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GAO’s Open High Priority Recommendations for the Pentagon

The following is the Aug. 22, 2022 open letter from the Government Accountability Office to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Defense.

From the report

We ask for your continued attention to the remaining 66 open priority recommendations identified in the 2021 letter. We are also adding 18 new recommendations related to Navy readiness, cybersecurity and the information environment, defense management, federal contracting, and financial management. This brings the total number of current priority recommendations to 84. (See the enclosure for the list of recommendations and actions needed to implement them.)

DOD’s 84 priority recommendations fall into the following eight areas.

1. Acquisitions and Contract Management. Fifteen of the 22 recommendations in this area, if implemented, would help DOD improve management of its costliest weapon acquisition programs. DOD expects these programs will cost more than $1.79 trillion to acquire, but many of these programs continue to fall short of cost, schedule, and performance goals.

As a result, DOD faces challenges delivering innovative technologies to the warfighter to keep pace with evolving threats, including those posed by strategic competitors, such as China and Russia.

To address this, we recommended, for example, that DOD define a science and technology management framework that includes emphasizing greater use of existing flexibilities to more quickly initiate and discontinue projects to respond to the rapid pace of innovation. We also recommended that DOD revise a Capability Portfolio Management directive in accordance with best practices and promote the development of better tools to enable more integrated portfolio reviews and analyses of weapon system investments. Implementation of the remaining seven recommendations in this area, including having the Army, Navy, and Air Force use a balanced set of performance metrics to manage their departments’ procurement organizations, including outcome-oriented metrics, would help to address risks involving contracted services and operational contract support.

2. Rebuilding Readiness and Force Structure. The 20 recommendations in this area relate to rebuilding and maintaining readiness and developing the force structure needed to execute the missions specified in the National Defense Strategy. The National Defense Strategy identifies building a resilient joint force as one of four defense priorities.13 For example, we recommended that the Navy use collected data on sailor fatigue to identify, monitor, and evaluate factors that contribute to fatigue and inadequate sleep such as the effects of crew shortfalls, work requirements, administrative requirements, and collateral duties. Implementation of these priority recommendations would help DOD field a more joint and ready force.

3. Financial Management. Implementing the 20 recommendations in this area would move the department closer to its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) financial audit opinion. Material weaknesses include intragovernmental transactions and intradepartmental eliminations, suspense accounts, legacy systems, and real property. Further, many of our recommendations also align with DOD’s fiscal year 2022 audit priority areas. For example, having a universe of transactions and improving internal controls over financial reporting are critical audit remediation efforts.

4. Driving Enterprise-Wide Business Reform. Implementing these four recommendations would help DOD reform its business operations to achieve greater performance and minimize fraud, waste, and abuse. Specifically, we recommended that DOD develop and institutionalize formal policies or agreements as they relate to DOD reform and efficiency collaboration efforts, in order for these efforts to be sustained beyond any leadership and organizational changes.

5. Cybersecurity and the Information Environment. Implementing these nine recommendations would assist DOD in addressing cyber and electromagnetic spectrum threats to U.S. national and economic security, which are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact. In particular, they would drive improvements in work roles, cyber hygiene, personnel vetting, and electromagnetic spectrum operations. For example, we recommended that DOD direct a component to monitor the extent to which practices are implemented to protect the department’s network from key cyberattack techniques.

6. Health Care. By implementing five recommendations related to TRICARE’s improper payments and DOD’s military treatment facilities, DOD would be better positioned to reduce or manage duplication, improve efficiencies, and reduce improper payments. To address improper payments, for example, we recommended that DOD implement a more comprehensive TRICARE improper payment measurement methodology that includes medical record reviews and develop more robust corrective action plans that address underlying causes of improper payments. Because health care costs are a significant driver of DOD’s budget, with the Defense Health Program accounting for $36.9 billion in DOD’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, focusing on health care is critical.

7. Preventing Sexual Harassment. The two recommendations in this area relate to unwanted sexual behaviors in the military that undermine core values, unit cohesion, combat readiness, and public goodwill. This includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence involving sexual assault. Specifically, we recommended that DOD develop a strategy for holding individuals in positions of leadership accountable for promoting, supporting, and enforcing the department’s sexual harassment policies and programs. Also, DOD should ensure that the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity develops and aggressively implements an oversight framework to help guide the department’s efforts. Implementation of our recommendations would help address the weaknesses we found in DOD’s approach to instituting effective policies and programs on sexual harassment.

8. Strengthening Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within DOD. The two recommendations in this area would help DOD become a workplace of choice that is characterized by diversity, equality, and inclusion and is free from barriers that may prevent personnel from realizing their potential and rising to the highest levels of responsibility. Specifically, we recommended that DOD ensure the services receive guidance on recruitment and retention efforts of female active-duty servicemembers and that DOD conduct an evaluation to identify and take steps to address the causes of any disparities in the military justice system. Implementation of our recommendations would strengthen the department’s efforts to recruit and retain female servicemembers, as well as better understand the reasons for racial and gender disparities in the military justice system.

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