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New GAO reports scrutinize spending on PTSD, air defense programs with arms at JBLM

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Feb. 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
February 1, 2012 12:11 pm

Two new reports from the Government Accountability Office signal a hard look at popular Defense Department programs that grew considerably over the past decade and expanded their reach into the South Sound’s military community.

Last week, the GAO urged the Defense Department to coordinate spending on programs designed to help soldiers cope with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. The Defense Department spent $2.7 billion on these programs between 2007 and 2010, and the GAO says it’s difficult to tell if any of that spending is redundant.

GAO reports tend to read from a mile-high view, and they rarely single out a specific location. That’s true with the new study on brain injury and psychological health programs, but it’s worth noting Madigan Army Medical Center has a special clinic that studies traumatic brain injuries.

For a third time, the GAO singled out the Defense Centers of Excellence as opaque. The DCOE leads military psychological health research and has an office at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that creates high-tech tools to help soldiers and families cope with combat deployments.

Here’s the GAO: “In its own plan, DCOE stated that it would serve as a coordinating authority for DOD’s (psychological health) and (traumatic brain injury) issues and perform a gap analysis to identify needed programming. GAO found, however, as it had in prior reports, that DCOE’s strategic plan did not reflect a clear mission focusing the organization on its statutory responsibilities. Instead, those responsibilities are dispersed among the TRICARE Management Activity, the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, and others.”

Also this week, the GAO called on the Air Force to develop clear performance measures for its Air Sovereignty Alert operations and to disclose budgeting information about each of the program’s 18 sites. The Air Sovereignty Alert operations are charged with scanning the nation’s skies for threats, a mission that once focused outside our borders but turned inward after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The overall report aims to clear up how the Air Force classifies the mission.  Sixteen of the 18 sites draw on airmen from the Air National Guard, and two others use active-duty personnel. The Western Air Defense Sector at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is one of the sites staffed by the Air National Guard.

It also asks the North American Aerospace Defense Command to quantify how many of the sites are necessary.

Again, here’s the GAO:

“NORAD’s analysis determined that the probability of success of an attack increased as the number of ASA sites decreased. The analysis also identified a ‘point of diminishing returns’ below which the number of (air sovereignty) sites could not be further reduced without assuming an unacceptable level of risk. However, the analysis did not identify potential cost savings that could result from eliminating a given number of sites. Should NORAD, DOD, or Congress consider modifying the number and location of (air sovereignty) sites in the future, without an analysis that balances both risk and costs, decision makers will be unable to make fully informed decisions about whether the potential cost savings (or increase) warrants the corresponding increase (or decrease) in risk.”

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