State Partnership Program:

Improved Oversight, Guidance, and Training Needed for National Guard's Efforts with Foreign Partners

GAO-12-548: Published: May 15, 2012. Publicly Released: May 15, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Many State Partnership Program stakeholders, including State Partnership Program Coordinators, Bilateral Affairs Officers, and combatant command officials, cited benefits to the program, but the program lacks a comprehensive oversight framework that includes clear program goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress against those goals, which limits the Department of Defense’s (DOD) and Congress’ ability to assess whether the program is an effective and efficient use of resources. The benefits described by all stakeholders focused on the program’s contributions to meeting their specific missions, such as building security relationships, providing experience to guardsmen, and supporting combatant commands’ missions. Goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress are necessary for management oversight, and National Guard Bureau officials told GAO that they recognize the need to update the program’s goals and develop metrics and have initiated efforts in these areas. Officials expect completion of these efforts in summer 2012. Until program goals and metrics are implemented, DOD cannot fully assess or adequately oversee the program.

State Partnership Program activity data are incomplete as well as inconsistent and funding data are incomplete for fiscal years 2007 through 2011; therefore GAO cannot provide complete information on the types and frequency of activities or total funding amounts for those years. GAO found that the multiple data systems used to track program activities and funding are not interoperable and users apply varying methods and definitions to guide data inputs. The terminology used to identify activity types is inconsistent across the combatant commands and the National Guard Bureau. Further, funding data from the National Guard Bureau and the combatant commands were incomplete, and while the National Guard Bureau provided its total spending on the program since 2007, it could not provide information on the cost of individual activities. Although the National Guard Bureau has initiated efforts to improve the accuracy of its own State Partnership Program data, without common agreement with the combatant commands on what types of data need to be tracked and how to define activities, the data cannot be easily reconciled across databases.

The most prominent challenge cited by State Partnership Program stakeholders involved how to fund activities that include U.S. and foreign partner civilian participants. Activities involving civilians, for example, have included subject-matter expert exchanges on military support to civil authorities and maritime border security. Although DOD guidance does not prohibit civilian involvement in activities, many stakeholders have the impression that the U.S. military is not permitted to engage civilians in State Partnership Program activities and some states may have chosen not to conduct any events with civilians due to the perception that it may violate DOD guidance. DOD and the National Guard Bureau are working on developing additional guidance and training in this area. Until these efforts are completed, confusion may continue to exist and hinder the program’s full potential to fulfill National Guard and combatant command missions.

Why GAO Did This Study

The National Guard’s State Partnership Program is a DOD security cooperation program that matches state National Guards with foreign countries to conduct joint activities—including visits between senior military leaders and knowledge sharing in areas such as disaster management—that further U.S. national security goals. The program has partnerships between 52 U.S. state and territory National Guards and 69 countries. In fiscal year 2011, program expenditures were at least $13.2 million. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to study the program. GAO determined (1) the extent to which State Partnership Program activities are meeting program goals and objectives; (2) the types and frequency of activities and funding levels of the program; and (3) any challenges DOD faces in the program’s implementation. GAO collected written responses to questions from State Partnership Program Coordinators at the state level, Bilateral Affairs Officers at the U.S. embassies in the partner nations, and officials at the combatant commands, reviewed documents, and interviewed DOD officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD complete its comprehensive oversight framework for the State Partnership Program, develop guidance to achieve reliable data on the program, and issue guidance and conduct additional training on the appropriate use of funding for program activities, including those involving civilians. DOD concurred with all recommendations.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov.

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 the State Partnership Program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in coordination with the combatant commands and the embassy country teams, to complete and implement the program's comprehensive oversight framework by using the goals, objectives, and metrics currently being developed as its basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: The FY 2012 NDAA mandated GAO to look at the extent to which State Partnership Program activities and meeting program goals and objectives, and GAO found that the program lacked a comprehensive oversight framework that includes clear program goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress against those goals, which limits DOD's and Congress' ability to assess whether the program is an effective and efficient use of resources. In June 2013, officials reported that a State Partnership Program Strategic Plan was developed in 2012 in response to our recommendation, and the plan includes goals and objectives. However, the plan is still in draft form and in an interim status until comprehensive strategic planning efforts are finalized for the National Guard Bureau as a whole. Metrics were also developed but are still in the process of being finalized. To fully address this recommendation, the National Guard Bureau needs to finalize the State Partnership Program Strategic Plan and accompanying metrics.

    Recommendation: To enable oversight and improve the completeness and consistency of data needed to manage the State Partnership Program, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Joint Staff, in coordination with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, the combatant commands, and the embassy country teams, to develop guidance for all stakeholders that includes agreed-upon definitions for data fields and rules for maintaining data until the global data system is fully implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: The FY 2012 NDAA mandated GAO to look at the types and frequency of activities and funding levels of the State Partnership Program, and GAO found that State Partnership Program activity data were incomplete as well as inconsistent, and funding data were incomplete for fiscal years 2007 through 2011. As a result, GAO could not provide complete information on the types and frequency of activities or total funding amounts for those years. In June 2013, we were told that in June 2012, the National Guard Bureau was developing guidance with standardized terms and definitions to describe and define State Partnership Program events in the ARGOS database and implemented a standardized data entry process into the Army's TSCMIS database. To be able to fully address this recommendation, NGB needs to finalize the guidance and provide documentation on the standardized terms and definitions, the data entry process, and its standardization.

    Recommendation: To address concerns about how funds can be used to include civilians in State Partnership Program activities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to develop guidance that clarifies how to use funds for civilian participation in the State Partnership Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: GAO also looked at other challenges DOD faces in implementing the State Partnership program and found that the most prominent challenge cited by State Partnership Program stakeholders involved how to fund activities that include U.S. and foreign partner civilian participants. In June 2013, we were told that in response to our recommendation, DOD Instruction 5111.20 establishes the use of funds for the program, including guidance on participation of non-DOD personnel. A Chief of the National Guard Bureau Instruction addressing use of funds for civilian participants is also being developed. To fully implement this recommendation, NGB needs to finalize development of the guidance and provide documentation of that guidance.

    Recommendation: To improve program implementation, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to develop additional training for State Partnership Program Coordinators and Bilateral Affairs Officers on the appropriate use of funds for supporting the State Partnership Program, especially in regard to including civilians in program events.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: GAO also looked at other challenges DOD faces in implementing the State Partnership program and found that the most prominent challenge cited by State Partnership Program stakeholders involved how to fund activities that include U.S. and foreign partner civilian participants. In June 2013, we were told that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau some training to convey the standards and rules on the use of funds and will continue to develop more training. To fully implement this recommendation, NGB needs to finalize the development of the training and provide documentation of those trainings.

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