Two new areas of concern topped the Defense Department Inspector General’s annual list of management challenges for the Pentagon to address in 2020.
The two new areas that differ from the 2019 report — ensuring the welfare and well-being of service members and their families, and improving supply chain management and security — show a shift in where DoD is putting an emphasis on resources.
The most notable absence from the list is the need for readiness, something all sectors of defense pushed for over the past four years, after the Pentagon lost some luster due to continuing resolutions and sequestration.
“They’ve put a lot of resources into restoring readiness,” Susanna Blume, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security told Federal News Network. “It seems like from what the military services have been saying publicly is that they feel, if not recovered, at least well on the road to recovery with the exception of some small niche areas.”
The additions join more perennial concerns outlined by the DoD IG like countering China, Russia and Iran, bettering DoD’s financial management and enhancing DoD’s space-based operations. Other usual suspects include ensuring ethical conduct, and providing comprehensive and cost-effective health care.
The new areas on the list, however, show partly how the DoD IG is concerned about the department’s talent management system — particularly retention — and about the ability for defense hardware to get to warfighters and to be free from foreign influence.
The report highlights some of the most salient issues hitting military service members and their families like sexual assault, the dearth of child care services for military families, substance abuse and suicide in its section on military service members and their families.
“Those challenges can be exacerbated by frequent deployments, relocations and the stress that those events place on the service member’s family,” the report states. “The challenges are longstanding and difficult to address, but it is critical for the DoD to make progress in these areas to help ensure the welfare and well‑being of service members and their families.”
The report also highlights DoD’s issue with privatized military housing. In the last year, service members described substandard living conditions infested with mold, mice, lead paint and more.
“The adequacy of installations and housing for service members and their families is a troubling challenge for the DoD that can undermine morale, welfare and readiness of service members,” the report states. “During 2017 and 2018, the DoD, the Government Accountability Office, and the DoD IG all reported that the DoD needs to improve its oversight of installations and housing. For installations, the report highlighted that the services were unable to maintain facility records, conduct facility assessment reviews, and assess risks of climate‑change effects in military construction projects.”
DoD is taking some action to mitigate the issue. It is working with Congress on a bill of rights for tenants, and conducted internal reviews of the property management companies.
Addressing those issues may help DoD hold on to some of the talented service members it thinks will help the United States keep its technological edge over Russia and China.
“There are retention issues in some specific areas,” Blume said. “Overall, though, the recruitment and retention story is better than I expected considering how strong the economy is. But there has been a lot of discussion about needing to focus more on recruiting specific talents.”
Another topic rearing its head on the list this year is a concern that is growing almost exponentially within DoD: supply chain security.
“The DoD supply chain has faced longstanding problems, such as limited sources of supply, and challenges in distributing and transporting goods to remote locations,” the report states. “Ultimately, deficiencies in the DoD’s supply chain can result in reduced readiness for service members because they do not have what they need, in the right place, at the right time.”
DoD is taking steps to protect itself from foreign-made products by banning ZTE and other companies from working with the military.
That’s not the only area where DoD IG has concerns though. One issue revolves around the continued consolidation of defense companies, forcing DoD to rely on one company for a product. The DoD IG points to additive manufacturing and 3D printing as a means of at least ensuring DoD can get a replacement part if a defense company goes out of business.
The report also states that limited distribution and transportation capabilities affect the supply chain.
“In the case of shipping arms, ammunition, and explosives, deficiencies in security procedures can result in accidents and risks to public safety,” the report states. “Furthermore, transit delays in the DoD’s distribution networks and transportation routes can affect operations and warfighter readiness.”
DoD IG is currently conducting an audit of ground transportation and secure storage of arms, ammunition and explosives in the U.S.