Military Training:

DOD Needs a Strategic Plan and Better Inventory and Requirements Data to Guide Development of Language Skills and Regional Proficiency

GAO-09-568: Published: Jun 19, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2009.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Sharon L. Pickup
(202) 512-9619
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Violent extremist movements and ongoing military operations have prompted the Department of Defense (DOD) to place greater emphasis on improving language and regional proficiency, which includes cultural awareness. GAO was asked to assess the extent to which DOD has (1) developed a strategic plan to guide its language and regional proficiency transformation efforts and (2) obtained the information it needs to identify potential language and regional proficiency gaps and assess risk. To conduct this assessment, GAO analyzed DOD's Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, reviewed the military services' strategies for transforming language and regional proficiency capabilities, and assessed the range of efforts intended to help identify potential gaps.

DOD has made progress in transforming its language and regional proficiency capabilities over the last 5 years but continues to lack a comprehensive strategic plan to guide this transformation effort. Prior work has shown that implementing significant organizational change--as DOD is attempting to do with language and regional proficiency transformation--requires a comprehensive, integrated strategic plan that sets a clear direction for transformation efforts and includes measurable performance goals and objectives as well as funding priorities that are linked to goals. In February 2005, DOD published the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, which it has used as its key document to guide language and regional proficiency transformation. While DOD has goals, objectives, and a governance structure, GAO found that not all objectives are measurable, linkages between these goals and DOD's funding priorities remain unclear, and DOD has not identified the total cost of its planned transformation efforts. DOD officials acknowledge they are at a point in their efforts where a strategic plan is needed and are in the process of developing one; however, the issue date has not been determined. In the absence of an approved plan, it will be difficult for DOD to guide the military services as they develop their approaches to language and regional proficiency transformation. Furthermore, it will be difficult for DOD and Congress to assess progress toward a successful transformation. DOD lacks the comprehensive regional proficiency inventory and validated language and regional proficiency requirements that it would need to identify gaps and assess risk to its ability to conduct military operations. Risk assessment helps decision makers identify and evaluate potential risks so that alternatives can be designed and implemented to mitigate risk. DOD is in the process of developing a management tool designed to match its inventory of language and regional proficiency skills to requirements for these skills so that DOD can identify potential gaps. While DOD has developed an inventory of its language capabilities, it does not yet have an inventory of its regional proficiency capabilities because DOD lacks an agreed upon way to assess and validate these skills. Also, although DOD has a process to identify its language and regional proficiency requirements, it lacks a transparent, validated methodology to aid combatant commanders, DOD components, and defense agencies in identifying these requirements. In the absence of a validated methodology, estimates of requirements have differed. For example, as of February 2008, U.S. Pacific Command's requirements outnumbered the requirements of all other combatant commands combined. DOD has two assessments under way, which DOD officials expect may assist them in developing a validated methodology for determining their requirements. These efforts are in the early stages of planning and, while they have a scope, it may not take into account the full range of requirements, such as non-warfighting activities. Overall, without a complete inventory and a validated methodology, DOD cannot effectively assess risk and make informed investment decisions in its language and regional proficiency capabilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2011, DOD published the Department of Defense Strategic Plan for Language Skills, Regional Expertise, and Cultural Capabilities (2011-2016). The strategy outlines a broad planning process that includes a vision, goals, and objectives and notes that the department will review the strategy annually and modify it when needed to ensure alignment with overarching DOD guidance. DOD officials told us that a more detailed implementation plan will be issued separately and the plan would likely include action plans that define responsibilities and time frames for completing specific tasks, as well as performance measures to assess progress and guide the allocation of resources.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of language and regional proficiency capabilities transformation efforts already under way, as well as future efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to include in a strategic plan or set of linked plans the following specific elements for both language and regional proficiency: (1) measurable performance goals and objectives and (2) investment priorities that are linked to goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on our draft report, DOD concurred with this recommendation. DOD stated that it would provide definitive guidance and definitions for regional proficiency levels in order to enable the military services and defense agencies to measure and determine the appropriate regional proficiency levels for their personnel. At the time of our report, DOD intended to complete this project in March 2010 and to implement assessments of servicemembers' regional proficiency levels not sooner than September 2010. In March 2013, a Regional Proficiency Assessment Tool (RPAT) was delivered to the Defense Language and National Security Education Office (DLNSEO) in stand-alone version. RPAT assesses individual regional proficiency across 15 regions on a scale of 0+ to 5, using the same range as the Interagency Language Roundtable scale for language proficiency. RPAT was developed using military personnel but can be adapted for civilian use. The DLNSEO is in the process of evaluating and validating RPAT capabilities, has plans to develop a web-capable version, and discussions to make RPAT results available to the Language Readiness Index during the fiscal year 2014-2015 timeframe are ongoing.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of language and regional proficiency capabilities transformation efforts already under way, as well as future efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in consultation with the Secretaries of the military services and Heads of DOD's defense agencies, to establish a mechanism to assess and validate the full range of regional proficiency capabilities of service members and DOD civilians, including the development of measurable definitions and milestones to achieve an assessment, and incorporate the information into its strategic management tool to allow DOD to determine capability gaps and assess risk effectively.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with this recommendation, in 2010, the Joint Staff, in coordination with the Army, Navy, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, developed a standardized methodology for combatant commands to identify and prioritize language, regional expertise, and culture capability requirements for both professional linguists and general purpose forces to address missions within the combatant command's area of responsibility. They also developed a Joint Staff process that integrates and validates these capability requirements to send to the services for force development. This methodology, which was approved in November 2010, will allow DOD to better assess capability gaps for language and regional proficiency, identify solutions to fill those gaps, conduct risk assessments to monitor and mitigate risk when faced with competing demands, and develop and adapt strategic plans for language and regional proficiency transformation.

    Recommendation: To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of language and regional proficiency capabilities transformation efforts already under way, as well as future efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Joint Staff, in coordination with the military services and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, to develop a transparent, validated methodology to aid combatant commanders, DOD components, and defense agencies in identifying language and regional proficiency requirements for all communities and at all proficiency levels in order for DOD to be able to determine capability gaps, assess risk effectively, and inform strategic planning for language and regional proficiency transformation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 19, 2014

Sep 18, 2014

Sep 10, 2014

Sep 9, 2014

Sep 8, 2014

Jul 31, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here