A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is calling on the Department of Defense (DoD) to issue more timely comments on GAO’s reports so as not to delay their publication.

GAO issues reports to help inform congressional and public debate, and provides the audited agencies the chance to offer comments on the draft reports before GAO issues the final versions of the reports.

The government watchdog agency said that the comment period for DoD is typically 30 days, but it can range from seven to 30 days. However, DoD has submitted only about half of its agency comments and sensitivity or security reviews to GAO before the deadlines for them.

“DoD took 34 days, on average, to submit agency comments. For half of the reports, DoD took an additional 16 days, on average, to submit agency comments. For one report, DoD took 71 days to provide its comments,” the report says. “On average, DoD completed sensitivity reviews in 34 days and security reviews in 31 days. In two cases, DOD took 60 days to complete its reviews.”

“In some cases, GAO granted DoD an extension to the deadline for submitting comments or reviews, but DoD did not meet the extension for about half of those reports,” it continues. “For one report, DoD requested multiple extensions but did not meet any of the new deadlines; as a result, GAO took the unusual step of issuing the report without agency comments.”

DoD’s delays in submitting comments and sensitivity or security reviews impacts GAO’s ability to issue reports on time – oftentimes “later than mandated or requested by Congress.”

GAO noted that it has offered to assist DoD in meeting its 30-day deadline by providing further details, and offered to sit down with DoD officials to go over the materials and documents used in the report.

“We encourage DoD to take GAO up on its offers of assistance more often, which we believe would result in even more meaningful communication and could further help to improve timeliness while reflecting both DoD’s and GAO’s commitment to protecting our national security,” the report says. “While GAO hopes that DoD will commit further to engage GAO on these offers of assistance, GAO will continue to assess additional ways it can assist DoD in timely completion of security reviews.”

This report is GAO’s first deep dive into the DoD’s delays, after the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023 included a provision for GAO to report every six months over two years on the extent to which DoD submitted agency comments and sensitivity/security reviews on time.

Although GAO did not offer recommendations to DoD in this report, DoD said that it had reviewed the report and concurs with GAO’s conclusions.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.