Defense Management:

DOD Needs to Establish Clear Goals and Objectives, Guidance, and a Designated Budget to Manage Its Biometrics Activities

GAO-08-1065: Published: Sep 26, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2008.

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The Department of Defense (DOD), in its response to unconventional threats from terrorists, uses biometrics technologies that identify physical attributes, including fingerprints and iris scans. However, coordinating the development and implementation of biometrics and ensuring interoperability across DOD has been difficult to achieve. Biometrics also is an enabling technology for identity management, a concept that seeks to manage personally identifiable information to enable improved governmentwide sharing and analysis of identity information. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which DOD has established biometrics goals and objectives, implementing guidance for managing biometrics activities, and a designated budget. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed documentation, including DOD biometrics policy and directives, and interviewed key DOD officials involved with making policy and funding decisions regarding biometrics.

DOD established, in October 2006, the Principal Staff Assistant, who is the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, and an Executive Committee as part of its attempts to improve the management of its biometrics activities. However, as of August 2008, it had not established management practices that include clearly defined goals and objectives, implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures for the Executive Committee, and a designated biometrics budget. First, while DOD has stated some general goals for biometrics, such as providing recognized leadership and comprehensive planning policy, it has not articulated specific program objectives, the steps needed to achieve those objectives, and the priorities, milestones, and performance measures needed to gauge results. Second, DOD issued a directive in 2008 to establish biometrics policy and assigned general responsibilities to the Executive Committee and the Principal Staff Assistant but has not issued implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures. The Executive Committee is chaired by the Principal Staff Assistant and includes a wide array of representatives from DOD communities such as intelligence, acquisitions, networks and information integration, personnel, and policy and the military services. The Executive Committee is responsible for resolving biometrics management issues, such as issues between the military services and joint interests resulting in duplications of effort. However, the committee does not have guidance for making decisions that can resolve management issues. Past DOD reports have noted difficulties in decision making and accountability in the management of its biometrics activities. Third, DOD also has not established a designated budget for biometrics that links resources to specific objectives and provides a consolidated view of the resources devoted to biometrics activities. Instead, it has relied on initiative-by-initiative requests for supplemental funding, which may not provide a predictable stream of funding for biometrics. Prior GAO work on performance management demonstrates that successful programs incorporate such key management practices, and for several years, DOD reports and studies have also called for DOD to establish such practices for its biometrics activities. Similarly, a new presidential directive issued in June 2008 supports the establishment of these practices in addition to calling for a governmentwide framework for the sharing of biometrics data. DOD officials have said that DOD's focus has been on quickly fielding biometrics systems and maximizing existing systems to address immediate warfighting needs in Afghanistan and Iraq. This focus on responding to immediate warfighting needs and the absence of the essential management practices have contributed to operational inefficiencies in managing DOD's biometrics activities, such as DOD's difficulties in sharing biometrics data within and outside the department. For example, in May 2008 GAO recommended that DOD establish guidance specifying a standard set of biometrics data for collection during military operations in the field. These shortcomings may also impede DOD's implementation of the June 2008 presidential directive and the overall identity management operating concept.

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 improve the management of DOD's biometrics activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Principal Staff Assistant and Executive Committee to develop clearly defined goals and measures of success to guide and monitor development of biometrics activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with the recommendation. DOD reported progress in a number of areas, including an implementation plan for the DOD Biometrics Enterprise Strategic Plan (2008-2015), which includes tasks, responsibilities, and milestones for completion; and a biometrics metrics plan. Although DOD reported that the metrics plan was completed in 2010, it has responded to GAO's request for the plan only with a copy of the older DOD Biometrics Enterprise Strategic Plan (2008-2015). Since DOD is restructuring its biometrics program and they have not provided GAO with the requested documentation regarding its biometrics planning, we are unable to confirm DOD's progress toward implementing the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's biometrics activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Principal Staff Assistant and Executive Committee to issue implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures for the Executive Committee.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation and drafted a Department of Defense Instruction in 2009 to clarify and detail the governance process for the Department's biometric enterprise, and to outline the Enterprise-wide procedures necessary for executing the policies and responsibilities outlined in broader guidance (DOD Directive 8521.01E). The instruction was in final review in December 2010 but was pulled back for further revision in response to direction in the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act requiring greater fiscal oversight by the office of Defense Biometrics. DOD reported that it is also making revisions to the instruction to reflect changes to the biometrics organization in DOD (e.g., biometrics responsibilities are moving to the Army's Office of the Provost Marshal General). The final instruction and revised directive should be issued in late 2012 or early 2013. We believe DOD's efforts to create and refine key guidance for the Department's biometrics enterprise address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of DOD's biometrics activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Principal Staff Assistant and Executive Committee to work with the Comptroller to establish a designated biometrics budget.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation and has taken a number of steps to provide structure to its biometrics efforts. For example, between 2009 and 2011 DOD completed key elements of the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System, which guides the assessment and acquisition of defense capabilities. These steps were intended to be complete in fiscal year 2012, providing a direct path to creating a formal program for biometrics. However, during the course of subsequent biometrics work by GAO in 2011-2012, we found that a designated biometrics budget was not produced by DOD, that much of the money for biometrics was still coming from funding for overseas contingency operations, and that little funding had migrated to the base budgets for the services. DOD projects that transitioning biometrics to designated base budgets would occur in fiscal year 2013 for most of the services, but it remains unclear if DOD will accomplish this goal.

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