Pentagon noticeably lags rest of government in implementing priority changes, GAO says

Pentagon noticeably lags rest of government in implementing priority changes, GAO says

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David Norquist, then Pentagon comptroller, testifies on DoD's ongoing audit and business operations reform of the Pentagon during a Senate Budget Committee hearing, March 7, 2018 (DoD photo)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon lags behind the rest of the federal government in implementing priority recommendations identified by the non-partisan Government Accounting Office, a review of recommendations shows.

Since 2015, when the GAO sent its first recommendations to the Pentagon, its implementation rate “has generally lagged behind that of the broader federal government,” the GAO told TMN, in response to questions.

“For example, as of November 2018, DOD’s (Department of Defense) implementation rate for GAO’s recommendations was 67 percent compared to a government-wide rate of 77 percent,” the GAO said to TMN.

“This is an improvement, though, for DOD from the prior year. As of November 2017, DOD’s implementation rate for GAO’s recommendations was only 53 percent compared to a government-wide rate of 76 percent,” the GAO said.

Pentagon officials had no immediate comment on their performance.

GAO officials provided the in-depth detail to TMN upon request after the entity released its latest report regarding Pentagon operations.

In that March report, the GAO identified 24 additional priority recommendations for the DOD — ranging from acquisitions and contract Management, readiness, and health care to financial management and preventing sexual harassment — and urged Pentagon officials to implement. Some of those underscored longstanding issues within the military.

For example, the GAO made two suggestions on how to deal with rising sexual harassment in the military, which the Pentagon has struggled to combat.

“Our work over the years has found weaknesses in DOD’s approach to instituting effective policies and programs on sexual harassment,” the GAO said in its newest report.

“In 2011, we found, among other things, that DOD did not have assurance that individuals in positions of leadership were being held accountable for promoting, supporting, and enforcing the department’s sexual harassment prevention policies and programs. We also found that DOD had limited oversight of these policies and programs. We recommended that DOD take actions to improve leadership accountability and to develop an oversight framework for sexual harassment. DOD subsequently stated that it planned to develop an oversight framework and that this framework, among other things, would set standards for holding leaders accountable. However, DOD has not corrected these weaknesses in leadership accountability,” the GAO said.

The GAO also minimized the effectiveness of the highly-touted Pentagon audit, released last year, “due to 20 material weaknesses identified at the consolidated and component levels.”

Those weaknesses included reconciling fund balances with the Department of the Treasury, internal controls over general property, plant and equipment, and lack of supporting documentation for beginning balances, the GAO said.

Another material weakness “is that there are billions of dollars of unsupported journal vouchers (JV)—that is, accounting entries to record corrections or adjustments to a business transaction—within DOD’s accounting systems,” the GAO said.

Last year, the GAO identified 85 priority recommendations for the Defense Department. Of those, 17 have been implemented, the GAO said in the new report.

“Priority recommendations are open GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits,” the GAO said in the report.

“DOD’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations,” the GAO said.

The GAO has been making recommendations to selected agencies, including the Pentagon, since 2015.

“GAO has sent five letters to DOD with priority recommendations—one annually since 2015. These priority recommendations are drawn from hundreds of individual reports with recommendations to DOD,” the GAO told TMN.

The GAO told TMN that since 2015 it has made 1,235 unclassified and sensitive but unclassified (SBU) recommendations to DOD to improve its operations.  “DOD has implemented 296 of these recommendations, and we have closed 37 based on our assessment that DOD will not implement the recommendations,” the GAO said.  “As of May 14, 2019, 902 of these recommendations remain open.”

GAO normally does not reveal information on the classified recommendations issued. However, the GAO recently reported on a substantial subset of classified recommendations from the period Fiscal Year 2014-2107, it made 45 recommendations in classified reports.

“As of September 30, 2018, 32 of the (classified) recommendations were open, 12 had been implemented by DOD, and one was closed as unimplemented because we had definitive information that DOD would not implement it,” the GAO told TMN.

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