From North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program to the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, the United States faces—and will continue to face—a number of ever-evolving chemical and biological threats that threaten to undermine the peace, stability and security of the nation.
Amid these current and emerging chemical and biological threats, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) efforts to manage its chemical and biological defense infrastructure capabilities.
According to GAO’s audit report, after nearly 7 years, the Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP) Enterprise, which leads the department’s efforts to protect against a range of threats, has not fully achieved its goal to identify required infrastructure capabilities.
The Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Program Analysis and Integration Office (PAIO)—the analytical arm of the CBDP Enterprise—in 2008 assessed the physical infrastructure capabilities that support the CBDP Enterprise’s mission. PAIO recommended that the CBDP Enterprise identify required infrastructure capabilities, such as laboratories to research chemical and biological agents, to ensure alignment of the infrastructure to its mission.
GAO reviewed PAIO’s recommendations and concluded PAIO’s recommendations are still valid, but that CBDP Enterprise has made little progress in addressing the recommendations or making infrastructure a priority.
“While the CBDP Enterprise should continue to address its priorities, it remains important that it also ensures that its infrastructure is aligned to meet its mission given ever-changing threats,” GAO stated.
Specifically, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs previously identified the need for an entity that has the responsibility and authority needed to ensure its goal of identifying infrastructure capabilities.
However, DOD has not designated such an entity nor has the department established a timeline to do so. GAO indicated failure to do so may be negatively impacting the department’s mission to protect the nation against chemical and biological attacks.
“By identifying and designating an entity with the responsibility and authority to lead infrastructure transformation, the CBDP Enterprise would be better positioned to achieve this goal,” GAO said.
Furthermore, the CBDP Enterprise used threat data and plans to use threat data and the results from risk assessments piloted in 2014 to support its future portfolio planning process to prioritize research and development investment. However, the CBDP Enterprise has not updated its guidance and planning process to fully institutionalize the use of risk assessments.
“By updating guidance and the planning process, the CBDP Enterprise can fully institutionalize the use of risk assessments and not depend on an individual official to request risk assessments,” GAO said. “Fully institutionalizing the use of risk assessments would support CBDP Enterprise planning and may provide new information about chemical and biological defense capabilities to further prioritize the CBDP Enterprise’s future research and development investments.”
In response, GAO recommended DOD designate an entity to lead the effort to identify required infrastructure; identify, request and consider any information from chemical and biological infrastructure studies of other federal agencies to avoid potential duplication; and update the CBDP Enterprise’s guidance and planning process to fully institutionalize the use of risk assessments.
DOD concurred with all five of GAO’s recommendations and has discussed actions it plans to take.