DOD Needs Streamlined Processes, More Data In Congressional Reports

dowell/Getty Images

Congress’ watchdog issued several recommendations for the Department of Defense and its congressional reporting procedures, hinging on internal communications and improved data. 

The Department of Defense stands to benefit from improved internal feedback and more performance metric collection when providing mandatory agency activity reports to Congress. 

Outlined in a report published last week, the Government Accountability Office issued six recommendations for DOD to consider in order to improve its reporting on various operations. The report authors at GAO cited Congressional concerns as a motive to review the agency’s reporting processes.

The recommendations GAO issued broadly advocate greater data collection and using advanced performance measures.

“Greater stakeholder engagement would help DOD reform and modernize its congressional reporting process to better meet the needs of all stakeholders,” the report reads. “In addition, as ASD(LA) [ the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs] embarks on these reforms, establishing performance measures and outcome-oriented goals, and routinely collecting the necessary data to assess progress toward achieving its goals would help ASD(LA) evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of its efforts and identify what, if any, additional reform efforts should be pursued.”

Currently, DOD’s reporting procedures center on three steps: identifying and assigning reporting requirements, responding to these requirements and delivering the final report. Within this process, GAO noted six key challenges DOD faces in terms of delivering clear reports. Those include assignment backlog and delays, hard copy delivery and limited performance data. 

GAO noted that DOD reports do not consistently include performance metrics or logs of time and resources used in a given topic. 

The report also noted that DOD chronicles and monitors reporting assignments through separate computer systems. Noting that the Army branch uses a separate report tracking tool than the Navy, for instance, the GAO report said that this inconsistency leads to assignment and report duplication.

“By the time DOD delivers a report or briefing to Congress, it likely will have touched multiple systems,” the report said. 

Officials at DOD told GAO that they are overseeing modernization efforts to reform its congressional reporting process. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs specifically said that it is currently in the stage of streamlining the procedures for identifying reporting requirements and establishing electronic report deliveries as opposed to hard copies. 

DOD also confirmed that while modernization efforts are on the horizon, they do not have plans to upgrade or develop improved performance data on its processes. 

“ASD(LA) officials told us they expect improvements in cost savings and timeliness as a result of their reform and modernization efforts, but do not have plans in place for assessing these anticipated outcomes,” the report reads. 

GAO also stated that DOD could benefit from keeping its employees aware of the department’s modernization efforts. Out of 11 DOD offices GAO officials interviewed to gauge report procedures, 10 were unaware of the possible replacement of the agency’s report tracking software system. 

DOD ultimately concurred with the GAO’s reporting improvement recommendations, saying that automation should be incorporated into collecting performance data.