Defense Management: Opportunities Exist to Improve DOD’s Reform Efforts

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has long sought to reform its enterprise business operations—such as its processes to manage contracts, finances, and supply chain— but faces challenges in improving department-wide management. DOD has taken some actions to improve its business operations data, but remains limited by the lack of reliable cost data, affecting its ability to monitor and inform its reform efforts. Having reliable data to identify baseline costs of the department’s business and management functions and to measure progress has been a key challenge facing DOD, but one the department is trying to address. As GAO reported in November 2020, DOD has made progress in setting baseline costs of certain activities, such as logistics and real estate management. Further, DOD has ongoing efforts to develop baselines for all of the department’s enterprise business operations that should enable it to better monitor reform progress. However, DOD needs better data about how it performs its business functions. For example, in September 2018, GAO reported that DOD’s efforts to reduce inefficiencies in human resources services were hampered by inconsistent performance data across the six organizations that provide these services. DOD has ongoing efforts to address GAO’s recommendations.

DOD still needs clear roles, responsibilities, authorities and dedicated resources to support reform. GAO has found that demonstrating sustained leadership commitment—including through ensuring that those responsible for leading change have clearly defined and documented roles, responsibilities, and authorities—is imperative for successful business transformation. GAO has assessed many of DOD’s organizational structures over the decades, including the recently eliminated Chief Management Officer (CMO) position. GAO found that, while Congress had given the CMO both significant responsibilities and authorities, DOD had not resolved unanswered questions about how those authorities would be carried out, nor communicated the CMO’s roles and responsibilities department-wide. GAO also identified instances where CMO reforms were hampered by a lack of resources. As DOD moves to an organization without the CMO position, which was eliminated in 2021, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of those tasked with managing business reform remains important.

DOD could also improve its efforts to reliably demonstrate progress toward meaningful reform. DOD has reported achievements from some of its department-wide efforts, such as its reported $37 billion in savings from fiscal years 2017 to 2021. However, GAO reported in November 2020 that while DOD’s reported savings were largely reflected in its budget materials, the underlying analyses were not always well documented and the savings were not always consistent with the department’s definitions of reform. For example, one reform initiative was based on delaying military construction projects that, according to DOD officials, allowed DOD to fund higher priorities. If a delayed project is still planned, however, the costs will likely be realized in a future year and are not a reflection of business process reform. DOD concurred with GAO’s recommendations to establish a process to standardize development and documentation of such cost savings, and ensure that reported savings are consistent with the department’s definitions of reform.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations and defense-wide agencies and programs intended to support the warfighter, including systems and processes related to the management of contracts, finances, the supply chain, support infrastructure, and weapon systems acquisition. The department’s approach to transforming these business operations is linked to its ability to perform its overall mission, directly affecting the readiness and capabilities of U.S. military forces.

This testimony summarizes GAO’s past work related to DOD’s efforts to improve the management of its business operations. Specifically, this testimony discusses DOD’s efforts to (1) improve data and baselines to monitor and inform reform efforts; (2) establish clear roles, responsibilities, and authorities for leading reform efforts, and dedicate resources to these efforts; and (3) reliably demonstrate progress in its reform efforts. This statement is based on GAO’s body of work issued from 2017 through 2020 on DOD management and business reform issues.

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    The Department of Justice announced today that it will participate in the Computational Antitrust project, hosted by the Stanford University CodeX Center and created by Professor Thibault Schrepel. The project brings together academics from law, computer science, and economics as well as developers, policymakers, and antitrust agencies from around the world to discuss how technology and automation can improve antitrust enforcement.
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  • IRS Reorganization: Planning Addressed Key Reform Practices, but Goals and Measures for the Plan Have Not Been Finalized
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified advantages of, challenges related to, and options for improving the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) current organizational structure, based on GAO's review of prior work and interviews with IRS officials and stakeholders. For example, one advantage of the current structure, according to several interviewees, is that IRS's divisions have developed specialized expertise on different types of taxpayers with similar needs, such as small businesses. Several interviewees also believed that addressing some of IRS's challenges may not require significant changes to IRS's organizational structure. GAO and others have identified challenges and options to improve IRS's structure, processes, and operations in the following areas: (1) customer service; (2) communication and coordination within IRS; (3) technology; and (4) strategic human capital management and training. While developing its reorganization plan required by the Taxpayer First Act, IRS addressed or partially addressed all six of the key practices for agency reforms that GAO reviewed (see table below). GAO Assessment of IRS's Reorganization Planning Process against Key Reform Practices Key reform practice Extent addressed Establishing goals and outcomes ◑ Involving employees and key stakeholders ● Using data and evidence ● Addressing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication ◑ Addressing high-risk areas and long-standing management challenges ◑ Leadership focus and attention ● Legend: ● Generally addressed ◑ Partially addressed ○ Not addressed Source: GAO analysis of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information. | GAO-21-18 IRS established a senior-level team—the Taxpayer First Act Office—to lead the reorganization planning, involved employees and key stakeholders, and used multiple sources of data and evidence to inform its planning. Although IRS has developed preliminary goals for the plan, it has not yet finalized and communicated the goals and performance measures for the plan. IRS has also researched potential actions it could take to address long-standing management challenges at IRS, such as those related to areas of fragmentation, overlap, duplication, and high risk that GAO has identified. However, IRS has not yet decided on specific actions to address those areas in its plan. IRS officials told us that they intend to take these additional steps, but COVID-19 delayed the completion of their reorganization plan to December 2020. As a result, it is still unclear whether the reorganization plan will have outcome-oriented goals and performance measures or whether it will identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. Taking these steps could help IRS identify and achieve the intended outcomes of the reorganization plan, and identify reforms that can create long-term gains in efficiency and effectiveness. The Taxpayer First Act required that a comprehensive written plan to redesign IRS be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2020. Reforming and reorganizing a federal agency as large and complex as IRS is not an easy task. However, a potential reorganization could provide IRS with an opportunity to address emerging and long-standing challenges. GAO was asked to review IRS's organizational structure and IRS's plans to reform it. This report examines (1) reported advantages of, challenges related to, and options for potentially improving IRS's organizational structure; and (2) the extent to which IRS's reorganization planning process is consistent with selected leading practices. GAO reviewed documents from IRS and other sources; interviewed IRS officials and stakeholders, including three former IRS commissioners; and assessed IRS's reorganization planning process against selected key practices for agency reform efforts developed by GAO. GAO is making three recommendations to IRS as it finalizes its reorganization plan, including that IRS should finalize goals and performance measures, and identify specific actions to address long-standing management challenges. IRS responded that it plans to implement GAO's recommendations when it submits its final reorganization plan to Congress in December 2020. For more information, contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512-9110 or mctiguej@gao.gov.
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  • Retirement Security: Debt Increased for Older Americans over Time, but the Implications Vary by Debt Type
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Americans age 50 or older had significantly more debt in 2016 than in 1989, according to GAO's analysis of Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data. Debt. The share of older households with debt was 71 percent in 2016 compared to 58 percent in 1989 (see figure). The median debt amount for older households with debt was about three times higher in 2016 ($55,300) than in 1989 ($18,900 in real 2016 dollars) and the share of older households with home, credit card, and student loan debt was significantly higher in 2016 than in 1989. Debt stress. The median ratio of debt to assets—known as the leverage ratio, a measure of debt stress—for older households was twice as high in 2016 than in 1989. Adverse debt outcomes. Measures of older individuals' adverse debt outcomes, including their share of mortgage and credit card debt that was late by at least 90 days, generally followed economic trends, peaking after the Great Recession of 2007-2009, according to GAO's analysis of Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) data from 2003 to 2019. However, the share of student loan debt that was late was significantly higher for older individuals in 2019 than in 2003. These trends in debt, debt stress, and adverse debt outcomes varied by older Americans' demographic and economic characteristics, including their age, credit score, and state of residence. For example, from 2003 to 2019, individuals in their late 70s often had higher shares of credit card and student loan debt that was late than those aged 50-74. In addition, older individuals with credit scores below 720—including those with subprime, fair, or good credit—had median student loan debt amounts that were more than twice as high in 2019 as in 2003. Further, older individuals in the Southeast and West had much higher median mortgage and student loan debt, as well as student loan delinquency rates, in 2019 than in 2003. Percent of Households Age 50 or Older with Any Debt (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio (Right) for These Households, 1989 to 2016 Note: The bars above and below the lines represent the bounds of 95 percent confidence intervals. While older Americans' overall debt and debt stress decreased as they aged, those in low-income households experienced greater debt stress according to GAO's analysis of Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data, a nationally representative survey that follows the same individuals over time. The share of older households in this cohort that had debt continuously decreased as they aged, from about 66 percent of households in 1992 to 38 percent in 2016, and the median leverage ratio declined from about 19 to 13 percent over this period (see figure). However, low-income households in this cohort consistently had greater levels of debt stress than high-income households. This disparity in debt stress increased as these households aged. Estimated Percent of Households with Any Debt for Those Born in 1931-1941 (Left) and Median Leverage Ratio for Those Households from 1992-2016 (Right) Notes: The lines overlapping the bars represent 95 percent confidence intervals. According to experts GAO interviewed, differences in debt type (that is, credit card versus housing debt) and debt stress levels will have varying effects on the retirement security of different groups. For example, experts noted that credit card debt has negative implications for older Americans' retirement security because credit cards often have high, variable interest rates and are not secured by any assets. In contrast, an increase in mortgage debt may have positive effects on retirement security because a home is generally a wealth-building asset. Experts also said that older individuals with lower incomes and unexpected health expenses are likely to experience greater debt stress, which can negatively affect retirement security. Similarly, experts noted that the increased debt stress faced by low-income households is also faced by non-White households. Further, GAO's analysis of data from the Survey of Consumer Finances found that in 2016, debt stress levels were about two times higher for Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Other/multiple-race households than for White households. Experts GAO interviewed noted it is too early to evaluate the retirement security implications of the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because CARES Act provisions suspend or forbear certain debt payments. However, as with past recessions, the COVID-19-related recession may reveal any economic fragility among older Americans who, for example, lost jobs or cannot work because of the pandemic. Why GAO Did This Study GAO reported in 2019 that an estimated 20 percent of older American households aged 55 or older had less than $22,000 in income in 2016 and GAO reported in 2015 that about 29 percent of older households had neither retirement savings accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) nor a defined benefit plan in 2013. Older Americans held nearly half of the total outstanding debt in 2020—and these debts may affect retirement security. The Census Bureau projects the number of older Americans will increase. GAO was asked to report on debt held by older Americans. This report examines (1) how the types, levels, and outcomes of debt changed for older Americans over time, including for different demographic and economic groups; (2) how the types and levels of debt held by the same older Americans changed as they aged, including for those in different demographic groups; and (3) the implications of these debt trends for the general retirement security of older Americans and their families. GAO analyzed data from two nationally representative surveys–the SCF (1989 through 2016 data) and the HRS (1992 through 2016 longitudinal data)–and nationally representative administrative data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's CCP (2003 through 2019). These datasets were the most recent available at the time of GAO's analyses. GAO also reviewed studies and interviewed experts that GAO identified from these studies to further analyze the relationship between debt and retirement security. For more information, contact Kris Nguyen, (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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  • Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. GAO was asked to examine U.S. energy infrastructure resilience. This report describes: (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of F-35 Affordability Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements, as discussed in our draft report. Specifically, from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet's average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59 to 69 percent; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32 to 39 percent. Both metrics fall below the services' objectives. For example, in fiscal year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54 percent, versus a 72 percent objective. Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone (see fig.). The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program. Gap between F-35 Affordability Constraints and Estimated Sustainment Costs in 2036 Note: Costs are in constant year 2012 dollars as that was the year when the F-35 program was most recently re-baselined. aSteady state years for the F-35 program are defined in each respective service's affordability analysis as: US Air Force/F-35A – 2036-2041; US Marine Corps/F-35B – 2033-2037; US Navy/F-35C – 2036-2043. Steady state refers to the program's peak operating point. The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD's demonstrated progress would enhance DOD's accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet. Why GAO Did This Study The F-35 aircraft with its advanced capabilities represents a growing portion of DOD's tactical aviation fleet—with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy currently flying about 400 of the aircraft. It is also DOD's most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with estimated life-of-program costs exceeding $1.7 trillion. DOD plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s at an estimated total acquisition cost of just under $400 billion. The remaining $1.3 trillion in life cycle costs is associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft. This statement, among other things, assesses the extent to which (1) the F-35 has met warfighter-required mission capable rates; and (2) DOD has reduced the F-35's estimated life cycle sustainment costs and made progress in meeting its affordability constraints. This statement is largely based on GAO's draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report and this statement, GAO reviewed program documentation, analyzed performance and cost data, collected data from F-35 locations, and interviewed officials.
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