Military Operations:

Actions Needed to Improve DOD's Stability Operations Approach and Enhance Interagency Planning

GAO-07-549: Published: May 31, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 2007.

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Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has frequently been involved in stability and/or reconstruction operations that typically last 5 to 8 years and surpass combat operations in the cost of human lives and dollars. A 2005 presidential directive requires DOD and State to integrate stability activities with military contingency plans. GAO was asked to address (1) DOD's approach to enhance stability operations capabilities, and challenges that have emerged in implementing its approach; (2) DOD planning for stability operations and the extent of interagency involvement; and (3) the extent to which DOD is applying lessons learned in future plans. To address these issues, GAO assessed DOD policy and planning documents, reviewed planning efforts at three combatant commands, and evaluated DOD's use of lessons learned. GAO is also conducting a related study of the Department of State's efforts to lead and coordinate stability operations.

DOD has taken several steps to improve planning for stability operations, but faces challenges in developing capabilities and measures of effectiveness, integrating the contributions of non-DOD agencies into military contingency plans, and incorporating lessons learned into future plans. These challenges may hinder DOD's ability to develop sound plans. Since November 2005, the department issued a new policy, expanded its military planning guidance, and defined a joint operating concept to help guide DOD planning for the next 15-20 years. These steps reflect a fundamental shift in DOD's policy because they elevate stability operations as a core mission comparable to combat operations and emphasize that military and civilian efforts must be integrated. However, DOD has yet to identify and prioritize the full range of capabilities needed for stability operations because DOD has not provided clear guidance on how and when to accomplish this task. As a result, the services are pursuing initiatives to address capability shortfalls that may not reflect the comprehensive set of capabilities that will be needed by combatant commanders to effectively accomplish stability operations in the future. Similarly, DOD has made limited progress in developing measures of effectiveness because of weaknesses in DOD's guidance. DOD is taking steps to develop more comprehensive military plans related to stability operations, but it has not established adequate mechanisms to facilitate and encourage interagency participation in its planning efforts. At the combatant commands, DOD has established working groups with representatives from several key organizations, but these groups and other outreach efforts by the commanders have had limited effect. Three factors cause this limited and inconsistent interagency participation in DOD's planning process: (1) DOD has not provided specific guidance to commanders on how to integrate planning with non-DOD organizations, (2) DOD practices inhibit sharing of planning information, and (3) DOD and non-DOD organizations lack a full understanding of each other's planning processes, and non-DOD organizations have had a limited capacity to participate in DOD's full range of planning activities. Although DOD collects lessons learned from past operations, planners are not consistently using this information as they develop future contingency plans. At all levels within the department, GAO found that information from current and past operations are being captured and incorporated into various databases. However, planners are not consistently using this information because (1) DOD's guidance for incorporating lessons into its plans is outdated and does not specifically require planners to take this step, (2) accessing lessons-learned databases is cumbersome, and (3) the review process does not evaluate the extent to which lessons learned are incorporated into specific plans.

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

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To more fully incorporate lessons learned in the planning process, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff working with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to include non-DOD stakeholders in the development of the Joint Lessons Learned Information System at an earlier point than currently planned.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred, to the extent that relevant non-DOD stakeholders are invited to participate in the System at an earlier stage. These stakeholders face shortfalls in the capacity and resources; DOD can invite them to access the lessons learned system, but cannot ensure their active participation in it.

    Recommendation: To more fully incorporate lessons learned in the planning process, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff working with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to update the current planning guidance to direct military planners to include lessons learned as they develop plans, and require that the plan review process include a step to verify that lessons learned have been considered and adopted as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The agency stated that this is already being done for stability, security, transition and reconstruction operations.

    Recommendation: To achieve greater interagency participation in the development of military plans that include stability operations, and increase the potential for unity of effort as those operations are executed, the Secretary of Defense in coordination with the Secretary of State should develop an approach to overcome differences in planning culture, training, and capacities among the affected agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has worked, and will continue to work, to understand and accommodate differences in planning, training and capabilities development. DOD has provided, and will continue to provide, all possible assistance by opening its training courses to non-DOD Government agencies, detailing DOD personnel to other Government agencies, and actively participating in all interagency processes related to this subject.

    Recommendation: To achieve greater interagency participation in the development of military plans that include stability operations, and increase the potential for unity of effort as those operations are executed, the Secretary of Defense in coordination with the Secretary of State should develop a process to share planning information with the interagency representatives early in the planning process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Agency commented that National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 44 should, by itself, provide sufficient direction to facilitate and encourage interagency participation in the development of military plans that include stability operations related activities and that DOD will continue to work with the other agencies to include them in planning and exercising for stability, security, transition, and reconstruction activities.

    Recommendation: To achieve greater interagency participation in the development of military plans that include stability operations, and increase the potential for unity of effort as those operations are executed, the Secretary of Defense in coordination with the Secretary of State should provide specific implementation guidance to combatant and component commanders on the mechanisms that are needed to facilitate and encourage interagency participation in the development of military plans that include stability operations-related activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Agency commented that National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 44 should, by itself, provide sufficient direction to facilitate and encourage interagency participation in the development of military plans that include stability operations related activities and that DOD will continue to work with the other agencies to include them in planning and exercising for stability, security, transition, and reconstruction activities.

    Recommendation: To meet the goals of identifying and developing stability operations capabilities and for developing tools to evaluate progress in achieving these goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to provide comprehensive guidance to DOD organizations on how to develop measures of effectiveness as directed by DOD Directive 3000.05, including those measures related to identifying and developing stability operations capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Agency commented that DOD is developing measures of effectiveness in general, no more or less so in the area of stability, security, transition, and reconstruction operations than for any other mission, that existing DOD policy requires all military activities to be measured against established measures of effectiveness, that DOD can address this issues through its existing process for establishing measures of effectiveness and that a new unique methodology is unnecessary.

    Recommendation: To meet the goals of identifying and developing stability operations capabilities and for developing tools to evaluate progress in achieving these goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to provide comprehensive guidance, including a clear methodology and time frames for completion, to the combatant commanders and the services on how to identify and address stability operations capability gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Agency commented that the requirement to identify and address stability, security, transition and reconstruction operations capability needs at the combatant commands and Services is effectively addressed by existing, mandated capability assessment methodologies and that the combatant commands assess and communicate to DoD the capabilities required to conduct these mission just as they do for all other assigned military missions. DoD plans no further action.

    Recommendation: Because it is unclear what specific steps, if any, DOD plans to take to implement our recommendations, the Congress may wish to consider requiring the Secretary of Defense to develop an action plan and report annually to the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Armed Services on the specific steps being taken and current status of its efforts to (1) identify and prioritize needed stability operations capabilities, (2) develop measures of effectiveness to evaluate progress in achieving these capabilities, (3) achieve greater interagency participation in the development of military plans, and (4) fully incorporate lessons learned in the planning process. The Secretary's report should also identify challenges to achieving an integrated, interagency approach to stability operations, and potential solutions for mitigating those challenges.

    Agency Affected: Congress

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No congressional action was taken in response to our matter for consideration.

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