Defense Management:

U.S. Southern Command Demonstrates Interagency Collaboration, but Its Haiti Disaster Response Revealed Challenges Conducting a Large Military Operation

GAO-10-801: Published: Jul 28, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2010.

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U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has been cited as having mature interagency processes and coordinating mechanisms. As evidenced by the earthquakes that shook Haiti in January 2010, the challenges that SOUTHCOM faces require coordinated efforts from U.S. government agencies, international partners, and nongovernmental and private organizations. This report (1) assesses the extent that SOUTHCOM exhibits key attributes that enhance and sustain collaboration with interagency and other stakeholders and (2) evaluates SOUTHCOM's approach for developing an organizational structure that facilitates interagency collaboration and positions the command to conduct a full range of missions. To conduct this review, GAO analyzed SOUTHCOM documents, conducted interviews with the command and a number of its partners, and visited three U.S. embassies in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

SOUTHCOM demonstrates a number of key practices that enhance and sustain collaboration with interagency and other stakeholders toward achieving security and stability in the region. SOUTHCOM coordinated with interagency partners to develop mutually reinforcing strategies, including its 2009 Theater Campaign Plan and its 2020 Command Strategy. In addition, SOUTHCOM focuses on leveraging the capabilities of various partners, including interagency and international partners, and nongovernmental and private organizations. For example, at SOUTHCOM's Joint Interagency Task Force South, resources are leveraged from the Department of Defense, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and partner nations to disrupt illicit trafficking activities. During humanitarian assistance activities, SOUTHCOM has leveraged regional knowledge and activity expertise with nongovernmental and private organizations. Further, SOUTHCOM has established several means to enhance and sustain collaboration between the command and its partners. For example, SOUTHCOM has established a Partnering Directorate that provides full-time outreach, coordination, and support to interagency and other stakeholders. Moreover, information is frequently shared with partners through databases, conferences, and the sharing of lessons learned. Underlying these key practices is sustained leadership, which has been a key enabler for enhancing and sustaining collaboration with partners. While SOUTHCOM developed an organizational structure designed to facilitate interagency collaboration, the scale of the Haiti earthquake disaster challenged the command's ability to support the relief effort. In 2008, SOUTHCOM developed an organizational structure to facilitate collaboration with interagency and other stakeholders, which included a civilian deputy to the commander, interagency representatives embedded in key leadership positions, and a directorate focused on sustaining partnerships. However, SOUTHCOM's support to the disaster relief efforts in Haiti revealed weaknesses in this structure that initially hindered its efforts to conduct a large scale military operation. Specifically, the structure lacked a division to address planning for operations occurring over 30 days to 1 year in duration. In addition, the command's logistics function was suboptimized and had difficulty providing supply and engineering support to the relief effort. Moreover, SOUTHCOM had not identified the personnel augmentation required for a large contingency nor had it developed a plan to integrate personnel into its existing structure. To address these weaknesses, the commander returned SOUTHCOM to a traditional joint staff structure, while retaining elements from the 2008 reorganization. Combatant commands need to be organized and manned to meet their daily mission requirements and be prepared to respond to a wide range of contingencies, including large scale disaster relief operations. Ensuring better alignment of its organizational structure and manpower to its identified mission requirements, and the development of personnel augmentation plans may enhance SOUTHCOM's ability to conduct the full range of missions that may be required in the region. GAO recommends that SOUTHCOM (1) revise its Organization and Functions Manual to align structure and manpower to meet approved missions; and (2) identify personnel augmentation requirements for a range of contingency operations, develop plans to obtain personnel, and exercise and assess these plans. DOD concurred with our recommendations and stated it is addressing these issues as quickly as possible.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January of 2010, U.S. Southern Command reorganized from an enterprise to a hybrid structure (doctrinally-based-J-coded headquarters with an interagency focus). The Commander directed a billet-level review of current manpower aligned against U.S. Southern Command's theater campaign plan and assigned mission sets. The resulting adjustments are reflected in the updated U.S. Southern Command Pamphlet 0103-Organization and Functions Manual published on June 15, 2012. This action meets the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve SOUTHCOM's ability to conduct the full range of military missions that may be required in the region, while balancing its efforts to support interagency and other stakeholders in enhancing regional security and cooperation, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Southern Command to revise SOUTHCOM's Organization and Functions Manual to align organizational structure and manpower resources to meet approved missions, to include both daily mission and contingency operation requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) stated that they had developed, staffed and validated Joint Manning Documents (JMDs) for: (1) Augmentation to the SOUTHCOM headquarters during a contingency, and (2) Small/Medium/Large JMDs to be utilized in conjunction with SOUTHCOM's family of contingency plans within the command's area of responsibility. SOUTHCOM exercised the augmentation of the headquarters in February 2011 during Exercise Integrated Advance, which simulated a response to Caribbean mass migration. The Command filled close to 145 headquarters JMD requirements, 74 of which were sourced by sister combatant commands and military service personnel. The remaining 71 were sourced from existing SOUTHCOM individual mobilization augmentees assigned to the Command. During Integrated Advance the SOUTHCOM saw that their new J-Code structure greatly enhanced their ability to quickly integrate augmentees and quickly transition to 24/7 contingency operations. This action satisfies the intent of our recommendation and should improve SOUTHCOM's ability to conduct the full range of military missions that may be required in its area of responsibility.

    Recommendation: To improve SOUTHCOM's ability to conduct the full range of military missions that may be required in the region, while balancing its efforts to support interagency and other stakeholders in enhancing regional security and cooperation, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Southern Command to identify personnel augmentation requirements for a range of contingency operations, develop plans to obtain these personnel when needed, and exercise and assess these augmentation plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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