks: Identified as risks the coronavirus pandemic, unstable funding, and limited material availability. However, the report did not assess additional risks that GAO previously identified. The Navy generally has been unable to complete ship and submarine maintenance on time, resulting in reduced time for training and operations, and additional costs. The Navy's ability to successfully maintain its ships is affected by numerous factors throughout a ship's life cycle, such as decisions made during acquisition, which occurs years before a ship arrives at a shipyard for maintenance. Others manifest during operational use of the ship or during the maintenance process. The conference report accompanying a bill for the Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act directed the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report identifying the underlying causes of maintenance delays for aircraft carriers, surface ships, and submarines and to include elements of results-oriented management. The conference report also included a provision for GAO to review the Navy's report that was released in July 2020. This report evaluates the extent to which the Navy's report (1) identifies the underlying causes of maintenance delays and (2) incorporates elements of results-oriented management. GAO reviewed the Navy's report and interviewed Navy officials. Since 2015, GAO has made 39 unclassified recommendations related to Navy maintenance delays. The Navy or the Department of Defense concurred or partially concurred with 37 recommendations, and had implemented six of them as of September 2020. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov.
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  • Navy and Marine Corps: Services Continue Efforts to Rebuild Readiness, but Recovery Will Take Years and Sustained Management Attention
    In U.S GAO News
    The Navy and Marine Corps continue to face significant readiness challenges that have developed over more than a decade of conflict, budget uncertainty, and reductions in force structure. These challenges prevent the services from reaping the full benefit of their existing forces and attaining the level of readiness called for by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Both services have made encouraging progress identifying the causes of their readiness decline and have begun efforts to arrest and reverse it (see figure). However, GAO's work shows that addressing these challenges will require years of sustained management attention and resources. Recent events, such as the ongoing pandemic and the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard affect both current and future readiness and are likely to compound and delay the services' readiness rebuilding efforts. Selected Navy and Marine Corps Readiness Challenges Continued progress implementing GAO's prior recommendations will bolster ongoing Navy and Marine Corps efforts to address these readiness challenges. The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness is critical to success in the emerging security environment. The Navy and Marine Corps are working to rebuild the readiness of their forces while also growing and modernizing their aging fleets of ships and aircraft. Readiness recovery will take years as the Navy and Marine Corps address their multiple challenges and continue to meet operational demands. This statement provides information on readiness challenges facing (1) the Navy ship and submarine fleet and (2) Navy and Marine Corps aviation. GAO also discusses its prior recommendations on Navy and Marine Corps readiness and the progress that has been made in addressing them. This statement is based on previous work published from 2016 to November 2020—on Navy and Marine Corps readiness challenges, including ship maintenance, sailor training, and aircraft sustainment. GAO also analyzed data updated as of November 2020, as appropriate, and drew from its ongoing work focused on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. GAO made more than 90 recommendations in prior work cited in this statement. The Department of Defense generally concurred with most of GAO's recommendations. Continued attention to these recommendations can assist the Navy and the Marine Corps as they seek to rebuild the readiness of their forces. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or maurerd@gao.gov.
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  • Intellectual Property: CBP Has Taken Steps to Combat Counterfeit Goods in Small Packages but Could Streamline Enforcement
    In U.S GAO News
    The European Union (EU) and U.S. approaches to enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) differ with respect to counterfeit goods in small packages, which are often sent through express carrier services or international mail. The EU uses a streamlined, application-based procedure to destroy suspected counterfeits in small packages. Through this procedure, rights holders request that member state customs authorities take action against such packages. The procedure allows customs authorities to bill rights holders for certain associated costs, and gives customs authorities discretion in sharing data with rights holders. In the U.S., U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is required to seize any goods it determines to be counterfeit, and typically destroys such goods, regardless of shipment size. CBP does not bill rights holders for the cost of enforcement, and is required to provide specific information to rights holders after seizure of goods. EU and U.S. customs officials reported common challenges in combating the flow of counterfeit goods in small packages. For example, EU and U.S. officials said the large volume of small packages makes it difficult for customs agencies to prioritize resources among competing needs such as drug enforcement and security. EU and U.S. officials also reported that a lack of adequate data on these packages is a challenge in taking enforcement action against them. Bags of Small Packages at Mail Facilities in Germany and France While CBP has taken steps to address these challenges, its primary enforcement processes are not tailored to combat counterfeit goods in small packages. According to CBP officials, from 2014 to 2018, CBP piloted a program to help address the volume of such packages by facilitating the abandonment of goods that it suspected—but had not determined—to be counterfeit. In 2019, CBP initiated a program to obtain additional data, and as of July 2020 had begun using these data to assess the risk that such packages contained counterfeit goods. However, CBP officials said that the seizure and forfeiture processes they are required to use for goods determined to be counterfeit are time and resource intensive. In April 2019, the White House required DHS to identify changes, including enhanced enforcement actions, to mitigate the trafficking of counterfeit goods. In January 2020, DHS proposed several actions that CBP could take, but CBP has not decided which to pursue to streamline its enforcement. Without taking steps to develop a streamlined enforcement approach, CBP will continue to face difficulty in addressing the influx of counterfeit goods in small packages. Counterfeit goods infringe on IPR, and can harm the U.S. economy and threaten consumer safety. CBP, the U.S. agency tasked with enforcement against counterfeits at the border, has reported that the annual number of small packages sent to the U.S. since fiscal year 2013 more than doubled, and small packages seized often contain counterfeit goods. The European Union Intellectual Property Office noted similar economic and consumer safety impacts in Europe, as well as increases in counterfeit goods in small packages. GAO was asked to review IPR enforcement practices in other advanced economies, and the extent to which CBP could apply those practices. This report examines: (1) how elements of the EU and U.S. approaches to combating counterfeit goods in small packages compare, (2) any enforcement challenges posed by these goods, and (3) the extent to which CBP has taken steps to address these challenges. GAO reviewed agency documents; interviewed CBP and customs officials in the EU; and met with private sector stakeholders, such as express carriers. GAO recommends that CBP take steps to develop a streamlined enforcement approach against counterfeit goods in small packages. CBP concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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  • Medicare Severe Wound Care: Spending Declines May Reflect Site of Care Changes; Limited Information Is Available on Quality
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's analysis of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data show that in fiscal year 2018, 287,547 Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries had inpatient stays that included care for severe wounds. These wounds include those where the base of the wound is covered by dead tissue or non-healing surgical wounds. About 73 percent of the inpatient stays occurred in acute care hospitals (ACH), and a smaller percentage of stays occurred in post-acute care facilities. Specifically, about 16 percent of stays were at skilled nursing facilities (SNF), and about 7 percent were at long-term care hospitals (LTCH). CMS data show that Medicare spending on stays for severe wound care was $2.01 billion in fiscal year 2018, representing a decline of about 2 percent from fiscal year 2016, when spending was about $2.06 billion. Spending declined as a result of decreases in both the total number of these stays, as well as spending per stay, which both decreased by about 1 percent. The decrease in per stay spending was likely driven, in part, by a change in where beneficiaries received care. CMS data show fewer severe wound care stays in LTCHs, which tend to be paid higher payment rates. At the same time, more severe wound care stays were at two other types of facilities that tend to be paid lower payment rates: ACHs and inpatient rehabilitation facilities. GAO's analysis of CMS data also show that, while the number of LTCHs that billed Medicare for severe wound care decreased by about 7 percent from fiscal years 2016 to 2018, Medicare beneficiaries continued to have access to other severe wound care providers. For example, CMS data show that most beneficiaries resided within 10 miles of an ACH or SNF that provided severe wound care in fiscal year 2018. Figure: Percentage of Medicare Fee-for-Service Beneficiaries Residing within 10 Miles of a Health Care Facility That Provided Any Severe Wound Care, by Facility Type, Fiscal Year 2018 Note: The “other” category includes facilities such as psychiatric hospitals or units. There is limited information on how or whether the decrease in LTCH care for severe wounds may have affected the quality of severe wound care Medicare beneficiaries receive. For example, CMS collects information on the percentage of patients with new or worsened pressure ulcers at post-acute care facilities, but it does not measure the quality of care they receive. Medicare beneficiaries with serious health conditions, such as strokes, are prone to developing severe wounds due to complications that often lead to immobility and prolonged pressure on the skin. These beneficiaries may require a long-term inpatient stay at an ACH or a post-acute care facility, such as an LTCH. LTCHs treat patients who require care for longer than 25 days, on average. In 2018, LTCHs represented about $4.2 billion in Medicare expenditures. Prior to fiscal year 2016, LTCHs received a higher payment rate for treating Medicare beneficiaries than ACHs. Beginning in fiscal year 2016, a dual payment system was phased in that paid LTCHs a rate similar to ACHs for some beneficiaries and a higher rate for beneficiaries that met certain criteria. As this payment system has moved from partial to full implementation, lawmakers had questions about how it may affect beneficiaries' severe wound care. The 21st Century Cures Act included a provision for GAO to review severe wound care provided to Medicare beneficiaries. This report describes facilities where Medicare beneficiaries received severe wound care, Medicare severe wound care spending, and what is known about the dual payment system's effect on access and quality. GAO analyzed Medicare severe wound care access and spending data for fiscal years 2016 and 2018 (the most recent data available); reviewed reports; and interviewed CMS officials, researchers, and national wound care stakeholders. HHS provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
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