GAO criticizes DOD plans for business reform czar

In a new report, the GAO finds that the DOD's planned deputy chief management officer position lacks the authority to affect real change.

The titles exist, but new positions created within the Defense Department to reform business practices lack authority, according to a new report released Jan. 9 by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO has long criticized the Defense Department for mismanaging its finances and urged it to create a full-time chief management officer position. In the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization act Congress designated the deputy secretary of defense as the Pentagon CMO while directing DOD to also appoint a deputy CMO.

Without a high-level official dedicated full time to CMO responsibilities, “It remains unclear how DOD's actions to date and its future plans will provide the long-term sustained leadership” required for business reform, the GAO report states.

And don’t look to the deputy CMO position for that leadership, the report warns. The Pentagon directive establishing the position stated that it would not affect the existing authority of executives with fiduciary, acquisition or procurement responsibilities. The deputy CMO position “appears to be advisory and not does appear to have clear decision-making authority,” the report says.

A strategic management plan for business operations required by the fiscal 2008 authorization law also is lacking, the GAO concluded. Namely, the current plan “does not identify any strategic goals, objectives and performance measures,” according to the GAO report. The strategic management plan does state a purpose, however, the report added. GAO researched the report for five months starting in August 2008.

The Defense Department said in its published response to the report that GAO failed to consider the statutory mandates under which it operates “or the actions that have been taken to date."

The reply, signed by Assistant Deputy Chief Management Officer Elizabeth McGrath, said that the CMO and deputy CMO positions are consistent with the mandates of the fiscal 2008 law and pre-existing laws.

Further, DOD “continues to maintain focus on business improvement and transformation issues as we strive to make the Department more efficient, effective and responsive,” McGrath said.