In today’s world, national security threats can come in many different forms – ranging from adversaries exploiting social media, IT, and other aspects of the information environment.

The Pentagon has training in place to help leaders to operate in this environment, but a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says the agency lacks guidance to go along with the training, leaving leaders confused about what topics to cover – and possibly unable to make effective decisions.

In the report, GAO explains that U.S. adversaries’ actions can have a big impact on Department of Defense (DoD) leaders in what it calls a “contested information environment.” For example, an adversary could create disinformation that is shared on social media or interfere with GPS data used by DoD leaders to make decisions about their military options.

“As adversaries increasingly aim to distort or compromise information available to leaders, the focus on leader decision-making approaches becomes more important to minimize negative effects on military readiness and the successful execution of military operations,” GAO says in the report.

“As part of its efforts to prepare for contested information environments, DoD offers education and training for its leaders. However, DoD components are unclear about what information environment aspects to cover in such education and training because guidance does not specify what content to include,” GAO said.

Pentagon officials said they have limited resources for their training efforts, as well as simulation, infrastructure, and personnel limitations. These limitations “hinder the creation of realistic environments in which leaders can practice decision-making skills,” according to the report.

However, the watchdog agency said DoD has not conducted an assessment or comprehensive review of such training and education resources.

“Until DOD develops guidance and assesses its resources, it will lack assurance that it will be able to educate and train leaders to prepare them to make decisions in a contested information environment,” GAO said.

GAO made two recommendations for DoD: to develop guidance on what content to include in the training and education related to decision-making in a contested environment; and to assess the necessary resources for such training and education.

DoD generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations, noting that it will develop “department-wide guidance” and “assess the resources necessary to meet related education and training needs.”

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