WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office is telling the Defense Department to clamp down on inefficiencies in its 19 agencies and 8 field activities — collectively known as the “Fourth Estate.”
While DoD spends billions annually on these defense agencies and DoD field activities to maintain business functions, it “does not comprehensively or routinely assess the continuing need” for them, according to a report published last week by the watchdog agency.
The Defense Department has agreed to act on GAO’s five recommendations to fix the problems. However, the DoD official who signed off — Chief Management Officer John Gibson — is reportedly being terminated by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for non-performance.
A former U.S. Air Force finance official with a long defense industry resume, Gibson is the first-ever CMO. The job was established last year in the largest reorganization of the DoD since the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986.
The Fourth Estate includes the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Missile Defense Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office.
GAO spotlighted human resources services as a key problem area. While the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, for example, provides consolidated accounting and financial services, HR is spread across six organizations, with overlap between DFAS, the Defense Logistics Agency and Washington Headquarters Service.
“This has resulted in negative effects, such as inconsistent performance information regarding hiring, fragmented information technology systems, and inefficiencies associated with overhead costs,” the GAO report found. “For example, DOD officials stated that there are over 800 fragmented information technology systems used to store and record training records across the department, which are costly to maintain.”
Lawmakers were aware of problems and sought to pare back “Fourth Estate” bureaucracy in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act made law last month. In fact, there’s some overlap between the GAO report and the NDAA.
Spearheaded by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, FY19 NDAA Sec. 921 mandates DoD’s CMO submit plans to cut 25 percent from the budget of certain enterprisewide activities, including logistics, human resources, services contracting and real property management. (Thornberry’s initial proposal was farther reaching, but he scaled it back, and then it was scaled back further amid objections from the White House and key Democrats.)
More broadly, the NDAA Sec. 923 mandates the CMO conduct a sweeping search of all defense agencies and field activities for duplication or ineffectiveness. For those that miss the mark, the CMO would have to develop plans for a fix, including consolidating agencies. The reviews would have to take place at least every four years, with the first due Jan. 1, 2020.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.