Defense Forensics:

Additional Planning and Oversight Needed to Establish an Enduring Expeditionary Forensic Capability

GAO-13-447: Published: Jun 27, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2013.

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leporeb@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some important steps to establish an enduring expeditionary forensic capability by issuing a concept of operations in 2008, followed by a directive in 2011 to establish policy and assign responsibilities. As required by the directive, DOD has drafted a strategic plan to guide the activities of the Defense Forensic Enterprise, including expeditionary forensics. Although the plan includes a mission statement, and goals and objectives--two of the five key elements identified by GAO as integral to a well-developed strategic plan--it does not identify approaches for how goals and objectives will be achieved, milestones and metrics to gauge progress, and resources needed to achieve goals and objectives. GAO's prior work has shown that organizations need a well-developed strategic plan to identify and achieve their goals and objectives effectively and efficiently. Officials in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OUSD(AT&L)) said that they decided to create a concise, high-level strategic plan and that they plan to issue guidance tasking the DOD components to develop individual implementation plans that include milestones. However, approaches, metrics, and resources needed to accomplish its goals and objectives were absent from the draft guidance. GAO discussed this omission with OUSD(AT&L), and in response, this office plans to revise its draft guidance. Also, the forensic strategic plan has been in draft for 2 years having undergone multiple revisions, and is still undergoing DOD internal review with no publication date set, and by extension, a publication date has not been set for the proposed DOD component implementation plans. The lack of an approved strategic plan and associated implementation plans limits DOD's ability to prioritize its efforts to develop an enduring expeditionary forensic capability by the end of 2014.

Moreover, OUSD(AT&L) has not reviewed and evaluated the adequacy of DOD components' expeditionary forensic budget estimates for fiscal years 2013 through 2018, as required by DOD's directive. OUSD(AT&L) officials said that they were waiting for the DOD components to finalize their budget estimates for fiscal years 2013 through 2018, and waiting for the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System to validate their forensic requirements. Regardless, reviewing and evaluating the DOD components' proposed budget estimates allows OUSD(AT&L) to advise the DOD components on their resource allocation decisions with respect to expeditionary forensic capabilities. OUSD(AT&L) officials cited several factors that also affected their ability to review and evaluate the DOD components' forensic budget data, such as aggregation of components' forensic budget estimates with other costs. Moreover, these officials said the directive does not provide guidance to DOD components on how to collect and report forensic budget data. GAO's Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government notes that agencies should provide policy and guidance to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of operations. Until OUSD(AT&L) reviews and evaluates the adequacy of DOD components' forensic budget estimates, and guidance is in place to inform forensic budget collection and reporting, OUSD(AT&L) will continue to experience challenges with identifying the costs associated with DOD's expeditionary forensic capabilities.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD used expeditionary forensics for collecting fingerprints and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to identify, target, and disrupt terrorists and enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. The increased incidence of improvised explosive devices and other asymmetric threats has increased demand for expeditionary forensic capabilities. Many of DOD's expeditionary forensic activities are resourced through DOD's Overseas Contingency Operations funds. DOD estimates that it cost between $800 million and $1 billion of these funds from 2005 through 2012 to support expeditionary forensics activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as military operations are projected to draw down in Afghanistan, this funding is expected to substantially decline by the end of 2014. Consequently, DOD is taking steps to establish expeditionary forensics as an enduring capability in DOD's base budget. GAO was asked to examine DOD's expeditionary forensic capability. This report assessed the extent to which DOD has taken steps to establish an enduring expeditionary forensic capability. To address this objective, GAO reviewed relevant policy, plans, and budget estimates, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations to DOD, including incorporating key elements in its strategic plan, periodically reviewing and evaluating DOD components' proposed forensic budget estimates--including expeditionary forensics, and issuing guidance on collecting and reporting forensic budget data. DOD concurred with all four recommendations.

For more information, contact Brian Lepore at (202) 512-4523 or leporeb@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: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to incorporate key elements in its forensic strategic plan, implementation plans, and other associated guidance that are currently absent including approaches for achieving goals and objectives, milestones and metrics to gauge the department's progress, and resources needed to meet its goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has developed a preliminary draft of the Defense Forensic Enterprise Strategy Implementation Plan, which identifies the implementation tasks and their associated outcomes (milestones), measures of effectiveness (metrics), and organizations with primary and collateral responsibility for execution. Estimates of the required resources will be developed once the implementation tasks are approved. DOD anticipates publishing the strategic plan by August 2014 followed by the publication of the implementation plan by December 2014.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to set a date to publish the strategic plan for the Defense Forensic Enterprise.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD has delayed publication of the forensic strategic plan, from June 2014 to August 2014, pending approval by the Forensic Executive Committee.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to periodically review and evaluate the DOD components' proposed forensic budget estimates--including expeditionary forensics--to help ensure the department's overarching requirements and objectives will be met, in accordance with the DOD Defense Forensic Enterprise directive.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD is taking a number of steps to work towards reviewing and evaluating the DOD components' forensic budget estimates, to include (1) having officials within the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Office work with the DOD Comptroller's office to identify mechanisms to facilitate the forensics budget review; (2)contracting for services to collect budget data from the military services for a bottom-up review that will begin after the military services submit their fiscal year 2016-2020 Program Objective Memorandum budget submissions to the Comptroller in September 2014; and (3) asking the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to send a memo to the military services to compile information on enduring expeditionary forensic capabilities and funding plans. Once the services respond to the data request, DOD will assess the projected funding against validated requirements to determine if unacceptable risks exist. DOD will report the results of the analysis to the Forensics Executive Committee for follow-on guidance in November 2014.

    Recommendation: As DOD establishes an enduring expeditionary forensic capability prior to the projected drawdown of operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to issue guidance on how DOD components are to collect and report their forensic budget data--including expeditionary forensic budget data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOD does not plan to develop forensic budget reporting guidance until actions to address GAO's recommendation for periodically reviewing and evaluating the DOD components' proposed budget estimates are completed and until DOD conducts a cost-benefit analysis on the effort to collect the data.

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