Joint Professional Military Education:

Opportunities Exist for Greater Oversight and Coordination of Associated Research Institutions

GAO-14-216: Published: Mar 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2014.

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What GAO Found

Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) research institutions, particularly at the National Defense University, experienced growth in number, funding, and size in terms of staffing levels from fiscal year (FY) 2007 through FY 2011, but the number of institutions as well as funding and staffing levels declined over the past 2 years. For example, total funding for JPME research institutions increased from $30.8 million in FY 2007 to $47.7 million in FY 2011, but subsequently decreased to $40.6 million in FY 2013. GAO identified several factors that contributed to these institutions' growth, including increases in funding provided by outside organizations for research and the creation of new research institutions. Department of Defense (DOD) officials reported that DOD-wide budget reductions, including the effects of sequestration, contributed to decreases in the number, size, and funding for JPME research institutions.

The extent to which DOD can assess the performance of JPME research institutions is limited by the lack of a comprehensive framework to systematically assess their performance in meeting professional military education and other departmental goals and objectives. JPME colleges and universities have not consistently established measurable goals or objectives linked with performance metrics for their associated research institutions. Best practices state that achieving results in government requires a framework with measurable goals and objectives and metrics to assess progress. Further, oversight mechanisms for the colleges and universities, such as accreditation processes, focus on the quality of JPME academic programs and not on the research institutions' performance. There is no DOD-wide guidance that addresses the intended role of the research institutions in supporting JPME or other departmental goals, or assigns responsibilities for conducting reviews of them, leaving the department without a basis to assess the institutions' stated mission and actual performance against planned or expected results. Therefore, DOD does not have a basis to assess the institutions' missions and performance against expected results, as called for by best practices. Without measurable goals and objectives linked with performance metrics, and clear guidance on their intended roles and assignment of oversight responsibilities, DOD cannot ensure JPME research institutions are effectively accomplishing their missions.

DOD has not established mechanisms to coordinate requests for research conducted by JPME research institutions and other DOD-funded research organizations because there is no requirement to do so. Although many of these organizations have missions to conduct research in similar topic areas, DOD uses a variety of processes to request studies and analysis research. Specifically, offices within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments each have their own separate internal processes to manage research requests and do not participate in one another's processes. Best practices on managing for results state that organizations involved in similar missions should coordinate and share information to avoid unnecessary duplication of work. At a time of constrained budgets, fragmentation in DOD's approach to managing its research requests across the department exposes DOD to the risk of potential overlap of studies and analysis research.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD's colleges and universities that provide JPME, including their research institutions, are intended to develop military personnel throughout their careers by broadening them intellectually and fostering collaboration across the military services. JPME research institutions generally provide studies and analysis research that can support academic programs or inform DOD policymakers.

The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 mandated GAO to review JPME research institutions. GAO's report (1) describes how JPME research institutions have changed in number, funding, and size; (2) evaluates the extent to which DOD assesses JPME research institution performance; and (3) evaluates the extent to which DOD coordinates the research requests of these and other DOD-funded research organizations. GAO identified and examined the 20 JPME research institutions that conduct research as their primary mission and have dedicated personnel. GAO reviewed DOD documents and interviewed officials on changes at the 20 institutions and how they are overseen, as well as the processes to coordinate their research activities and those of 14 other DOD-funded research organizations GAO determined conduct research activities.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD take actions to define the role of JPME research institutions, assign responsibilities for assessing performance, and establish a mechanism to coordinate studies and analysis research requests. DOD concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Johana Ayers at (202) 512-5741 or ayersj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In March 2015, the Joint Staff reported that DOD updated the strategic plan for the National Defense University (NDU) in 2014 and the department was is in the process of updating a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instruction that provides management guidance for NDU. According to a Joint Staff official, taken together, these documents are expected to define the role of research at NDU and outline research investments and activities at the University. DOD reported that it had not undertaken similar efforts to define the role of research for the military services' Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) colleges and universities. Additionally, DOD has not established department-wide guidance that addresses the intended role of the research institutions in supporting JPME or other departmental goals. This leaves the department without a basis to assess the institutions' stated mission and actual performance against planned or expected results.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance of JPME research institutions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the military departments for their respective Professional Military Education (PME) and JPME colleges and universities to define the role of JPME research institutions to provide a basis for evaluating their performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In its comments on our March 2014 report, DOD noted that some work was in progress to clarify organizational goals and establish metrics of success at each of the Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) research institutions. For example, DOD stated that the Joint Staff collaborated with the National Defense University (NDU) to refine its research enterprise and that NDU's Strategic Plan for Research 2014-2019 and a revision of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instruction for the University would reflect our recommendation. In March 2015, DOD officials reported that the revision to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instruction had not yet been completed but that it may be used to establish a framework that includes measurable goals and objectives linked with metrics to assess the performance of NDU's research institutions. DOD officials also stated that it had not expanded these efforts for all of its JPME research institutions outside of those at NDU. This leaves the department without a sound basis to assess all JPME research institutions' stated missions and actual performance against planned or expected results. Clearly establishing linkages between significant activities, their intended role in meeting agency-wide goals and objectives, and assigning oversight responsibilities underpins DOD's ability to conduct such reviews.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance of JPME research institutions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the military departments for their respective PME and JPME colleges and universities to assign responsibilities for conducting performance reviews of JPME research institutions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In its comments on our March 2014 report, DOD noted that some work was in progress to clarify organizational goals and establish metrics of success at each of the Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) research institutions. For example, DOD stated that the Joint Staff collaborated with the National Defense University (NDU) to refine its research enterprise and that NDU's Strategic Plan for Research 2014-2019 and a revision of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instruction for the University would reflect our recommendation. In March 2015, DOD officials reported that the revision to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instruction had not yet been completed but that it may be used to establish a framework that includes measurable goals and objectives linked with metrics to assess the performance of NDU's research institutions. DOD officials also stated that it had not expanded these efforts for all of its JPME research institutions outside of those at NDU. This leaves the department without a sound basis to assess all JPME research institutions? stated missions and actual performance against planned or expected results. Clearly establishing linkages between significant activities, their intended role in meeting agency-wide goals and objectives, and assigning oversight responsibilities underpins DOD's ability to conduct such reviews.

    Recommendation: To enhance the performance of JPME research institutions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the military departments for their respective PME and JPME colleges and universities to establish a framework that includes measurable goals and objectives linked with metrics to assess the performance of JPME research institutions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. DOD reported taking preliminary steps toward implementing a departmental mechanism to coordinate annual studies and analysis research requests and ongoing research efforts, as GAO recommended in March 2014. Specifically, in September 2014, DOD officials stated the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering had increased coordination with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to discuss research projects proposed and funded through the Minerva Initiative (a DOD program that funds social science research at universities and Joint Professional Military Education research institutions). DOD officials also stated that the department had completed an examination of studies and analysis research projects and processes at the National Defense University (NDU) in February 2014. The examination concluded that DOD must establish a structured, well-defined process for initiating, conducting, and assessing NDU research with a focus on the anticipated users of the research. Further, DOD concluded that the process must allow stakeholders to collaborate on research themes and permit the review of research outputs on a structured schedule. DOD officials explained that the department would incorporate this new process for initiating, conducting, and assessing NDU research into the update of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 1801.01C, which governs NDU operations. The officials indicated that DOD is in the process of updating this instruction but were unable to provide a time frame within which it would be completed. However, DOD had not expanded these efforts to include other departmental offices that manage requests for studies and analysis research as well as research institutions associated with the military services' colleges and universities that grant Joint Professional Military Education. Without expanding its coordination efforts, DOD risks the potential for overlap and duplication of its research efforts and may miss opportunities to align Joint Professional Military Education research institutions' projects with DOD's strategic priorities.

    Recommendation: To improve the coordination of requests for studies and analysis research within the department and to reduce the risk of potential overlap in research activities, the Secretary of Defense should establish and implement a departmental mechanism that requires leadership from the military services and departmental offices responsible for managing requests for studies and analysis research to coordinate their annual research requests and ongoing research efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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