Publicly Released: August 3, 2023
The objective of this audit was to determine the extent to which the DoD provided oversight of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and the actions the DoD took to address recommendations from two previous Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.
The DoD established the EFMP to assist military families in finding specialized medical providers, educational services, and community support for family members with special needs. The DoD Office of Special Needs (OSN) is responsible for the development and implementation of policy to support military families with special needs, program oversight, and the identification of gaps in services. In 2012 and 2018 the GAO issued reports on the EFMP, recommending ways to improve the program.
As of March 2023, the OSN had not fully implemented previous GAO recommendations. Although the OSN made progress in collecting appropriate data, the OSN did not improve the EFMP Data Repository to collect the comparable, detailed data necessary to improve monitoring of the EFMP and better analyze gaps. In addition, the OSN did not collect installation‑level data, such as data reflecting gaps in medical services that could lead to a decision to not recommend a Service member for an assignment. Furthermore, the OSN did not establish goals for current or planned performance metrics to monitor program effectiveness. August 1, 2023 The OSN did not collect the data or metrics needed to improve oversight of the EFMP because OSN officials did not provide policy and implementing guidance to standardize Services’ EFMP processes across the DoD or provide detailed data requirements. Additionally, lack of information technology systems and the involvement of multiple EFMP components and stakeholders slowed the OSN’s progress in improving oversight of the EFMP.
Until the OSN standardizes the EFMP, including collecting the data and metrics needed, the OSN will not be able to assess the effectiveness of the program, fully identify gaps in medical and educational services, or implement associated improvements at specific installations. If the OSN cannot perform appropriate assessments, then military families in the EFMP could be relocated to installations without the medical services they need. This could reduce military readiness by increasing stress on Service members and families struggling to find special needs care and considering family separation to relocate families for care. The lack of services could also cause Service members to relocate again to an installation with the services their family needs. In addition, DoD Educational Activity schools could face delays in providing required educational services.
The OIG made a total of seven recommendations to address the findings of our audit, including recommendations that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness ensure the OSN and Assistant Secretaries of Defense:
- standardize and update processes, instructions, dictionaries, and systems related to the EFMP;
- establish a process to track and elevate disputes to the appropriate office for resolution; and
- develop a DoD information technology system and perform more in‑depth data reliability tests of the data for the EFMP.
Management Comments and Our Response
The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness agreed with or partially agreed with the recommendations and described planned actions with milestones for all recommendations. However, the subsequent actions taken for one recommendation, which revised DoD EFMP policy, only partially answered the recommendation to standardize assignment coordination processes across the DoD. Therefore, one recommendation is unresolved, and six recommendations are resolved. All seven recommendations will remain open until management officials provide documentation showing that the planned actions have been completed and satisfied the intent of the recommendations. We request that the Under Secretary provide comments on the unresolved recommendation within 30 days.
Please see the Recommendations Table on the next page for the status of the recommendations.
This report is a result of Project No. D2021-D000RM-0018.000