The Pentagon’s training to help Defense Department leaders navigate the global “information environment”—including social media content, wireless communications and information technology—could be bolstered by providing additional guidance and expanding covered topics, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released on Thursday.
The watchdog’s review was requested in a House report that accompanied the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision asking GAO to examine “DOD training that prepares leaders and service members to operate and make decisions in a contested information environment.”
The watchdog described the information environment as “the aggregate of factors that affect how humans and automated systems derive meaning from, act upon and are impacted by information,” and added that it is “not limited by geographic boundaries and affects all of DOD’s operations.”
The Pentagon’s 2018 Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment previously outlined the dangers of hostile actors exploiting this terrain, noting that “our competitors and adversaries are taking advantage of vulnerabilities in the information environment to advance their national objectives and offset the U.S.’s position as the preeminent warfighting force.”
GAO’s report cited instances of “making false social media posts or interfering with GPS data used by DOD leaders” as examples of how the information environment can be weaponized against U.S. military interests.
While GAO noted in its report that DOD “educates and trains its leaders to address such threats,” it found that the department also “hasn’t issued guidance specifying what content should be included in this education and training.”
“DOD provides some education and training to prepare leaders to make decisions in a contested information environment,” GAO said. “However, DOD components lack clarity about what contested information environment content to include, and report that resources for these education and training efforts may be limited.”
DOD officials also told GAO that a lack of resources for education and training—particularly “simulation, infrastructure, and personnel limitations”—have hindered “the creation of realistic environments in which leaders can practice decision-making skills.”
“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 added.
In its two recommendations to DOD, GAO said that the department should “develop guidance about what content to incorporate in its education and training related to decision-making in a contested information environment, and assess the resources necessary to meet related education and training needs.”
DOD generally concurred with the report’s recommendations, adding that the defense secretary “would develop department-wide guidance regarding what content to include in education and training efforts,” and that it would “assess the resources necessary to meet related education and training needs.”