Military Operations:

High-Level DOD Action Needed to Address Long-standing Problems with Management and Oversight of Contractors Supporting Deployed Forces

GAO-07-145: Published: Dec 18, 2006. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2006.

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Prior GAO reports have identified problems with the Department of Defense's (DOD) management and oversight of contractors supporting deployed forces. GAO issued its first comprehensive report examining these problems in June 2003. Because of the broad congressional interest in U.S. military operations in Iraq and DOD's increasing use of contractors to support U.S. forces in Iraq, GAO initiated this follow-on review under the Comptroller General's statutory authority. Specifically, GAO's objective was to determine the extent to which DOD has improved its management and oversight of contractors supporting deployed forces since our 2003 report. GAO reviewed DOD policies and interviewed military and contractor officials both at deployed locations and in the United States.

DOD continues to face long-standing problems that hinder its management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations. DOD has taken some steps to improve its guidance on the use of contractors to support deployed forces, addressing some of the problems GAO has raised since the mid-1990s. However, while the Office of the Secretary of Defense is responsible for monitoring and managing the implementation of this guidance, it has not allocated the organizational resources and accountability to focus on issues regarding contractor support to deployed forces. Also, while DOD's new guidance is a noteworthy step, a number of problems we have previously reported on continue to pose difficulties for military personnel in deployed locations. For example, DOD continues to have limited visibility over contractors because information on the number of contractors at deployed locations or the services they provide is not aggregated by any organization within DOD or its components. As a result, senior leaders and military commanders cannot develop a complete picture of the extent to which they rely on contractors to support their operations. For example, when Multi-National Force-Iraq began to develop a base consolidation plan, officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed to bases in Iraq. They therefore ran the risk of over-building or under-building the capacity of the consolidated bases. DOD continues to not have adequate contractor oversight personnel at deployed locations, precluding its ability to obtain reasonable assurance that contractors are meeting contract requirements efficiently and effectively at each location where work is being performed. While a lack of adequate contract oversight personnel is a DOD-wide problem, lacking adequate personnel in more demanding contracting environments in deployed locations presents unique difficulties. Despite facing many of the same difficulties managing and overseeing contractors in Iraq that it faced in previous military operations, we found no organization within DOD or its components responsible for developing procedures to systematically collect and share its institutional knowledge using contractors to support deployed forces. As a result, as new units deploy to Iraq, they run the risk of repeating past mistakes and being unable to build on the efficiencies others have developed during past operations that involved contractor support. Military personnel continue to receive limited or no training on the use of contractors as part of their pre-deployment training or professional military education. The lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contractors in deployed locations. Despite DOD's concurrence with our previous recommendations to improve such training, we found no standard to ensure information about contractor support is incorporated in pre-deployment training.

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 improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the entity that functions as the focal point would act as an advocate within the department for issues related to the use of contractors to support deployed forces, serve as the principal advisor for establishing relevant policy and guidance to DOD components, and be responsible for carrying out actions, including developing training standards for the services on the integration of basic familiarity with contractor support to deployed forces into their professional military education to ensure that military commanders and other senior leaders who may deploy to locations with contractor support have the knowledge and skills needed to effectively manage contractors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and stated the Joint Staff is currently researching joint education for logisticians which will include efforts on contract and contractor management. In response to our report, the Department has taken steps to improve training for non-acquisition personnel likely to have contract management and oversight responsibilities. For example, in 2010, the department introduced a new online training course focused on contract oversight in contingency operations and included operational contract support issues in its predeployment training program. In addition, the department is continuing its efforts to include OCS in its professional military education at all levels. For example, the Army includes some OCS training in its intermidate level course taken by all Majors and also includes OCS in many of its other professional military education programs of instruction.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the entity that functions as the focal point would act as an advocate within the department for issues related to the use of contractors to support deployed forces, serve as the principal advisor for establishing relevant policy and guidance to DOD components, and be responsible for carrying out actions, including developing the requirement that DOD components, combatant commanders, and deploying units (1) ensure military commanders have access to key information on contractor support, including the scope and scale of contractor support they will rely on and the roles and responsibilities of commanders in the contract management and oversight process, (2) incorporate into their pre-deployment training the need to identify and train contract oversight personnel in their roles and responsibilities, and (3) ensure mission rehearsal exercises include key contractors to increase familiarity of units preparing to deploy with the contractor support they will rely on.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and specified several actions the department either has taken to implement the recommendation, including (1) designating the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as the DOD database to provide Combatant Commanders with visibility over contract support, (2) issuing Joint Publication 4.10 in October 2008 which address the roles and responsibilities of non-acquisition personnel including those responsible for contract oversight, and (3) incorporating additional training on the use of contractors in deployed locations in both mission rehearsal exercises and other predeployment training.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the entity that functions as the focal point would act as an advocate within the department for issues related to the use of contractors to support deployed forces, serve as the principal advisor for establishing relevant policy and guidance to DOD components, and be responsible for carrying out actions, including leading and coordinating the development of a departmentwide lessons-learned program that will capture the experiences of units that have deployed to locations with contractor support and develop a strategy to apply this institutional knowledge to ongoing and future operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and stated that DOD would develop and implement a systematic strategy for capturing, retaining, and applying lessons learned on the use of contractor support to deployed forces. According to DOD, efforts are currently underway to examine implementing a common website for contingency contracting information. In addition, the Defense Acquisition University has designated the Contingency Contracting Community of Practice as a central repository for contingency contracting knowledge and training. According to DOD officials, a newly formed organization known as the Joint Contingency Contract Support Office is responsible for collecting lessons learned.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the entity that functions as the focal point would act as an advocate within the department for issues related to the use of contractors to support deployed forces, serve as the principal advisor for establishing relevant policy and guidance to DOD components, and be responsible for carrying out actions, including developing a strategy for DOD to incorporate the unique difficulties of contract management and oversight at deployed locations into DOD's ongoing efforts to address concerns about the adequacy of its acquisition workforce.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and stated that as part of the requirement of Section 854 of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act it would study, among other things, the roles and missions of Defense Contract Management Agency and military service personnel responsible for contract oversight.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the entity that functions as the focal point would act as an advocate within the department for issues related to the use of contractors to support deployed forces, serve as the principal advisor for establishing relevant policy and guidance to DOD components, and be responsible for carrying out actions, including overseeing development of the joint database to provide visibility over all contractor support to deployed forces, including a summary of services or capabilities provided and by-name accountability of contractors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and in January 2007 DOD designated the Synchronized Predeployemnt and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as the Joint Solution required by DOD Instruction 3020.41 for the purpose of maintaining information on contractor personnel and contract capability. DOD has implemented the SPOT database and is currently requiring all DOD contractors to enter data regarding contractor employees into the database. Current GAO work indicates that DOD continues to refine the database and improve its accuracy.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the Secretary of Defense should appoint a focal point within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, at a sufficiently senior level and with the appropriate resources, dedicated to leading DOD's efforts to improve contract management and oversight.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and in October 2006 established the office of the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Program Support. According to DOD, this office is the focal point within the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics community dedicated to leading DOD's efforts to improve contract management and oversight at deployed locations.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations, the entity that functions as the focal point would act as an advocate within the department for issues related to the use of contractors to support deployed forces, serve as the principal advisor for establishing relevant policy and guidance to DOD components, and be responsible for carrying out actions, including reviewing the services' efforts to meet the standards and requirements established above to ensure that training on contractor support to deployed forces is being consistently implemented by the services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and stated that it established the office of the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Program Support in October 2006. While DOD intends to assign this office primary responsibility for matters concerning contractor support to deployed forces, as of June 2007 it was not clear what role this office would have in meeting the intent of our recommendation(s). The office of Program Support has developed into the principal advisor (with the Joint Staff) on all matters related to operational contract support (OCS) and this responsibility is detailed in DOD instruction 3020.49.The office has developed an OCS concept of operations, developed guidance on oversight of private security contractors in contingency operations, and provided funding for OCS planners at each of the combatant commands. In addition, it acts as the focal point for training issues and is the department advocate for the system used to track contractors in contingency operations.

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