Military Training:

Actions Needed to Improve Planning and Coordination of Army and Marine Corps Language and Culture Training

GAO-11-456: Published: May 26, 2011. Publicly Released: May 26, 2011.

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Today, and in the foreseeable future, military operations require U.S. personnel, in particular Army and Marine Corps ground forces, to communicate and interact with multinational partners and local populations. The committee report accompanying a proposed bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 directed GAO to review several issues related to language and culture training for Army and Marine Corps general purpose forces. For this report, GAO evaluated (1) the extent to which the Army and Marine Corps had developed strategies with elements such as goals, funding priorities, and metrics to guide training approaches and investments that were aligned with Department of Defense (DOD) planning efforts and (2) DOD's approach for identifying training requirements for Army and Marine Corps forces that will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. To do so, GAO analyzed Army and Marine Corps strategies and training requirements and interviewed cognizant officials.

The Army and Marine Corps developed service-specific language and culture strategies, but did not include some key elements to guide their training approaches and investments, and DOD-wide efforts to establish a planning process that could better align service training approaches are incomplete. The Army and Marine Corps developed broad goals and objectives within their strategies and identified some training programs and activities tied to these goals. However, the services did not always identify priorities and the investments needed to implement the training or a set of results-oriented performance metrics to assess the contributions that training programs have made collectively, which GAO and DOD have recognized can help ensure training investments are making progress toward achieving program goals and objectives. GAO found that the Army and Marine Corps did not complete underlying analyses and assign responsibilities for program performance prior to designing and implementing their strategies and associated training programs. DOD has taken steps to develop a strategic planning process to align service training approaches. For example, in February 2011, DOD published a strategic plan for language skills and cultural capabilities that outlines a broad departmentwide planning process. However, DOD has not yet set up internal mechanisms, such as procedures and milestones, by which it can reach consensus with the military services on priorities and investments. Without a clearly defined planning process, DOD does not have the tools it needs to set strategic direction for language and culture training efforts, fully align departmentwide efforts to develop plans and budget requests that reflect its priorities, and measure progress in implementing various initiatives. DOD components identified varying language and culture training requirements for Army and Marine Corps general purpose forces that will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, but the Command did not use a comprehensive process to synchronize these requirements. GAO surveyed 15 documents issued since June 2008 and found several variances with respect to the language to be trained and the type and duration of training. For example, in July 2010 the Army required that all forces deploying to either Afghanistan or Iraq complete a 4- to 6-hour online training program for language and culture. In September 2010, a senior Marine Corps commander directed that ground units preparing for Afghanistan deployments complete a 2-day culture course. Army and Marine Corps officials noted that training requirements changed constantly and this led to some confusion in developing training programs as well as considerable time and resources that were spent adjusting training. GAO found that contrary to DOD guidance, U.S. Central Command had not yet established a comprehensive process to approve training requirements and coordinate them with key stakeholders to ensure alignment with DOD guidance and obtain feedback on service training approaches. Without a comprehensive process, U.S. Central Command will not have a mechanism to identify and synchronize training for current and future operations, which may result in deploying forces that receive training that is inconsistent and may not meet operational needs. GAO recommends that the Army and Marine Corps assign responsibilities for program performance, and identify training investments and metrics; DOD establish a defined planning process with internal mechanisms, such as procedures and milestones, to align training efforts; and U.S. Central Command establish a process to identify and synchronize training requirements. DOD generally agreed with the recommendations.

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 help ensure that the Army's and Marine Corps' strategies address key planning elements and are aligned with departmentwide efforts, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy to assign responsibilities for training program performance and include in subsequent updates of the Army's and Marine Corps' respective language and culture strategies: (1) training priorities and investments that are necessary to achieve strategic goals and objectives; and (2) results-oriented performance metrics to measure progress in achieving the strategic goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. To identify language and culture training priorities and investments that are necessary to achieve strategic goals and objectives, the Army included in a May 2011 Training and Doctrine Command order clear direction for all agencies with education, training, and training support responsibilities to review the Army Culture and Foreign Language Strategy and conduct an internal, bottom-up review of existing missions and identify the gaps and/or inconsistencies that currently exist between mission execution and the requirements directed by the Army's strategy and also to determine the resource requirements for any identified gaps. As of July 2013, the Army continues to revise its Army Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture strategy and anticipates publication during the 3rd quarter of fiscal year 2013. The Army stated that it intends for the revised strategy to be informed by emerging requirements for Foreign Language Proficiency, Regional Expertise and Cultural Capability that supports the Army 2020 Force Structure and Mission. The Marine Corps plans to update its Language, Regional and Culture Strategy during 2013 to reflect operational, organizational, and policy changes based on lessons learned and current conditions.

    Recommendation: To enhance DOD's ability to set strategic direction for its language and culture training efforts, and better align its efforts to develop and implement plans and measure progress against established goals, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to issue guidance to establish within the implementation plan for the Department of Defense Strategic Plan for Language Skills, Regional Expertise, and Cultural Capabilities (2011-2016) a clearly defined planning process with mechanisms, such as procedures and milestones, by which it can reach consensus with the military departments, coordinate and review approval of updates to plans, synchronize the development of plans with the budget process, monitor the implementation of initiatives, and report progress, on a periodic basis, towards achieving established goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation citing that its implementation plan for language skills, regional expertise, and cultural capabilities for fiscal years 2011- 2016 will include a clearly defined planning process for working with the military departments to coordinate plans, synchronize plans with resources, and evaluate and report performance as the department works toward its strategic plan. As of August 2013, the implementation plan has not yet been completed.

    Recommendation: To provide a consistent approach for identifying predeployment language and culture training requirements for the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the Secretary of Defense direct the Commander of U.S. Central Command to establish a comprehensive, analytically based process to: (1) identify and approve predeployment training requirements and include in this documentation a description of the analysis to be conducted prior to approving the requirements; and (2) coordinate with key stakeholders, such as the military services and subordinate commands to ensure that requirements are synchronized among and within DOD components and with departmentwide guidance, and solicit feedback on service training approaches in meeting operational needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation citing coordination involved with developing a fragmentary order issued in March 2011. In May 2012, U.S. Central Command released an updated order that established a training requirements management process designed to provide a framework to analyze, specify, and validate U.S. Central Command theater training requirements in coordination with key stakeholders in order to provide a consistent method for identifying and approving training requirements. The order includes a listing of key stakeholders to ensure the training requirements are synchronized among U.S. Central Command subordinate commands, service force providers, service training organizations, and the Joint Staff, as well as a detailed description of a revised training requirements analysis and validation process.

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