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GAO: Defense domestic violence tracking remains flawed

The Defense Department's system for collecting data on domestic violence within military families is flawed, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The department maintains two databases for such information, the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System and the Family Advocacy Program's Central Registry, but it uses the central registry for reporting the official number of domestic abuse cases. The central registry includes only those incidents reported to the department's Family Advocacy Program; it does not take into account domestic abuse reported solely to law enforcement.

GAO first raised concerns over incomplete data in 2006, but the latest report concluded Defense has not yet fixed the problem.

"Because DoD cannot provide accurate numbers of domestic abuse, it cannot analyze trends," GAO reported.

The watchdog acknowledged improvements since its 2006 report, but called on Defense to develop goals and performance metrics to measure the effectiveness of the department's campaign to prevent and treat domestic abuse.

The audit, conducted between July 2009 and April 2010, found that inconsistent leadership also stymies the Pentagon's efforts to prevent domestic violence.

The report cited the 2007 closing of the Defense Family Violence Policy Office as an example of failed leadership. Upon closing the office -- created in 2003 to oversee the implementation of nearly 200 recommendations a Defense task force made on domestic abuse -- the Pentagon reported that the office had addressed 82 percent of the recommendations. GAO's report found, however, that responsibility for implementing the remaining recommendations was not reassigned by the time the office closed.

GAO also criticized the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, which is responsible for overseeing the department's efforts to implement the task force's recommendations. "This office has taken few actions to demonstrate sustained commitment to improving its efforts in this area," the report stated.

In response, Defense agreed to address the accuracy of its reported data and its oversight framework. Defense also said it would like to coordinate with the Justice, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs departments to develop this framework.

A January 1999 60 Minutes report found that military families were five times more likely to be violent than civilian families. In response, Congress ordered the Pentagon in the fiscal 2000 Defense Authorization Act to create a task force to address the prevalence of domestic violence among military families.

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