Report | Sept. 15, 2021

Audit of Military Services Special Assignment Airlift Mission Cargo Movement Requests (DODIG-2021-123)


Publicly Released: September 17, 2021



The objective of this audit was to determine whether Military Services requested timely airlift cargo movements through the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) in accordance with DoD guidance.



USTRANSCOM’s mission is to transport military personnel and distribute military supplies throughout the world. The Defense Transportation Regulation (DTR) requires selection of the mode of transportation used for shipping cargo to be that which will meet the DoD requirements using the best value to the Government. USTRANSCOM airlifts Military Service unit cargo using Special Assignment Airlift Mission (SAAM) movements that are for a specified user at a specified time that cannot be supported by other modes of transportation.

A SAAM movement request is submitted at the unit level through the SAAM Request System (SRS) to Service validators for approval. Service validators then send approved SAAM movement requests to the supported geographic combatant command for review. Once the supported geographic combatant command reviews the SAAM request, the combatant command forwards the request to USTRANSCOM for validation.



We could not determine whether the Military Services submitted timely SAAM cargo movement requests through USTRANSCOM or whether the cargo movements provided the best value to the Government. We selected a sample of 163 Military Service SAAM cargo movements to review; however, we could not obtain sufficient information to review timeliness for 147 of the 163 (90 percent) sample items. We were unable to identify validators for 55 of the sample items, and validators were unable to provide the information needed to determine whether the unit submitted the SAAM request in a timely manner for another 92 SAAMs. Without this information, we could not compare the date that the unit was notified of the need to move the cargo, the date that the request was entered into the SRS, and the date that the movement occurred. Therefore, we could not determine whether the request was submitted in a timely manner allowing for the selection of the mode of transportation that would provide the best value to the Government.

We were not able to verify whether SAAM cargo movement requests were submitted timely because the DTR does not establish a requirement for this review. While the DTR establishes a process for the review and approval of SAAMs, it does not assign anyone involved in the process the responsibility to review the movement requests for timeliness. In addition, the DTR establishes mandatory fields in the SRS, but the information needed to perform the timeliness review is not required.

As a result, the Military Services spent $1.6 billion on SAAMs from October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2020, without the capability to determine whether the timeliness of SAAM requests affected the ability to select the most efficient and cost-effective mode of transportation to meet DoD requirements. Reviewing SAAM requests for timeliness and holding units accountable for late submissions could deter the units from delaying future SAAM requests. This could result in significant future cost savings if even a small percentage of cargo that was scheduled to be shipped via SAAMs was transported via surface. For example, a movement of one 20-foot long container by SAAM from Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia, to Sigonella Naval Air Station, Italy, would cost $480,299.73, which is an increase of 16,094 percent over the $2,984 cost of shipping it by sealift.



We recommend that the USTRANSCOM Commander, in coordination with the Military Services, update the DTR to:

  • require the Military Services to establish Service‑level policy for determining the best value to the Government; and require Service validators to determine whether the units submitting SAAM requests input their requests into the SRS in a timely manner so as to allow for the consideration of other modes of transportation;
  • include validator and requesting unit contact information as a mandatory field in the SRS;
  • require units requesting SAAMs to upload documentation into the SRS supporting the timeliness of their request when the required delivery date makes movement by SAAM the only viable option; and
  • require the Military Services to establish policy to require actions to hold units accountable when the Service validator finds the unit failed to request a SAAM in a timely manner, which then precluded the consideration of other modes of transportation.


Management Comments and Our Response

The USTRANSCOM Chief of Staff, responding for the USTRANSCOM Commander, partially agreed with two of the four recommendations. The Chief of Staff suggested revising both recommendations to clarify that the DTR should be updated to require the Military Services to develop policies to determine the best value to government, require validators to review SAAM requests for timeliness, and to hold units accountable when the requests were not timely. Because, the suggested revisions align with the intent of our recommendations, we revised two recommendations. In addition, the USTRANSCOM Chief of Staff agreed to require units submitting SAAM requests to upload documentation supporting when the unit was notified of the mission requirement. Therefore, these recommendations are resolved but will remain open. USTRANSCOM plans to implement the corrective actions by March 1, 2022. We will close these recommendations when we verify that the actions have been taken.

The USTRANSCOM Chief of Staff agreed with the recommendation related to validator and unit contact information, stating that the DTR will be updated to specify unit contact information be entered as a mandatory field in the SRS by December 1, 2021. The USTRANSCOM Chief of Staff also stated that the validator contact information is available in the SRS and that no additional action is required. However, during the audit, we found that 55 of the 163 sample items did not have sufficient information to allow us to identify the validator. Therefore, the Chief of Staff’s comments do not address all the specifics of the recommendation, and the recommendation is unresolved. We request that USTRANSCOM re-evaluate this recommendation and provide comments on the final report that address the issue of not having the Service validator contact information as a mandatory field in the SRS.