Information Environment: DOD Operations Need Enhanced Leadership and Integration of Capabilities

What GAO Found

At its core, information operations (IO) are the integration of information-related capabilities during military operations to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own. (See figure.) For example, in seeking to facilitate safe and orderly humanitarian assistance, the Department of Defense (DOD) would conduct IO by influencing host nation and regional cooperation through the integration of public affairs activities and military information support operations.

Information Operations and Selected Information-Related Capabilities

GAO found, in 2019, that DOD had made limited progress in implementing the 2016 DOD IO strategy and faced a number of challenges in overseeing the IO enterprise and integrating its IO capabilities. Specifically:

  • In seeking to implement the strategy, DOD had not developed an implementation plan or an investment framework to identify planning priorities to address IO gaps.
  • DOD has established department-wide IO roles and responsibilities and assigned most oversight responsibilities to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The Under Secretary had exercised some responsibilities, such as establishing an executive steering group. However, the Under Secretary had not fulfilled other IO oversight responsibilities, such as conducting an assessment of needed tasks, workload, and resources. Instead, the Under Secretary delegated these responsibilities to an official whose primary responsibilities are focused on special operations and combatting terrorism.
  • DOD had integrated information-related capabilities in some military operations, but had not conducted a posture review to assess IO challenges. Conducting a comprehensive posture review to fully assess challenges would assist DOD in effectively operating while using information-related capabilities.

Why GAO Did This Study

U.S. potential adversaries—including near-peer competitors Russia and China—are using information to achieve objectives below the threshold of armed conflict. DOD can use information operations to counter these activities.

This testimony summarizes GAO’s past work related to DOD’s IO capabilities. Specifically, it discusses: (1) DOD’s information operation terms and concept, and (2) DOD’s actions to implement the 2016 DOD IO strategy and address oversight and integration challenges. This statement is based on GAO’s August and October 2019 reports (GAO-19-510C and GAO-20-51SU) and updates conducted in April 2021.

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    What GAO Found Personnel in the Department of Defense (DOD)—including service members and civilian employees—may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program if they remain in public service employment for 10 years while making 120 qualifying loan payments, among other requirements. As of January 2020, Department of Education (Education) data show that 287 DOD borrowers received loan forgiveness, while 5,180 DOD borrowers (about 94 percent) were denied (see figure). The most common reasons for the denials were not enough qualifying payments and missing information on the form. GAO previously reported in September 2019 an overall denial rate of 99 percent for all PSLF applications submitted by borrowers. More information from DOD could help potential applicants be aware of all eligibility requirements. Number of Department of Defense (DOD) Personnel Approved or Denied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), as of January 31, 2020 Note: The “Civilian” categories include all civilian employees within DOD, including the military services. As its administrator, Education has specialized knowledge about the PSLF program but has not shared complete information with DOD. Education officials have not shared with DOD summary information about its personnel who have taken steps to pursue PSLF or service members who may be eligible. Education officials also stated they have not shared the benefits of using the PSLF program together with DOD's student loan repayment program. Education officials have also not updated the student loan guide for service members with specific information on PSLF. Education could take additional steps to improve information sharing about PSLF with DOD personnel. DOD officials expressed interest in obtaining more program information. Collaboration among the departments and updated program information could help DOD officials and its personnel to take full advantage of PSLF. DOD does not widely use the PSLF program for recruitment and retention to promote readiness despite facing challenges in certain specialty career fields. Some DOD officials we interviewed stated that they preferred to use other DOD benefits and incentives that DOD directly controls, such as bonuses or DOD's student loan repayment program. DOD could enhance its recruitment and retention efforts to promote readiness with department-wide and service-specific guidance about how the PSLF program could be used as a tool for such efforts. Why GAO Did This Study At a time when student loan debt continues to mount for many, the PSLF program—established in 2007 and administered by Education—is intended to encourage individuals to pursue careers in public service. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to study the effectiveness of the PSLF program at promoting military and civilian recruitment and retention as well as military readiness. GAO's report assesses the extent to which (1) DOD personnel pursue and receive loan forgiveness through the PSLF program, (2) Education has shared information with DOD officials and its military and civilian personnel about the program, and (3) DOD uses the program for recruitment and retention to promote readiness. GAO analyzed student loan data from Education and the PSLF servicer from the beginning of the program through January 2020; reviewed relevant laws, documents, and other information related to PSLF, benefits, recruitment, retention, and readiness; and interviewed DOD and Education officials.
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    In Crime News
    Today, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York unsealed the indictment of one fisherman, a wholesale fish dealer, and two of its managers for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and obstruction in connection with a scheme to illegally overharvest fluke and black sea bass. All four defendants are from Montauk.
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  • Justice Department Issues Favorable Business Review Letter To ISDA For Proposed Amendments To Address Interest Rate Benchmarks
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced today that it has completed its review of the proposal by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association Inc. (ISDA) to amend its standardized model documentation for derivatives to account for the potential discontinuation of certain interbank offered rates (collectively referred to as “IBORs”).  The department has concluded, based on the representations in ISDA’s letter request, including its description of certain safeguards, that ISDA’s proposed amendments to its standardized documentation are unlikely to harm competition.  Therefore, the department does not presently intend to challenge ISDA’s proposed amendments to its standardized documentation for derivatives.
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  • Aviation Sanitation: FDA Could Better Communicate with Airlines to Encourage Voluntary Construction Inspections of Aircraft Galleys and Lavatories
    In U.S GAO News
    Most commercial aircraft undergo voluntary inspections to ensure that galleys and lavatories are constructed and assembled to meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) sanitation standards, according to industry representatives. Twenty-seven percent of the inspections FDA conducted between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 found objectionable conditions. But in nearly all of these instances, the conditions identified, such as the need for additional sealant in areas where there was a gap or seam, were corrected by the airline or aircraft manufacturer during the inspection. However, some regional airline representatives told GAO that their aircraft do not receive these construction inspections, either because larger airlines with which they have contracts told them the inspections were unnecessary or because they did not believe the inspections were relevant to them. FDA provides these inspections free of charge, upon request of aircraft manufacturers or airlines, and aircraft passing inspection receive a certificate of sanitary construction. Representatives of one aircraft manufacturer said they view the certificate as beneficial because their customers see it as a guarantee that the aircraft was constructed in a way that decreases the likelihood of microbial contamination, pests, and insects. While the construction inspections are important, they are not required, and FDA does not proactively encourage airlines to request them. By developing a process for communicating directly to all U.S.-based commercial airlines, including regional airlines, to encourage them to receive construction inspections, FDA could better ensure that aircraft meet FDA sanitation standards to protect passenger health. An Airline Representative Applying Additional Sealant in Response to an FDA Inspection FDA faces several challenges in providing construction inspections and is taking steps to address these challenges. For example, the demand for inspections by manufacturers and airlines is unpredictable, and FDA inspectors are responsible for inspections at multiple locations. To help mitigate these challenges, officials we interviewed from four FDA field offices said they usually request advance notice from industry to allow the agency time to allocate the necessary resources for construction inspections. Voluntary construction inspections are the primary mechanism by which FDA oversees compliance with its required sanitation standards for the construction of aircraft galleys and lavatories. A report accompanying the House 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included a provision for GAO to review FDA's process for ensuring proper sanitation in aircraft galleys and lavatories. This report (1) examines the extent to which aircraft are inspected to ensure compliance with FDA's sanitation standards, and (2) discusses challenges FDA faces in providing aircraft inspections and how FDA is addressing such challenges. GAO reviewed FDA guidance, interviewed FDA officials in headquarters and four selected field offices with high volumes of construction inspections, conducted site visits to meet with FDA inspectors, and interviewed representatives of selected aircraft manufacturers and airlines. GAO recommends that FDA develop a process for communicating directly with all U.S.-based commercial airlines to encourage them to request construction inspections. FDA generally agreed with our recommendation. For more information, contact Steve Morris (202) 512-3841 MorrisS@gao.gov.
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  • U.S.-Based Promoter of Foreign Cryptocurrency Companies Charged in over $11 Million Securities Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California man was charged in a complaint unsealed today for his alleged participation in a coordinated cryptocurrency and securities fraud scheme that used purported digital currency platforms and foreign-based financial accounts.
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  • Final Member of Violent Baltimore “Trained to Go” Gang Sentenced to More Than 11 Years in Federal Prison for Racketeering and Drug Conspiracies
    In Crime News
    A Baltimore, Maryland, man was sentenced today to 138 montjhs in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release for federal charges of conspiring to participate in a violent racketeering enterprise known as Trained To Go (TTG), and for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. 
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  • Former Air Force Contractor Pleads Guilty to Illegally Taking 2,500 Pages of Classified Information
    In Crime News
    A former contractor with the U.S. Air Force pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio today to illegally taking approximately 2,500 pages of classified documents.
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