Special Operations Forces:

Management Actions Are Needed to Effectively Integrate Marine Corps Forces into the U.S. Special Operations Command

GAO-07-1030: Published: Sep 5, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 2007.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on special operations forces to conduct military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and to perform other tasks such as training foreign military forces. To meet the demand for these forces, DOD established a Marine Corps service component under the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to integrate Marine Corps forces. Under the authority of the Comptroller General, GAO assessed the extent to which (1) the Marine Corps special operations command has identified its force structure requirements, (2) the Marine Corps has developed a strategic human capital approach to manage personnel in its special operations command, and (3) USSOCOM has determined whether Marine Corps training programs are preparing its forces for assigned missions. GAO performed its work with the Marine Corps and USSOCOM and analyzed DOD plans for this new command.

While the Marine Corps has made progress in establishing its special operations command (Command), the Command has not yet fully identified the force structure needed to perform its assigned missions. DOD developed initial force structure plans to establish the Command; however, it did not use critical practices of strategic planning, such as the alignment of activities and resources and the involvement of stakeholders in decision-making processes when developing these plans. As a result of limitations in the strategic planning process, the Command has identified several force structure challenges that will likely affect the Command's ability to perform its full range of responsibilities, and is working to revise its force structure. Although preliminary steps have been taken, the Marine Corps has not developed a strategic human capital approach to manage the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in its special operations command. While the Command has identified some skills needed to perform special operations missions, it has not conducted a comprehensive analysis to determine all of the critical skills and incremental training required of personnel in its special operations forces units. These analyses are critical to the Marine Corps' efforts to develop a strategic human capital approach for the management of personnel in its special operations forces units. Without the benefit of these analyses, the Marine Corps has developed an interim policy to assign some personnel to special operations forces units for extended tour lengths to account for the additional training and skills; however, the policy is inconsistent with the Command's goal for the permanent assignment of some personnel within the special operations community. Until the Command completes an analysis to identify and document the critical skills and competencies needed by its future workforce to perform its full range of special operations missions, the Marine Corps will not have a sound basis for developing or evaluating alternative strategic human capital approaches for managing personnel assigned to its special operations forces units. USSOCOM does not have a sound basis for determining whether the Command's training programs are preparing units for their missions because it has not established common training standards for many special operations skills and it has not formally evaluated whether these programs prepare units to be fully interoperable with other special operations forces. The Command is providing training to its forces that is based on training programs for conventional units that were assigned some special operations missions prior to the Command's activation and incorporates the training that USSOCOM's other service components provide to their forces. However, USSOCOM has not validated that the training for Marine Corps forces prepares them to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces. Without an evaluation, USSOCOM cannot demonstrate the needed assurances that Marine Corps forces are fully interoperable with its other forces, which may jeopardize the success of future joint missions.

Status Legend:

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  • 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

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To facilitate the development of a strategic human capital approach for the management of personnel assigned to the Marine Corps special operations command and to validate that Marine Corps special operations forces are trained to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commandant of the Marine Corps to direct the Commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, to conduct an analysis of the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in Marine Corps special operations forces units and establish milestones for conducting this analysis. This analysis should be used to assess the effectiveness of current assignment policies and to develop a strategic human capital approach for the management of these personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2007 report Special Operations Forces: Management Actions Are Needed to Effectively Integrate Marine Corps Forces into the U.S. Special Operations Command, GAO-07-1030, we reported that the Marine Corps had not developed a strategic human capital approach to manage personnel in its special operations command because the Command had not conducted a comprehensive analysis to identify the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in its special operations forces units. We reported that without the benefit of such analyses, the Marine Corps had developed an interim policy to assign some personnel to special operations forces units for extended tour lengths to account for the additional training and skills needed by these personnel, but the policy was inconsistent with the Marine Corps special operations command's goal for the permanent assignment of some personnel within the special operations community. We recommended that the Commandant of the Marine Corps direct the Commander, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command to conduct an analysis of the critical skills and competencies required of personnel in Marine Corps special operations forces units and that the service use this analysis to assess the effectiveness of current assignment policies in developing a strategic human capital approach for the management of these personnel. Consistent with our September 2007 recommendation, the Marine Corps announced in March 2011 that, based on the results of a series of analyses, it was increasing the size of its special operations command to account for additional numbers of combat support and combat service support personnel who will be assigned for 5-year tours and that the command's "critical skill operators" will be permanently assigned to the command. This approach will allow the Marine Corps special operations command to maximize the return on investment made for the additional training provided to its operators.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the development of a strategic human capital approach for the management of personnel assigned to the Marine Corps special operations command and to validate that Marine Corps special operations forces are trained to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, USSOCOM, to establish a framework for evaluating Marine Corps special operations forces training programs, including their content and standards, to ensure the programs are sufficient to prepare Marine Corps forces to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2007 report Special Operations Forces: Management Actions Are Needed to Effectively Integrate Marine Corps Forces into the U.S. Special Operations Command, GAO-07-1030, we reported that U.S. Special Operations Command had not formally validated that the training programs developed by the Marine Corps special operations command met special operations forces standards and prepared forces to be fully interoperable with the department's other special operations forces. We reported that although U.S. Special Operations Command had taken some limited steps to evaluate the training provided to Marine Corps special operations forces, the Command had not formally assessed the training programs used by the Marine Corps special operations command to prepare its forces for deployments, despite the fact that U.S. Special Operations Command was responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of all training programs and ensuring the interoperability of all of DOD's special operations forces. Therefore, U.S. Special Operations Command could not demonstrate the needed assurances to the geographic combatant commanders that Marine Corps special operations forces were trained to special operations forces standards and that these forces met department wide interoperability goals for special operations forces, thereby potentially affecting the success of future joint operations. We recommended that the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command establish a framework for evaluating Marine Corps special operations forces training programs, including their content and standards, to ensure the programs were sufficient to prepare Marine Corps forces to be fully interoperable with DOD's other special operations forces. For completed actions in response to this recommendation, DOD stated that it has taken a number of steps to develop a framework to assess Marine Corps special operations forces training programs. For example, the Command has institutionalized recurring processes that fully support the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mandated Joint Training System, which included the development of meaningful metrics to evaluate all training programs and the combat capabilities they produce. Additionally, in April 2010, U.S. Special Operations Command published the Command's Training Assessment Plan that directs component commands (e.g., Marine Corps Special Operations Command) to conduct assessments of the progress of training programs in achieving required levels of proficiency of forces to perform assigned missions. U.S. Special Operations Command has also taken steps to ensure interoperable training occurs for special operations unique equipment. In particular, DOD reported that in November 2010, U.S. Special Operations Command training standards branch personnel visited Marine Corps Special Operations Command to observe training and evaluate the effectiveness of training programs for select special operations equipment. Taken together, these and other actions cited by the department provide U.S. Special Operations Command with a more comprehensive basis to evaluate training programs for Marine Corps special operations forces.

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