Quadrennial Defense Review:

Future Reviews Can Benefit from Better Analysis and Changes in Timing and Scope

GAO-03-13: Published: Nov 4, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 2002.

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Congress mandated that every 4 years the Department of Defense (DOD) conduct a review to examine the national defense strategy and its implications for force structure, modernization, infrastructure and the budget. Because the 2001 review, which was issued on September 30, 2001, will have a significant impact on the department's planning and budget, GAO was asked to assess (1) the strengths and weaknesses of DOD's conduct and reporting of the review, and (2) whether changes in the QDR legislation could improve the usefulness of future reviews.

DOD's 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) was marked by both strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, the review was enhanced by the sustained involvement of the Secretary of Defense and other senior department leaders. It also led to the development of a new defense strategy that underscores the need to transform the forces to better meet the changing threats of a new security environment. On the other hand, DOD's decision to delay the start of the review until late spring 2001 constricted an already tight timetable; there was not always a clear link between the study team assignments and the legislatively required issues; the thoroughness of the analysis on these required issues varied considerably; and the assessment of force structure needs had some significant limitations. As a result, Congress did not receive comprehensive information on all required issues, and DOD lacks assurances that it has optimized its force structure and investment priorities to balance short-term and long-term risks. Options exist for changing the timing and refocusing the scope of the QDR to make it more useful to Congress and DOD. To address concerns that a new administration cannot study all the issues by the September 30 deadline, especially when there is a major change in the defense strategy, Congress could (1) delay the report by 4 months until the second February of a President's term, (2) delay the due date for 12 to 16 months, allowing significantly more time for analysis, or (3) require the report in two phases, the first to discuss the defense strategy, and the second--due during the second year of a 4-year term--to address force structure and other issues. Each option would also better support DOD's planning and budget cycle. In terms of the QDR's scope, Congress could eliminate issues that are less relevant in the new security environment or that are included in other routine DOD analyses. Congress could also reinstitute an advisory panel to help set the QDR's agenda.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress may with to consider revising the special requirements of the QDR to clarify what is expected and set clear priorities for DOD's work.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress reconsidered the legislation requiring the QDR in its discussions pursuant the John Warner National Defense Act of 2007. In the act (10 U.S.C. sec. 118) Congress delineated in detail its expectations for the issues future QDRs should address.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider extending the time frame of the QDR to allow more time for DOD to conduct comprehensive analyses and to create a better link with DOD's planning and budgeting process.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was implemented and DOD was allowed more time to submit the Quadrennial Defense Review.

    Matter: Congress may also with to consider establishing an advisory panel prior to the next review to identify the critical issues and programs that the QDR should address.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress dealt with the matter we raised in the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act of 2006 which was changed previous legislative language regarding the QDR to require the Secretary of Defense to establish an independent panel to conduct an assessment of the QDR not later than 6 months before the date on which the report is submitted to Congress. This new legislative language will apply with the 2008 QDR.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: If necessary, DOD should provide certain information, such as the key assumptions, scenarios, and alternatives it used in assessing its force structure requirements, in a classified format.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In the course of the 2006 QDR, the Department of Defense provided some congressional staff briefings on its primary tool to analyze its force structure needs. However, this does not fulfill the intent of the recommendation which was intended to provide Congress with this information in conjunction with the QDR report.

    Recommendation: To enhance the usefulness of future QDRs and assist congressional oversight, the Secretary of Defense should provide Congress with more complete information describing the department's analysis to meet the legislative requirements, particularly those related to force structure requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DOD agreed with the recommendation, DOD did not provide more detailed information on the analysis supporting its quadrennial defense review decisions in its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review report. GAO is making additional recommendations regarding DOD's force structure analysis in a classified report on the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.

    Recommendation: To enhance the usefulness of future QDRs and assist congressional oversight, the Secretary of Defense should clearly assign responsibility for assessing all review issues required by legislation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of the release of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, DOD had not implemented the recommendation.

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