GAO: DOD Needs to Establish Oversight Expectations and to Develop Tools That Enhance Accountability

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (the office) was created after 9/11 to serve as an intelligence focal point and to oversee DOD intelligence and security activities. Since 2017, the office has gained new responsibilities and made organizational changes to accommodate them.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the office hasn’t set clear expectations for its oversight mission. For example, it hasn’t clarified roles or responsibilities for the various entities involved in oversight—risking confusion or duplicative work. GAO said the office also doesn’t have enough tools to measure progress.

From 2017 through 2020 the office’s areas of responsibility have expanded to include artificial intelligence, law enforcement, personnel vetting, and identity intelligence. In 2018, it assumed new responsibilities to oversee and to manage defense law enforcement authorities, training, and standards, in part to consolidate all authorities and capabilities for security-related missions into the office. It has also made internal organizational changes in its directorates, in part to better align its dual intelligence and security missions under its Directors for Defense Intelligence. The office’s workforce is composed of largely non-permanent personnel to fulfill its responsibilities. According to GAO’s analysis, as of July 2020, 78 percent of the office’s workforce across the four directorates were non-permanent personnel—consisting of contractors, joint duty assignees, military/reservists, and liaison officers or detailees.

The office uses a variety of mechanisms to conduct oversight of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise and the Defense Security Enterprise (enterprises)—including policy development, inspections, and governance bodies. For example, it chairs the Defense Security Enterprise Executive Committee, which is the senior-level governance body for security policy coordination.

However, the office has experienced challenges in its enterprise oversight, including governance bodies not operating as intended and unclear roles and responsibilities. For example, GAO found that one mission area governance body had not met for several years and that the office had not established clear objectives for such bodies. In another area, Department of Defense (DOD) policy for open source intelligence designates an agency as the lead component and defines the term, but DOD does not outline the extent of the lead component’s authority. GAO said these challenges exist in part because the office has not established clear expectations for oversight, including refining business rules for governance bodies and clarifying key terms critical to oversight. Consequently, this has resulted in a lack of clarity around authorities and decision-making.

Ultimately, GAO found that the office is not well-postured to assess the effectiveness of the intelligence and security enterprises – in part because it has not developed tools to enhance accountability, such as goals, desired outcomes, and performance metrics. 

GAO therefore recommends that the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security establish clear oversight expectations and develop and use tools that enhance accountability for specific mission areas. DOD concurred and has already begun work to address the shortcomings.

Read the full report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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