Ballistic Missile Defense:

Actions Needed to Improve Process for Identifying and Addressing Combatant Command Priorities

GAO-08-740: Published: Jul 31, 2008. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2008.

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In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) established the Missile Defense Agency to develop and deploy globally integrated ballistic missile defenses to protect the U.S. homeland, deployed forces, friends, and allies. To deliver an operational capability as quickly as possible, the agency was not subject to traditional DOD requirements and oversight processes. While directed to work closely with the combatant commands, the agency was not required to build missile defenses to meet specific operational requirements. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which DOD has developed a process that identifies, prioritizes, and addresses overall combatant command priorities as the Missile Defense Agency develops ballistic missile defense capabilities. To conduct its work, GAO reviewed relevant documents and visited several combatant commands, the Missile Defense Agency, Joint Staff, and other DOD organizations.

DOD has taken some steps to address the combatant commands' ballistic missile defense needs, but it has not yet established an effective process to identify, prioritize, and address these needs, or to provide a DOD-wide perspective on which priorities are the most important. U.S. Strategic Command and the Missile Defense Agency created the Warfighter Involvement Process in 2005. Although the process is still evolving, the Missile Defense Agency has addressed some combatant command capability needs. However, even as they move forward with the process, U.S. Strategic Command and the Missile Defense Agency have not yet overcome three interrelated limitations to the process's effectiveness. First, U.S. Strategic Command and the Missile Defense Agency have not put into place the approved and complete guidance needed to implement the Warfighter Involvement Process, which would clearly define each organization's respective roles and responsibilities for identifying, prioritizing, and addressing the combatant commands' capability needs. This has left the combatant commands without an agreed-upon mechanism for influencing agency investments. Second, the Missile Defense Agency has lacked clear information about how to best address the commands' needs, and until recently has not clearly communicated how it has adjusted its investments in response to these needs. Without such information, the commands have not been able to provide feedback to the Missile Defense Agency about how well the agency has addressed their priorities in its funding plans. Third, senior civilian DOD leadership has not been involved in adjudicating potential differences among the commands' priorities. Instead, U.S. Strategic Command has consolidated and submitted the commands' prioritized capability needs to the Missile Defense Agency without first vetting these priorities though senior civilian DOD officials with departmentwide responsibilities for assessing risk and allocating resources. As a result, the Missile Defense Agency has not benefited from receiving a broader, departmentwide perspective on which of the commands' needs were the most significant. DOD has established a new board to advise senior Office of the Secretary of Defense officials on ballistic missile defense priorities; however, whether this board will be involved in reviewing or adjudicating differences among the commands' priorities is unclear. Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Strategic Command officials stated that the Warfighter Involvement Process is evolving. However, unless and until they overcome these interrelated limitations, DOD remains at risk of not effectively providing the combatant commands with the missile defense capabilities they need.

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 provide a DOD-wide perspective on the combatant commands' priorities, given their views on the range of ballistic missile threats facing the United States, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Missile Defense Executive Board to review each Prioritized Capabilities List upon its release, including the individual commands' priorities, and recommend to the Deputy Secretary of Defense an overall DOD-wide list of prioritized capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since our report was issued, DOD has taken action to conduct a DOD-wide review and prioritization of the combatant commands' varied ballistic missile defense capability needs, which is consistent with the intent of our recommendation. In September 2008, the Deputy Secretary of Defense established the BMDS Life Cycle Management Process, and directed the Missile Defense Executive Board to use the process to oversee the annual preparation of a required capabilities portfolio and develop a program plan to meet the requirements. DOD began to use this process during the development of the fiscal year 2010 budget request. According to U.S. Strategic Command, DOD's actions in preparing the fiscal year 2010 request provided the department-wide review of combatant command priorities in a manner consistent with our recommendation. We therefore conclude that the intent of our recommendation has been met through the institutionalization of the DOD-wide review in the BMDS Life Cycle Process.

    Recommendation: To provide the Missile Defense Agency with feedback as to how well it has addressed the combatant commands' priorities in preparing future funding plans, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, in conjunction with the other combatant commands, to prepare an assessment of the Missile Defense Agency's funding plans compared to the commands' priorities, and provide the assessment to the Director, Missile Defense Agency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We are closing this recommendation based on DOD action to provide the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) with the combatant command assessment of MDA's funding plans compared to combatant command priorities. In report GAO-08-740, we recommended that U.S. Strategic Command, in conjunction with the other combatant commands, prepare an assessment of MDA's funding plans compared to the commands' priorities, and provided the assessment to MDA. DOD concurred with this recommendation and, in its comments to the report, DOD stated that U.S. Strategic Command was preparing a Capabilities Assessment Report to fulfill the recommendation. U.S. Strategic Command completed the Capabilities Assessment Report in conjunction with U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, Joint Forces Command, U.S. Northern Command, and U.S. Pacific Command. The Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, General Chilton, transmitted the final report to MDA on April 8, 2009.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's process for identifying and addressing combatant command priorities for ballistic missile defense capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, in conjunction with the Director, Missile Defense Agency, to establish effective methodologies for identifying, prioritizing, and addressing combatant command capability needs for ballistic missile defenses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our report GAO-08-740, we found that U.S. Strategic Command and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had not developed effective methodologies for identifying, prioritizing, and addressing the combatant commands needs for ballistic missile defense capabilities. Consequently, we determined that the combatant commands had not communicated their priorities in an understandable and useful way to MDA, and that MDA was at risk of not developing the capabilities needed by the combatant commands. DOD concurred with our recommendation that U.S. Strategic Command, in conjunction with MDA, develop effective methodologies for identifying, prioritizing, and addressing the combatant commands needs for ballistic missile defenses. In December 2009 U.S. Strategic Command indicated that our report was influential in shaping its methodology for updating a prioritized list of the combatant commands needs. For example, in response to the shortcomings identified in the GAO report, the new methodology allowed the combatant commands to take into account both near-term requirements as well as longer term needs when setting their priorities. The updated methodology also gave the combatant commands? greater flexibility to identify their specific needs based on their mission, and required differentiation among their priorities by disallowing tie scores. In March 2010 U.S. Strategic Command published its update to the prioritized capabilities list. Following U.S. Strategic Command?s publication, MDA published in October 2010 a formal response that indicated the agency?s approach for investing in the ballistic missile defense capabilities to meet the warfighters? needs from 2011 through 2020. MDA?s methodology effectively reflected key themes that were developed in U.S. Strategic Command?s list, including an analysis of the agency?s ability to provide both near-term and far-term capabilities. As a result of these actions, we believe that U.S. Strategic Command and MDA have implemented our recommendation to develop more effective methodologies. However, we are keeping this recommendation open until we determine whether adjustments to MDA's investment program can be monetized.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's process for identifying and addressing combatant command priorities for ballistic missile defense capabilities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, in conjunction with the Director, Missile Defense Agency, to complete and publish the implementation guidance needed to clearly define each organization's roles and responsibilities for identifying, prioritizing, and addressing combatant command capability needs for ballistic missile defenses, and review and update such guidance, as needed, as DOD's process continues to evolve.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We are closing this recommendation based on Missile Defense Agency (MDA) action to issue guidance regarding its roles and responsibilities in the Warfighter Involvement Process (WIP). In 2005, U.S. Strategic Command and MDA created the WIP as a mechanism for U.S. Strategic Command to carry out its responsibilities for missile defense advocacy on behalf of the combatant commands. In report GAO-08-740, we found that U.S. Strategic Command and MDA had not put into place approved and complete guidance needed to implement the WIP, leaving the combatant commands without an agreed-upon mechanism for influencing MDA investments. We recommended that both U.S. Strategic Command and MDA complete and publish the guidance needed to define their roles and responsibilities for implementing the WIP and to update that guidance, as needed. On October 2, 2009, MDA issued MDA Directive 5010.17, MDA Roles and Responsibilities in the Warfighter Involvement Process. The purpose of this directive is to document MDA's roles and responsibilities for participation in the Warfighter Improvement Process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Deputy Secretary of Defense to provide guidance to the Director, Missile Defense Agency, on program priorities taking into account the Missile Defense Executive Board's recommendation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since our report was issued, DOD has taken action to conduct a DOD-wide review and prioritization of the combatant commands' varied ballistic missile defense capability needs, which is consistent with the intent of our recommendation. In September 2008, the Deputy Secretary of Defense established the BMDS Life Cycle Management Process, and directed the Missile Defense Executive Board to use the process to oversee the annual preparation of a required capabilities portfolio and develop a program plan to meet the requirements. DOD began to use this process during the development of the fiscal year 2010 budget request. According to U.S. Strategic Command, DOD's actions in preparing the fiscal year 2010 request provided the department-wide review of combatant command priorities in a manner consistent with our recommendation. We therefore conclude that the intent of our recommendation has been met through the institutionalization of the DOD-wide review in the BMDS Life Cycle Process.

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