1 August 2015

GAO Report Reveals New Data About Strength, Funding and Deployments of U.S. Special Operations Command

Special Operations Forces: Opportunities Exist to Improve Transparency of Funding and Assess Potential to Lessen Some Deployments 

Published: Jul 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2015.

What GAO Found

GAO analysis of the resources devoted to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) found that the number of authorized special operations military positions increased from about 42,800 in fiscal year (FY) 2001 to about 62,800 in FY 2014, which includes combat and support personnel. Even with this growth, special operations military positions constituted less than 3 percent of the military services’ FY14 total authorized force levels.

Special operations–specific funding has increased markedly, but the Department of Defense (DOD) has not determined the total funding used to support special operations forces (SOF). Funding provided to SOCOM for special operations–specific needs has more than tripled from about $3.1 billion in FY 2001 to about $9.8 billion in FY 2014 constant dollars, including supplemental funding for contingency operations. However, these totals do not include funding provided by the services, which SOCOM estimates is more than $8 billion annually. GAO found that DOD has little visibility over total funding to support SOF, primarily because it has not established a requirement or methodology to capture and report this information. Until DOD has more complete information on total funding to support SOF, decision makers will be unable to effectively identify and assess resource needs or weigh priorities and assess budget trade-offs.

DOD has taken some steps to manage the increased pace of special operations deployments, but opportunities may exist to better balance the workload across the joint force because activities assigned to SOF can be similar to activities assigned to conventional forces. Average weekly deployments of SOF personnel have increased from about 2,900 in FY 2001 to about 7,200 in FY 2014. SOCOM has taken steps to manage the effect of SOF deployments, but DOD reported that some portions of the force are still heavily deployed. GAO identified two factors that inhibit DOD’s ability to potentially share the burden of SOF deployments with the conventional force. First, DOD has not evaluated since 2003 whether activities performed by SOF could be conducted by conventional forces. Second, DOD’s current force-allocation process provides the Joint Staff with criteria to validate force requests, but does not systematically consider whether conventional forces could serve as an appropriate alternative to meet some requests for SOF. Unless the department more fully assesses whether opportunities exist to better balance demands across the joint force, the demand for SOF and the high pace of deployments that results is likely to continue.

A copy of the 71-page GAO report can be accessed here.

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