oversight

Military Attrition: DOD Could Save Millions by Better Screening Enlisted Personnel

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-01-06.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Chairman and the Ranking
                  Member, Subcommittee on Personnel,
                  Committee on Armed Services, U.S.
                  Senate

January 1997
                  MILITARY ATTRITION
                  DOD Could Save
                  Millions by Better
                  Screening Enlisted
                  Personnel




GAO/NSIAD-97-39
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division

      B-270643

      January 6, 1997

      The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne
      Chairman
      The Honorable Robert C. Byrd
      Ranking Member
      Subcommittee on Personnel
      Committee on Armed Services
      United States Senate

      This report responds to the request of the former Chairman and the current Ranking Member
      that we review the attrition rates of first-term, active-duty military personnel who are separated
      within the first 6 months of their enlistments. Specifically, we (1) calculated how much the
      services could save by achieving their goals for reducing 6-month attrition, (2) determined the
      adequacy of the data that the Department of Defense uses to allow it to establish realistic goals
      for reducing attrition, and (3) identified the principal reasons that enlistees are separated from
      the services while they are still in training.

      Unless you announce its contents earlier, we plan to make no further distribution of this report
      until 3 days after its issue date. At that time, we will send copies to the Secretaries of Defense,
      the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. We will also
      make copies available to others upon request.

      Please contact me at (202) 512-5140 if you or your staff have any questions concerning this
      report. Other major contributors to this report are listed in appendix II.




      Mark E. Gebicke
      Director, Military Operations and
        Capabilities Issues
Executive Summary


                   For at least the last decade, about one-third of enlistees in the military
Purpose            services have failed to complete their first tours of duty. Concerned that
                   the attrition rate was so high, the former Chairman and the Ranking
                   Member of the Subcommittee on Personnel, Senate Committee on Armed
                   Services, asked GAO to review the attrition rates of first-term, active-duty
                   military personnel who are separated within the first 6 months of their
                   enlistments. Specifically, GAO (1) calculated how much the services could
                   save by achieving their goals for reducing 6-month attrition,
                   (2) determined the adequacy of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) data for
                   allowing it to establish realistic goals for reducing attrition, and
                   (3) analyzed the principal reasons that enlistees are separated from the
                   services while they are still in training.


                   After recruiters have prescreened applicants for the military services, the
Background         applicants are sent to military entrance processing stations (MEPS), which
                   are the responsibility of the Military Entrance Processing Command. When
                   it has been determined that the applicants are qualified, through medical
                   and aptitudinal tests, they are sworn into the Individual Ready Reserve, in
                   an unpaid status, for up to 1 year. Once they are called to active duty,
                   enlisted personnel enter basic training, which can last from 6 to 12 weeks,
                   depending on the service. After basic training, recruits go on to initial skill
                   training, which can range from a few weeks to more than a year.

                   In fiscal year 1994, DOD recruited more than 176,000 new recruits. Of that
                   number, more than 25,000 were separated by the 6-month point in their
                   contracts.


                   All the services agree that reducing early attrition is desirable. To this end,
Results in Brief   three services have attrition-reducing targets ranging from 4 to 10 percent.
                   If the services reach their goals, they would realize immediate short-term
                   annual savings ranging from around $5 million to $12 million. The services
                   may not be able to realize savings through reductions in their related
                   training and recruiting infrastructure for many years. However, possible
                   long-term savings could range from more than $15 million to $39 million.
                   Despite the fact that the services have these goals, DOD, at present, lacks
                   consistent and complete information on the causes of attrition.
                   Implementing arbitrary attrition-reduction goals could result in a
                   reduction in the quality of recruits.




                   Page 2                                          GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                          Executive Summary




                          DOD’s primary database for managing attrition cannot be used to
                          adequately determine the reasons that recruits separate and to set
                          appropriate targets for reducing attrition for two reasons: (1) the services
                          interpret and apply DOD’s uniform set of separation codes differently
                          because DOD has not issued directives on how to interpret them and
                          (2) current separation codes capture only the official reason that an
                          enlistee leaves the service.

                          Thousands of recruits are separated in the first 6 months because the
                          services do not adequately screen applicants for disqualifying medical
                          conditions or for preservice drug use. One reason that this screening is
                          inadequate is that recruiters do not have sufficient incentives to ensure
                          that their recruits are qualified. Thousands of recruits also are separated
                          who fail to meet minimum performance criteria. Recruits have problems
                          meeting performance standards because they are not physically prepared
                          for basic training and because they lack motivation.



Principal Findings

DOD Could Save Millions   If the services reach their goals for reducing attrition, they would realize
of Dollars by Reducing    immediate short-term savings because they would be transporting,
Attrition                 feeding, clothing, and paying fewer recruits. In some cases, reducing
                          attrition may require that the services add preenlistment medical tests or
                          more screening mechanisms to their recruiting and examining processes.
                          However, GAO believes that these added costs would be more than offset
                          by the immediate short-term savings achieved through having to recruit,
                          process, and train fewer recruits. Even larger dollar savings could be
                          realized over time as the services began to reduce the infrastructure
                          associated with recruiting and training enlistees.

                          Using GAO’s calculations of the fixed and marginal costs of recruiting and
                          training and the services’ highest and lowest targets for reducing attrition,
                          GAO estimates that if the services were to reduce their 6-month attrition by
                          4 percent, their immediate short-term savings would be $4.8 million. If the
                          services achieved a 10-percent reduction of attrition, their short-term
                          savings would be $12 million. Over time, if the services reduced 6-month
                          attrition by 4 percent, their infrastructure savings could be as high as
                          $15.6 million. If they were able to reduce their 6-month attrition by




                          Page 3                                         GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                            Executive Summary




                            10 percent, potential infrastructure savings could be as much as
                            $39 million.


DOD’s Data Does Not         While significant savings could be achieved by reducing attrition, GAO
Allow the Services to Set   believes that the services’ current goals for reducing attrition are arbitrary.
Realistic Attrition Goals   That is, DOD and the services do not currently have sufficient information
                            to determine what portion of 6-month attrition is truly avoidable. The
                            danger of setting arbitrary goals is that these goals can become “attrition
                            ceilings,” which can result in the inadvertent retention of lower quality
                            recruits. To set realistic and achievable targets for reducing attrition, DOD
                            and the services need more complete and accurate data on why recruits
                            are being separated.

                            DOD’s current data on attrition is inconsistent and incomplete for two
                            reasons. First, the services interpret DOD’s definitions of separation codes
                            differently and therefore place enlistees with identical situations in
                            different discharge categories. Second, DOD’s separation codes capture
                            only the officially assigned reason for discharge, when many other factors
                            may result in an enlistee’s separation. DOD has not issued guidance for
                            applying these separation codes.


Screening Processes Do      About 83 percent of the 25,000 who were discharged in their first 6 months
Not Identify Thousands of   were assigned separation codes indicating that they (1) were medically
Recruits Who Are            unqualified for military service, (2) had character or behavior disorders,
                            (3) had fraudulently or erroneously entered the military, or (4) failed to
Unqualified for Service     meet minimum performance criteria.1 Separations for medical conditions
                            and failure to meet performance standards represent at least 55 percent of
                            all 6-month attrition for enlistees who entered the services in fiscal year
                            1994. This percentage is understated for two reasons. First, some persons
                            who have medical problems are categorized as fraudulent enlistments
                            because they concealed medical problems. Second, some persons who
                            have performance problems are categorized as having character or
                            behavior disorders. GAO was not able to calculate the number of persons
                            discharged for drug use because these separations are categorized in many
                            different ways.

                            GAO found that recruits were enlisted and later separated because DOD’s
                            screening processes were inadequate in the following ways:

                            1
                             The Defense Manpower Data Center maintains data on all the services’ enlistees; fiscal year 1994 was
                            the most current year for which complete data was available.



                            Page 4                                                        GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                                Executive Summary




                            •   Recruiters do not have adequate incentives to ensure that their recruits are
                                qualified. The Navy recently began to subtract points from recruiters’
                                quotas when their enlistees did not graduate from basic training. It is too
                                soon, however, to determine the effect of this change on attrition. Over the
                                years, the Marine Corps has allowed its recruiting units the flexibility to tie
                                recruiters’ incentive systems to enlistees’ successful completion of basic
                                training. However, this policy has not been uniformly applied throughout
                                the Marine Corps, and its incentive system, as those of the other services,
                                does not appear to provide adequate incentives for recruiters to screen out
                                unqualified applicants. Basic training personnel suggested that awarding
                                recruiters with partial credit for screening out unqualified personnel or
                                changing monthly goals to floating 3-month goals might relieve the
                                pressure on recruiters to enlist personnel later found to be unqualified.
                            •   The services do not require all applicants to provide the names of their
                                medical insurers or their past medical providers. Also, the medical
                                screening forms contain vague and ambiguous questions and may be easy
                                for applicants to falsify.
                            •   DOD’s current system of capturing information on medical diagnoses does
                                not allow it to track the success of recruits who receive medical waivers.
                                DOD has just approved a project to compile a comprehensive database of
                                medical conditions for all accessions. Information from this database will
                                provide DOD with the ability to reevaluate its physical enlistment
                                standards, to analyze the medical reasons that recruits are separated, to
                                make fact-based policy changes to reduce medical attrition, and to
                                determine whether it would be cost-effective to provide more medical
                                tests to all or selected groups of applicants.
                            •   The responsibility for reviewing medical separation cases to determine
                                whether medical conditions should have been detected at the MEPS now
                                resides with the Military Entrance Processing Command, the organization
                                responsible for the medical examinations.
                            •   The Navy and the Marine Corps do not test applicants for drugs at the MEPS
                                but wait until they arrive at basic training.


Thousands of Recruits Are       More than 7,200 of the recruits who entered the services in fiscal year 1994
Discharged for Failure to       were discharged in the first 6 months of service because they failed to
Meet Minimum                    meet minimum performance criteria. Basic training personnel throughout
                                the services said that these recruits are not physically prepared for basic
Performance Criteria            training and lack motivation. Basic training personnel suggested that
                                recruits might be better prepared for the physical demands of basic
                                training if they were more fully informed of the services’ physical training
                                requirements and encouraged to exercise to become physically fit before



                                Page 5                                          GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                       Executive Summary




                       going to basic training. The Army has a new program, which was nearing
                       implementation in December 1996, to (1) award enlistees retirement
                       points for participating in physical activities with their recruiters before
                       going to basic training and (2) allow enlistees access to military fitness
                       centers and military medical facilities if they are injured.

                       To try to improve recruits’ motivation, all the services have taken actions
                       to improve the basic training environment. They have established
                       motivational and rehabilitation units for recruits with motivational
                       problems and injuries. The Army and the Air Force, in particular, have
                       stressed positive leadership by their drill instructors. Despite these
                       improvements, GAO’s interviews with separating recruits suggest that
                       negative leadership techniques continue to be a factor in recruits’ lack of
                       motivation to meet performance standards.


                       To reduce the attrition of enlisted personnel during the first 6 months of
Recommendations        their terms of enlistment, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense
                       issue implementing guidance on DOD’s separation codes and direct the
                       services to strengthen their recruiter incentive and medical screening
                       systems. GAO also recommends that DOD use its newly proposed database
                       of medical diagnostic codes to improve medical screening and that DOD
                       move the responsibility for reviewing medical separations from the
                       Military Entrance Processing Command. Finally, GAO recommends that
                       drug testing for all services be moved to the MEPS and that the services
                       adopt Delayed Entry Programs similar to the Army’s new proposed
                       program. These recommendations are presented in their entirety in
                       chapters 2 and 3.


                       In commenting on a draft of the GAO report, DOD concurred with GAO’s
Agency Comments        recommendation to use DOD’s newly proposed database on medical
and GAO’s Evaluation   diagnostic codes to improve medical screening and with GAO’s
                       recommendation to strengthen the services’ Delayed Entry Programs. DOD
                       partially concurred with GAO’s recommendations to issue implementing
                       guidance on DOD’s separation codes and to direct the services to
                       strengthen their recruiter incentive systems and screening mechanisms.
                       DOD also partially concurred with the GAO recommendation to test all
                       applicants for military service for drugs before they report to basic
                       training. DOD did not concur with GAO’s recommendation to remove the
                       review of medical separation files from the agency that conducts the
                       medical screening. DOD believes that the Military Entrance Processing



                       Page 6                                         GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Executive Summary




Command is the appropriate entity to perform this review. GAO continues
to believe that an entity completely outside the medical screening process
would be more able to objectively determine whether the MEPS physicians
should have discovered disqualifying medical problems. DOD’s comments
appear in their entirety in appendix I and are discussed in
chapters 2 and 3.




Page 7                                       GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                     2


Chapter 1                                                                                            10
                         A Significant Portion of First-Term Attrition Occurs During                 10
Introduction               Training
                         Demographics of Fiscal Year 1994 Recruits                                   12
                         Three Separate Commands Recruit, Screen, and Train New                      13
                           Enlistees
                         Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                          15

Chapter 2                                                                                            18
                         Services’ Plans for Reducing Attrition                                      18
DOD Could Save           The Services Make a Substantial Investment in Recruits Who                  19
Millions of Dollars by     Separate in the First 6 Months
                         Short-Term Savings in Variable Costs by Reducing Attrition                  21
Reducing Attrition       Possibility of Long-Term Savings Through Infrastructure Cuts                22
                         Dangers of Establishing Attrition Targets Without Adequate                  23
                           Information on Why Recruits Are Separated
                         DOD Does Not Have Data Available to Establish Appropriate                   24
                           Targets for Reducing Attrition
                         Recommendation                                                              27
                         Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                          27

Chapter 3                                                                                            29
                         Screening Processes Do Not Identify Thousands of Recruits Who               30
Thousands of Recruits      Are Unqualified for Service
Are Separated Early      Thousands of Recruits Discharged for Failure to Meet Minimum                41
                           Performance Criteria
Because They Are         Recommendations                                                             45
Unqualified or           Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                          46
Unmotivated
Appendixes               Appendix I: Comments From the Department of Defense                         50
                         Appendix II: Major Contributors to This Report                              64

Tables                   Table 1.1: Percentage of Enlistees Who Are Separated During                 11
                           Their First Terms
                         Table 1.2: Percentage of Enlistees Who Are Separated in the First           11
                           6 Months of Their First Terms




                         Page 8                                       GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
          Contents




          Table 2.1: Services’ Investment in Recruits Who Enlisted in Fiscal           20
            Year 1994 and Were Separated in the First 2 Months
          Table 2.2: Services’ Investment in Recruits Who Enlisted in Fiscal           21
            Year 1994 and Were Separated in the First 3 to 6 Months
          Table 2.3: Marginal Cost Savings to Be Gained by Reducing                    22
            Attrition by 4 and 10 Percent
          Table 2.4: Long-Term Savings by Achieving 4-Percent and                      23
            10-Percent Reductions in 6-Month Attrition

Figures   Figure 1.1: DOD’s 2-Month, 6-Month, and 1-Year Attrition for                 12
            Fiscal Years 1990 Through 1994
          Figure 1.2: Process of Recruiting and Training Enlisted Personnel            15




          Abbreviations

          AFQT        Armed Forces Qualification Test
          ASVAB       Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
          DEP         Delayed Entry Program
          DMDC        Defense Manpower Data Center
          DOD         Department of Defense
          GAO         General Accounting Office
          MEPCOM      Military Entrance Processing Command
          MEPS        Military Entrance Processing Station
          TRADOC      Training and Doctrine Command


          Page 9                                        GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Chapter 1

Introduction


                          For at least the last decade, about one-third of those who have enlisted in
                          the military services have failed to complete their initial enlistment
                          contracts. One-third of these separating enlistees left the military before
                          they reported to their first duty assignments. The military services make a
                          substantial investment in training, time, equipment, and related expenses
                          for military enlistees.1 The separation of enlisted personnel before they
                          complete their initial training is wasteful because the services lose their
                          investment and must increase accessions to replace these losses.
                          Consequently, first-term attrition is an issue of significant concern at all
                          levels within the armed forces.


                          New recruits take an enlistment oath and sign a contract to serve one of
A Significant Portion     the military services for a specified period of time, typically 4 years.
of First-Term Attrition   Despite this contractual obligation, Department of Defense (DOD) data
Occurs During             shows that about one-third of new recruits fail to complete their first
                          terms. This attrition figure has been relatively constant over the past
Training                  10 years and has held true for each of the services. Table 1.1 shows
                          attrition rates for enlistees who entered the services in fiscal years 1986
                          through 1991. DOD generally tracks enlisted attrition up to the 3-year point
                          in enlistees’ first terms. In this report, however, we show attrition at the
                          4-year point because the majority of enlistees have 4-year contracts.
                          Calculations of attrition at the 3-year point do not include the attrition of
                          those who have 4-year contracts and leave the services in the last year of
                          their commitments. Enlistees who entered the services in fiscal year 1986
                          were scheduled to complete 4-year contracts in fiscal year 1990. Likewise,
                          enlistees who entered the services in fiscal year 1991 were expected to
                          complete their 4-year contracts in fiscal year 1995.




                          1
                           Not all recruits have completed training at the 6-month point in their first terms because some initial
                          skill training lasts beyond this point. In rare cases, initial skill training can last as long as a year or
                          more. However, for the purpose of this report, we examined attrition at the 6-month point because at
                          that time, most enlistees have completed both basic and follow-on training and are being assigned to
                          their first duty stations.



                          Page 10                                                           GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                                         Chapter 1
                                         Introduction




Table 1.1: Percentage of Enlistees Who
Are Separated During Their First         Fiscal year enlistees                          Marine
Terms                                    entered the services          Army      Navy   Corps Air Force       All services
                                         1986                           32.1     35.2     38.1       27.2             32.6
                                         1987                           31.9     33.4     35.3       26.3             31.7
                                         1988                           34.6     33.8     32.5       26.3             32.8
                                         1989                           36.3     35.5     34.5       31.2             35.0
                                         1990                           37.2     34.2     38.0       31.2             35.4
                                         1991                           37.7     31.7     35.4       32.8             34.6
                                         Source: Defense Manpower Data Center.



                                         Our analysis of the data further reveals that attrition is not evenly
                                         distributed throughout a first-term enlistment. About one-third of
                                         first-term attrition occurs within the first 6 months of an enlistee’s term,
                                         during the time when many recruits are still in training and before they
                                         report to their first duty assignments. Table 1.2 displays the attrition rates
                                         at the 6-month point, again for each service and for all services, for
                                         enlistees who entered the services between fiscal years 1986 and 1994.
                                         (Fiscal year 1994 was the latest year for which the Defense Manpower
                                         Data Center (DMDC) had complete data at the time of our review.)

Table 1.2: Percentage of Enlistees Who
Are Separated in the First 6 Months of   Fiscal year enlistees                          Marine
Their First Terms                        entered the services          Army      Navy   Corps Air Force       All services
                                         1986                           10.4     13.1     15.9       10.7             11.8
                                         1987                             9.2    12.7     13.2       10.0             10.8
                                         1988                             9.8    14.4     12.6        9.0             11.6
                                         1989                           10.0     12.8     13.9        9.4             11.3
                                         1990                           10.7     10.1     15.6       10.2             11.1
                                         1991                           13.0     10.2     14.1       10.5             11.9
                                         1992                           12.8     12.9     12.9        9.2             12.3
                                         1993                           15.3     15.8     13.6       11.6             14.6
                                         1994                           15.7     15.7     12.5       11.6             14.4
                                         Source: DMDC.



                                         Figure 1.1 shows that, in fiscal years 1990 through 1994, DOD’s 2-month,
                                         6-month, and 12-month attrition rates increased steadily in a parallel
                                         pattern. Attrition rates shown in figure 1.1 are cumulative. That is, 6- and
                                         12-month attrition rates include all attrition up to those two points in time.




                                         Page 11                                         GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                                        Chapter 1
                                        Introduction




Figure 1.1: DOD’s 2-Month, 6-Month,
and 1-Year Attrition for Fiscal Years   25.00      Attrition rate (percent)
1990 Through 1994

                                        20.00




                                        15.00




                                        10.00




                                            5.00




                                              0

                                               1990                      1991             1992                   1993                    1994

                                               Fiscal year


                                                             2 months
                                                             6 months
                                                             1 year


                                        Source: GAO’s analysis of DMDC data.




                                        We concentrated our analysis of 6-month attrition on the cohort of recruits
Demographics of                         who joined the military in fiscal year 1994, as this was the latest year for
Fiscal Year 1994                        which DMDC had complete statistics during the time of our review.
Recruits                                Additional data provided to us by DOD demonstrates that fiscal year 1994
                                        was a representative year in terms of the education levels and quality of
                                        the recruits who joined the military. Researchers have investigated several
                                        factors that influence attrition during the first term of enlistment. These
                                        include educational credentials, gender, age, race, enlistment term, and
                                        military occupational specialties.2 According to DOD and the services, the
                                        most important of these variables in determining the attrition rate is
                                        recruits’ educational attainment. Most researchers have found that

                                        2
                                         See Report to Congress: Educational Enlistment Standards: Recruiting Equity for GED Certificates
                                        (Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management Policy), Apr. 1996); Attrition
                                        Revisited: Identifying the Problem and Its Solutions (Human Resources Research Organization,
                                        FR-PRD-95-01, Jan. 1995); Who Stays, Who Leaves? Attrition Among First-Term Enlistees (Rand,
                                        N-2967-FMP, May 1989); Trends in Attrition of High-Quality Military Recruits (Rand, R-3539-FMP, Aug.
                                        1988); and First-Term Attrition in the Marine Corps (Center for Naval Analyses, CRM 92-200,
                                        Mar. 1993).



                                        Page 12                                                      GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                    Chapter 1
                    Introduction




                    enlistees who were high school graduates had lower attrition rates. A
                    second predictor of lower attrition rates is enlistees’ scores on the Armed
                    Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). Those who score in the upper
                    50th percentile have historically had lower attrition rates. In fiscal year
                    1994, 96 percent of all recruits were high school graduates, and 72 percent
                    of all recruits scored in the upper 50th percentile on the AFQT. In that same
                    year, 68 percent of all recruits were high school graduates and scored in
                    the upper 50th percentile of the AFQT. All of these figures compare
                    favorably with data from other recent fiscal years.

                    The magnitude of DOD’s 6-month attrition becomes apparent when studied
                    in context with DOD’s total accessions. In fiscal year 1994, DOD recruited
                    more than 176,000 recruits who did not have prior military service. Of that
                    number, more than 25,000 recruits were separated by the 6-month point in
                    their contracts.


                    After a recruiter prescreens an applicant for military service, the applicant
Three Separate      is sent to one of 65 military entrance processing stations (MEPS) located
Commands Recruit,   throughout the country. At the MEPS, which are under the direction of the
Screen, and Train   Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM), the applicant takes the
                    Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to determine whether
New Enlistees       he or she is qualified for enlistment and a military job specialty,3 and a
                    medical examination is given to determine whether he or she meets
                    physical entrance standards. After it has been determined that an
                    applicant is qualified, the applicant is sworn into the service and enters the
                    Delayed Entry Program (DEP). When an applicant enters the DEP, he or she
                    becomes a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, in an unpaid status,
                    and awaits being called to active duty. An individual may remain in the DEP
                    for up to 1 year. Just before reporting to the service basic training
                    command, the new recruit returns to the MEPS, undergoes a brief physical
                    examination, and is sworn into active duty.

                    Basic training lasts from 6 to 12 weeks. Most enlistees have completed
                    basic training before the 3-month point in their first terms, though their
                    graduation points may vary, depending on how long their basic training
                    lasts and on whether they have to be held back to repeat some parts of
                    basic training. The Air Force basic training program lasts 6 weeks and is
                    given at one training site, located at Lackland Air Force Base in San
                    Antonio, Texas. Navy recruits remain in basic training for 9 weeks at one

                    3
                    In some cases, applicants are given the ASVAB in high school or at independent sites apart from the
                    MEPS.



                    Page 13                                                       GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Chapter 1
Introduction




site, located at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois. The
Marine Corps’ basic training curriculum is 11 weeks long for men and
12 weeks long for women, and recruits are trained in San Diego,
California, and Parris Island, South Carolina. The Army has two types of
basic training sites: sites that provide only basic combat training and
one-station unit training sites that provide both basic combat training and
follow-on initial skill training. The Army’s basic combat training sites are
located at Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Leonard Wood,
Missouri; and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The Army’s one-station unit
training sites are located at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Knox, Kentucky;
Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort McClellan, Alabama; and Fort Leonard Wood,
Missouri. Army basic training lasts 8 weeks.

By the 6-month point in their first terms, most enlistees have completed
follow-on training in technical skills, though the length of such training
can vary widely, from a few weeks to a year or more. In some cases,
graduates of basic training go directly to their first duty assignments.
Figure 1.2 displays the most common recruiting and training pipeline for
new enlistees.




Page 14                                        GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                                            Chapter 1
                                            Introduction




Figure 1.2: Process of Recruiting and Training Enlisted Personnel



                       Recruiting Station

                            USAF

                                               MEPS                                                            MEPS
                            USA                 ASVAB test                                                      Final processing
                                                                                 Delayed
                                                Physical exam                     Entry                         Second enlistment oath
                                                First enlistment oath            Program                        into active duty
       Applicant            USMC                                                                                Brief physical exam



                            USN                                                    Up to
                                                                                   1 year
                                                            First Assignment
                          Prescreening
                                                                 USAF
                                                                                 Technical Training


                                                                  USA                                           Basic Training
                                                                                                                Air Force
                                                                                                                Army
                                                                                                                Marine Corps
                                                                 USMC
                                                                                                                Navy

                                                                                                                    6-12 weeks
                                                                  USN
                                                                               Few weeks to more than a year




                                            Source: GAO.



                                            At the request of the former Chairman and Ranking Member of the
Objectives, Scope,                          Subcommittee on Personnel, Senate Committee on Armed Services, we
and Methodology                             reviewed the attrition rates of first-term, active-duty military enlistees who
                                            are separated from the military within the first 6 months of their
                                            enlistments. Specifically, we (1) calculated how much the services could
                                            save by achieving their goals for reducing 6-month attrition,
                                            (2) determined the adequacy of DOD’s data for allowing it to establish
                                            realistic goals for reducing attrition, and (3) analyzed the principal reasons
                                            that enlistees are being separated from the services while they are still in
                                            training.

                                            We limited the scope of our review to attrition at the 6-month point for
                                            two reasons. First, an enlistee’s discharge is categorized as an entry-level
                                            separation until the 6-month point in the enlistee’s term. The entry-level,




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Introduction




180-day point serves in some sense as a probationary period. If enlistees
are discharged after 6 months, they may be entitled to more benefits and
undergo a more complex separation process. Our second reason for
measuring attrition at the 6-month point is that this point marks the end of
training for most first-term enlistees. Because of the variation in the length
of follow-on training, however, some enlistees continue in training for a
year or longer into their first terms.

To identify the potential cost savings that DOD could realize by reducing its
first-term attrition, we first determined the magnitude of annual service
accessions and first-term attrition, over time, by obtaining and reviewing
data maintained by DMDC. We also compared DOD- and service-provided
data regarding average costs to recruit, examine, test, screen, transport,
and train new enlistees. This data includes both the short-term variable
costs that are associated with the cost per recruit and the longer-term
fixed costs that are associated with the infrastructure required to recruit
and train new enlistees. In addition, we reviewed service-identified targets
for reducing first-term attrition and applied these targets to the cost data
to identify the potential for cost savings.

To determine the adequacy of DOD’s data regarding reasons for first-term
attrition, we analyzed DMDC’s database of enlistee separations and
reviewed DOD’s corresponding list of separation codes, which designate
the official reasons that enlistees are separated. Additionally, we reviewed
the services’ separation instructions and met with personnel officials at
basic training locations for each of the services to identify similarities and
differences in the way the separation codes are applied at the different
locations.

To analyze the principal reasons that DOD is separating enlistees within the
first 6 months of their enlistments, we reviewed DMDC’s database of
separations in each of the services for enlistees who entered the services
in fiscal years 1990 through 1995. We then compared this data to the
service separation codes. Specifically, we concentrated on separations
that occurred in fiscal year 1994, as this was the most recent year for
which DMDC had complete data at the time of our review. To understand
reasons for attrition, we also interviewed officials in DOD and each of the
services who are involved in recruiting, examining, screening, training, and
separating enlistees. To obtain the perspective of separating recruits, we
conducted one-on-one interviews with a total of 126 recruits, who were
being separated but were still at the basic training commands at the time
of our site visits. We recognize that these recruits do not represent a



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    Introduction




    statistical sample of all recruits who will be separated this year.
    Nevertheless, their responses do supplement information provided to us
    by DOD and service officials.

    We performed our work at the following DOD and service headquarters,
    commands, and installations:

•   Directorate for Accession Policy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of
    Defense, Force Management Policy, Washington, D.C.;
•   Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Health Affairs, Washington,
    D.C.;
•   Army Directorate of Military Personnel Management, Washington, D.C.;
    U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Ft. Knox, Kentucky; and Army Basic
    Training, Fort Jackson, South Carolina;
•   Air Force Directorate of Military Personnel Policy, Washington, D.C.; Air
    Force Recruiting Service, Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas;
    and Air Force Basic Training, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio,
    Texas;
•   Manpower Plans and Policy Division, Marine Corps Headquarters,
    Arlington, Virginia; Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Arlington,
    Virginia; and Marine Corps Basic Training, Marine Corps Recruit Depot,
    Parris Island, South Carolina;
•   Navy Office of Military Personnel Policy and Career Progression,
    Washington, D.C.; Navy Recruiting Command, Arlington, Virginia; Navy
    Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Washington, D.C.; and Navy Recruit
    Training Command, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois; and
•   U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, North Chicago, Illinois;
    Military Entrance Processing Station, Fort Jackson, South Carolina; and
    Military Entrance Processing Station, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    With regard to recruit training, we conducted audit work at Lackland Air
    Force Base and the Great Lakes Naval Training Center because those are
    the only locations where the Air Force and the Navy provide basic
    training. In the case of the Marine Corps, we selected Parris Island
    because this is the only site where the Marines train both male and female
    recruits. In the case of the Army, we selected Fort Jackson, South
    Carolina, because this training location provided the greatest variation in
    job specialties. We conducted our review from November 1995 to
    October 1996 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
    standards. DOD’s comments on a draft of this report are summarized in
    chapters 2 and 3 and are presented in their entirety in appendix I.




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                      All the services agree that reducing early attrition is desirable. To this end,
                      three services have developed attrition-reduction targets ranging from
                      4 to 10 percent. If the services were to reach their goals, they would realize
                      immediate short-term savings because they would be transporting,
                      feeding, clothing, and paying fewer recruits. In some cases, reducing
                      attrition may require that the services add preenlistment medical tests or
                      more screening mechanisms to their recruiting and examining processes.
                      However, we believe that these added costs would be more than offset by
                      immediate short-term savings. The services could accrue these savings
                      because they would need to recruit, process, and train fewer recruits to
                      meet the same accession needs. Even larger dollar savings could be
                      realized over time as the services began to reduce the infrastructure
                      associated with recruiting and training enlistees.

                      Using our calculations of the fixed and marginal costs of recruiting and
                      training and the services’ highest and lowest targets for reducing attrition,
                      we estimate that if the services were to reduce their 6-month attrition by
                      4 percent, their immediate short-term savings would be $4.8 million. If the
                      services achieved a 10-percent reduction of attrition, their short-term
                      savings would be $12 million. Over time, if the services reduced 6-month
                      attrition by 4 percent, their infrastructure savings could be as high as
                      $15.6 million. If they were able to reduce their 6-month attrition by
                      10 percent, potential infrastructure savings could be as much as
                      $39 million.

                      While we believe that significant savings could be achieved by reducing
                      attrition, we also believe that the services’ current goals for reducing
                      attrition are arbitrary. That is, DOD and the services do not currently have
                      sufficient information to determine what portion of 6-month attrition is
                      truly avoidable. The danger of setting arbitrary goals is that these goals
                      can become “attrition ceilings,” which can result in the inadvertent
                      retention of lower quality recruits. To set realistic and achievable targets
                      for reducing attrition, DOD and the services need more complete and
                      accurate data on why recruits are being separated.


                      Reducing attrition to zero is neither practical nor possible. Attrition will
Services’ Plans for   always occur because recruits will have medical conditions that cannot be
Reducing Attrition    discovered in the MEPS examinations, they will be injured during training,
                      or they will not adapt to military life. However, several military officials we
                      spoke with believe that attrition can be reduced because a portion of it is
                      avoidable. For example, some recruits are now being enlisted with



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                          medical problems or with drug use habits that could have been detected
                          earlier in the enlistment process or that were detected and were waived.

                          Though no one in the services can define exactly what portion of attrition
                          can be avoided, three of the services have set targets for reducing it. The
                          Navy, for example, has planned a “War on Attrition” to reduce attrition at
                          all stages, from recruitment to retention in the fleet. The Navy hopes to
                          reduce its attrition at all stages by 5 to 10 percent. Specifically, the Navy
                          would like to reduce attrition from basic training by 2,000 persons per
                          year.

                          The Army has recently contracted for a study of what an “acceptable” level
                          of attrition should be. In the absence of such a defined level, the Army has
                          suggested a 4-percent goal for reducing attrition up to the 6-month point.

                          The Marine Corps has recently proposed several initiatives to reduce
                          enlisted attrition at various stages of the training pipeline. However, it has
                          not defined quantitative goals for reducing attrition.

                          Finally, the Air Force has taken a new look at enlisted attrition. In
                          December 1995, the Air Force began to look at issues that pertain to
                          military attrition. According to Air Force officials, the Air Force’s fiscal
                          year 1997 budget proposal contains goals for reducing attrition. The Air
                          Force has accordingly reduced its budget on the assumption that it will be
                          able to reduce its current basic training attrition rate from 9.5 percent to
                          7 percent and its first-term attrition after basic training by 5 percent.


                          The military services’ investment in their enlisted personnel is made up of
The Services Make a       both fixed and variable costs. The fixed costs can be thought of as
Substantial               overhead or infrastructure costs that are not easily or quickly changed and
Investment in             cannot be directly associated with a single enlistee. Examples of this type
                          of cost are the total number of recruiters or drill instructors or the money
Recruits Who              spent by a service on a television advertisement campaign for recruiting.
Separate in the First 6   The variable costs are directly connected to each recruit, such as costs for
                          MEPS examinations, transportation from MEPS to basic training, issuance of
Months                    clothing, and pay and allowances for each enlistee.

                          On the basis of DOD cost data, we estimate that in fiscal year 1996, DOD and
                          the services spent about $390 million in fixed and variable costs to recruit
                          and train individuals who never made it to their first duty stations. It costs
                          between $9,400 and $13,500 to recruit and train an active-duty enlistee



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                                         through basic training and an additional $6,100 to $16,300 to train the
                                         enlistee in an initial skill.

                                         To calculate the services’ investment in enlistees who separated in fiscal
                                         year 1994, we multiplied the numbers of those separated at the 2-month
                                         and 6-month points by the average investment per enlistee. We chose the
                                         2-month point because at this time, most recruits have completed basic
                                         training. We chose the 6-month point because by that time, most recruits
                                         have completed follow-on training. We used the most current attrition cost
                                         figures available—for fiscal year 1993. We converted fiscal year 1993
                                         dollars to fiscal year 1996 dollars.

                                         Of the services’ $390 million investment in enlistees who never made it to
                                         their first duty stations, about 60 percent of this investment, or
                                         $231.8 million, was made in enlistees who were separated in their first 2
                                         months of service (see table 2.1).

Table 2.1: Services’ Investment in
Recruits Who Enlisted in Fiscal Year     Fiscal year 1996 dollars
1994 and Were Separated in the First 2                                                            Investment              Total
Months                                                                                Number          in each   investment in
                                                           Number of Attrition rate of attrited    separated     all separated
                                         Service          accessions     (percent) enlistees         enlistee         enlistees
                                         Army                   61,408            9.85    6,051      $13,522      $81,821,622
                                         Navy                   53,501           12.56    6,721       12,077        81,169,517
                                         Marine Corps           31,759            9.81    3,114       14,322        44,629,848
                                         Air Force              29,760            8.69    2,585         9,360       24,195,600
                                         Total                176,428            10.47   18,471                  $231,816,587
                                         Source: GAO analysis of DOD and DMDC data.



                                         About 40 percent of the services’ investment in enlistees who were
                                         separated in the first 3 to 6 months, or $158.3 million, was made in
                                         enlistees who were discharged between the 3rd and 6th months of service
                                         (see table 2.2).




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Table 2.2: Services’ Investment in
Recruits Who Enlisted in Fiscal Year     Fiscal year 1996 dollars
1994 and Were Separated in the First 3                                                                          Investment               Total
to 6 Months                                                                               Number                    in each    investment in
                                                               Number of Attrition rate of attrited              separated      all separated
                                         Service              accessions     (percent) enlistees                   enlistee          enlistees
                                         Army                       61,408               5.69         3,493          $20,733     $72,420,369
                                         Navy                       53,501               3.22         1,723           26,552      45,749,096
                                         Marine Corps               31,759               2.78           884           20,426      18,056,584
                                         Air Force                  29,760               2.89           859           25,672      22,052,248
                                         Total                     176,428               3.94         6,959                    $158,278,297
                                         Source: GAO analysis of DOD and DMDC data.




                                         Significant near-term savings in variable costs could result from screening
Short-Term Savings in                    out the applicants who are now enlisting and are almost immediately being
Variable Costs by                        separated. For example, if recruiters send individuals with medical
Reducing Attrition                       disqualifications to the MEPS, the service still pays for a MEPS examination,
                                         which costs around $70. If the individuals with these disqualifying medical
                                         conditions make it through their medical examinations, the services must
                                         pay for their transportation to basic training and then pay, clothe, house,
                                         and feed these recruits while they await separation. After separation, the
                                         services must pay to transport the enlistees home. As another example,
                                         when the services do not test for drugs until the recruits arrive at basic
                                         training, those services incur all the marginal costs, which could have been
                                         avoided had the services tested the recruits for drugs at the MEPS.1 If the
                                         services have to add screening mechanisms in order to disqualify recruits
                                         earlier, the cost of these additional mechanisms would have to be
                                         subtracted from any calculations of marginal savings. Such added
                                         screening mechanisms could include requiring more preenlistment
                                         documentation or medical tests.

                                         Marginal cost savings resulting from improved and earlier screening of
                                         recruits could be realized immediately. The marginal cost of sending a
                                         recruit to basic training and then separating him or her can be substantial.
                                         For example, the Navy calculates that its marginal cost for each recruit
                                         who is separated from basic training is $4,700 for each male and $4,900 for
                                         each female. These figures are based on the Navy’s estimate that it costs
                                         $83 to transport a recruit to basic training; $3,650 to pay, feed, and house



                                         1
                                          The marginal cost is the variable cost of recruiting and training each recruit.



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                                         the recruit while at basic training;2 $91 to provide the recruit’s medical
                                         examination at basic training; $817 to provide a male recruit with clothing
                                         ($995 for a female recruit); and an additional $83 to transport the recruit
                                         home after separation. If the Navy were to screen out recruits for medical
                                         or drug disqualifications after the MEPS examination but before sending
                                         them to basic training, its immediate cost savings would be at least $4,700
                                         per recruit.3

                                         Assuming that the Navy’s marginal costs are comparable to those of the
                                         other services, we estimate that the marginal cost savings realized through
                                         a 4-percent reduction of attrition would be $4.8 million. With a 10-percent
                                         reduction in 6-month attrition, the services could realize $12 million in
                                         savings. (See table 2.3.)

Table 2.3: Marginal Cost Savings to Be
Gained by Reducing Attrition by 4 and    Fiscal year 1996 dollars in millions
10 Percent                                                              Savings resulting from a          Savings resulting from a
                                         Service                  4-percent reduction in attrition 10-percent reduction in attrition
                                         Army                                                      $1.8                                      $4.5
                                         Navy                                                       1.6                                       4.0
                                         Marine Corps                                               0.8                                       1.9
                                         Air Force                                                  0.6                                       1.6
                                         Total                                                     $4.8                                     $12.0
                                         Source: GAO’s analysis of DOD and DMDC data.




                                         Over time, if the number of unqualified recruits were significantly reduced
Possibility of                           through better screening, it would be possible to reduce the services’
Long-Term Savings                        infrastructure associated with recruiting and training, resulting in savings
Through                                  due to lower fixed costs. An important caveat is that these cost reductions
                                         probably would not be proportional to the decrease in attrition. For
Infrastructure Cuts                      example, if attrition were reduced by 10 percent, it is likely that
                                         infrastructure costs would fall by something less than 10 percent. One


                                         2
                                          This calculation is based on the Navy’s estimate that the average recruit remains at basic training 25
                                         days before being separated and costs the Navy $146 per day.
                                         3
                                          We requested similar cost data from the other three services. They were unable, however, to provide
                                         us with marginal costs comparable to those of the Navy because (1) the services’ methodologies in
                                         calculating costs differed, (2) the services captured different data elements, and (3) the services did
                                         not capture certain data elements that are necessary to calculate how much it costs to send recruits to
                                         basic training and then separate them. For example, the Marine Corps did not track the average time in
                                         service of an enlistee who is separated during basic training. Data provided to us by the Army did not
                                         distinguish between fixed and variable costs, and the Army’s average cost was calculated using the
                                         cost of all enlistees who separate during their first terms. Finally, the Air Force provided us with the
                                         variable cost per graduate from basic training, but not the cost of each separated enlistee.


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                                     important reason that infrastructure costs are not likely to decrease in the
                                     same proportion as attrition falls is that the services may need to ensure
                                     that their recruiting and training organizations maintain excess capacity in
                                     the event of future increases of accessions. The services now determine
                                     staffing and funding for recruiting commands based on the services’
                                     accession missions, which have the potential for being lower if attrition
                                     were to decrease.

                                     Despite these caveats, we believe that it provides perspective to
                                     demonstrate the magnitude of the possible savings to be gained through
                                     reducing attrition and the associated recruiting and training infrastructure.
                                     To provide this perspective, we have chosen the services’ highest and
                                     lowest attrition goals: a 4-percent reduction and a 10-percent reduction of
                                     6-month attrition (see table 2.4).

Table 2.4: Long-Term Savings by
Achieving 4-Percent and 10-Percent   Fiscal year 1996 dollars in millions
Reductions in 6-Month Attrition                                  Savings resulting from a          Savings resulting from a
                                     Service               4-percent reduction in attrition 10-percent reduction in attrition
                                     Army                                             $6.2                               $15.4
                                     Navy                                              5.1                                12.7
                                     Marine Corps                                      2.5                                 6.3
                                     Air Force                                         1.8                                 4.6
                                     Total                                          $15.6                                $39.0
                                     Source: GAO’s analysis of DOD and DMDC data.




                                     We agree that reducing attrition is possible and that the services’ current
Dangers of                           targets for reducing attrition may represent modest and achievable goals.
Establishing Attrition               However, the services do not know whether more reductions are possible.
Targets Without                      DOD and the services do not currently have adequate information to
                                     determine how much attrition is avoidable and therefore should be cut.
Adequate Information                 Establishing arbitrarily defined targets for reducing attrition, without
on Why Recruits Are                  knowing precisely what these targets should be, could result in the
                                     services’ retaining less qualified recruits.
Separated
                                     According to officials throughout the services, reducing attrition would be
                                     no problem. They feared, however, that cutting attrition could result in a
                                     corresponding reduction in the quality of their enlistees. That is, service
                                     officials feared that limiting attrition could force them to retain less
                                     qualified recruits. In 1980, we also anticipated this possible negative effect



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                             of attrition ceilings.4 At that time, we expressed concern that the Office of
                             the Secretary of Defense and the services “might, because of congressional
                             concern over attrition levels, attempt to control rather than manage
                             attrition.” We stated that “While control, through such means as attrition
                             ceilings, is a quick and easy way to reduce attrition, it could ultimately
                             prove counterproductive by retaining in the service persons who do not
                             belong there, which would result in equally serious problems.” We also
                             pointed out that before DOD can effectively manage attrition, it must have
                             adequate data on the reasons that enlistees separate early.


                             In 1980, as during this review, we found that DOD did not have data on
DOD Does Not Have            attrition that allowed it to assess service-wide attrition trends and the
Data Available to            factors behind their changes. DOD’s data is inconsistent and incomplete for
Establish Appropriate        two reasons. First, DOD’s primary source of service-wide attrition
                             data—which is managed by DMDC—contains only the officially assigned
Targets for Reducing         separation codes assigned to enlistees, when many other reasons may
Attrition                    drive enlistees’ discharges. Second, the services interpret DOD’s definitions
                             of the separation codes differently and therefore place enlistees with
                             identical situations in different discharge categories. Because of these two
                             drawbacks, DMDC’s attrition data can be used to deduce only a rough
                             estimate of why enlisted personnel leave the services.


DOD’s Primary Database       DMDC  data captures only one of many possible reasons that enlistees leave
Captures Only the Official   the service. The reasons for separation that are collected in DMDC’s
Reason for an Enlistee’s     database are based on separation codes taken from a servicemember’s
                             official discharge form, the DD Form 214.5 The separation program
Separation                   designator is a three-character code that captures the service’s official
                             reason for separation. DMDC converts these designators into interservice
                             separation codes, which it developed in an attempt to enable cross-service
                             comparisons of separation reasons.

                             Our analysis of these separation codes and our interviews with service
                             officials and over 100 separating recruits revealed that enlistees generally
                             have many reasons for leaving, only one of which is recorded in DMDC’s
                             database. A 1991 Rand study of enlisted personnel files also found that
                             over 80 percent of the recruits whose files they examined had multiple



                             4
                              Attrition in the Military—An Issue Needing Management Attention (GAO/FPCD-80-10, Feb. 20, 1980).
                             5
                              The DD Form 214 is a servicemember’s “Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty.”



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                            reasons for their early release.6 Rand found that, typically, the separation
                            code chosen by a service to go on the servicemember’s DD-214 “is the
                            separation code that the service believes would provide the most direct
                            path to a successful discharge or that would offer the strongest legal case.
                            It does not indicate the actual reason why the recruit separated early.”


Services Interpret DOD’s    In our 1980 report, we recommended that DOD improve existing
Definitions of Separation   management information systems to include attrition data-reporting
Codes Differently           systems that were more uniform. At that time, as at present, each service
                            had designed its own system of classifying attrition by reasons, and these
                            systems varied by installation, according to commanders’ interpretations
                            of criteria. Consequently, DOD and the services were not able to compare
                            trends by cause among the services.

                            In an attempt to standardize the services’ use of these codes, DOD issued a
                            list of the codes with their definitions. However, it has not issued
                            implementing guidance for interpreting these definitions, and the services’
                            own implementing guidance differs on several points. While we believe
                            that the individual services and local commanders should have flexibility
                            in managing their personnel programs, we also believe that DOD and
                            service headquarters have the responsibility for ensuring that their
                            separations of enlisted personnel are consistent with overall DOD policy,
                            are uniformly applied, and are effective.

                            Assigning a particular separation code rather than another has many
                            implications. As we were told by service officials, it is in the best interest
                            of basic training personnel to assign separation codes that reflect least
                            poorly on the basic training site. For example, some officials told us that if
                            a recruit has minor medical problems but even more severe motivational
                            problems, basic training personnel might choose to separate this recruit
                            for medical reasons, as opposed to performance problems. Separating a
                            recruit for medical rather than performance problems is face-saving for
                            both the recruit and basic training personnel. The recruit does not have to
                            admit that he or she could not meet the minimum performance standards,
                            and the command does not have to admit that it could not motivate the
                            recruit.

                            Conversely, Army officials we spoke with said that, until recently, one
                            Army basic training site had been discharging injured recruits for failing to
                            meet minimum performance standards. They also said that, since

                            6
                             Why Recruits Separate Early (R-3980-FMP, 1991).



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                                personnel at the Army’s basic training site had been told by upper-level
                                officials that its separations for preexisting medical conditions were too
                                high, they expected that the training command would begin to separate
                                recruits with medical problems under other codes.

                                During our review, we found the following examples, among others, of the
                                differences in the way the services assign separation codes:

                            •   An enlisted person who exhibits a situational adjustment problem in
                                adapting to military life is separated from the Air Force for a personality
                                disorder, from the Navy for an erroneous enlistment, and from the Marine
                                Corps for failure to meet minimum performance standards. Air Force
                                personnel told us that most persons separated for adjustment disorders do
                                not have true personality disorders, and the discharge documentation
                                could cause persons separated with this description to carry a stigma into
                                later life.
                            •   An enlisted person who is discharged for a disqualifying medical condition
                                that he or she did not know about in advance may be discharged from the
                                Marine Corps under the separation code for the convenience of the
                                government or for erroneous enlistment. In the Army, this same person is
                                separated using the separation code indicating that he or she did not meet
                                medical/physical standards.
                            •   If an enlistee intentionally withholds medical information that would
                                disqualify him or her and is then separated for this same medical
                                condition, the enlistee is discharged from the Air Force and the Marine
                                Corps for a fraudulent enlistment. The Army categorizes this separation as
                                a failure to meet medical/physical standards unless it can prove that the
                                enlistee withheld medical information with the intent of gaining benefits.
                                The Air Force and the Marine Corps do not require this proof of intent.
                                The Navy categorizes this separation as an erroneous enlistment, which
                                indicates no fault on the part of the enlistee.


DMDC Data Provides Only         DMDC   data for fiscal year 1994 shows that DOD’s attrition rate was
a Rough Estimate of Major       14.4 percent at the 6-month point in enlistees’ first terms. This means that
Reasons for Attrition           in fiscal year 1994, 25,430 enlisted personnel were separated from the
                                services within the first 6 months of their enlistment terms. Of this
                                number, 21,229, or about 83 percent, were assigned separation codes
                                indicating that they (1) were medically unqualified for military service,
                                (2) demonstrated character or behavior disorders, (3) fraudulently or
                                erroneously entered the military, or (4) failed to meet minimum
                                performance criteria.



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                       While these separation codes represent general areas in which the services
                       suffer the most early attrition, the codes cannot provide a basis for
                       determining how much of the attrition in these areas can be reduced. For
                       example, in the area of medical disqualifications, DMDC’s data does not
                       quantify what percentage of enlisted personnel discharged with this
                       separation code had verifiable medical conditions that could have been
                       screened out in advance. In the area of character and behavior disorders,
                       the data does not distinguish between those separated for severe
                       personality disorders and those who experienced mild situational
                       disorders and might have been having motivational problems. In the area
                       of fraudulent and erroneous enlistment, the data does not allow the
                       services to determine what percentage of those separated in this category
                       were discharged for concealing criminal background histories, as opposed
                       to medical or psychological conditions. Finally, in the area of performance
                       separations, the data does not allow DOD to determine what percentage of
                       these enlistees were separated for minor injuries or what percentage might
                       have been further counseled or rehabilitated.


DOD Has Proposed a     According to an official in DOD’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of
Project to Develop a   Defense for Health Affairs, DOD approved a project in July 1996 to compile
Database on Medical    a comprehensive database of medical conditions for all accessions. This
                       database project was funded in September 1996. As part of the project,
Discharges             doctors throughout the services will be required to use an internationally
                       recognized medical code book to diagnose medical conditions for all their
                       patients. This information will be fed into a database maintained by DMDC
                       and will then be analyzed by the Walter Reed Institute of Research. This
                       database will provide DOD with the ability to reevaluate its physical
                       enlistment standards, to analyze the medical reasons that recruits are
                       separated, and to make fact-based policy changes to reduce medical
                       attrition.


                       To provide a reliable database for DOD to manage attrition and for the
Recommendation         services to set appropriate targets for reducing attrition, we recommend
                       that the Secretary of Defense issue implementing guidance for DOD’s
                       separation codes.


                       In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD partially concurred with our
Agency Comments        recommendation that the Secretary of Defense issue implementing
and Our Evaluation     guidance for DOD’s separation codes (see app. I). DOD agreed that “the



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administrative techniques at the user level for coding these losses require
attention in order to validate attrition rates and the recommendation to
enforce standardization is valid.” DOD also stressed that its separation
codes were the subject of a standardization initiative in 1993, which
provided a common list to all services for use starting October 1, 1993. As
we state in our report, the lack of standardization in the services’ use of
separation codes is a long-standing issue, dating back to at least 1980.
While DOD’s issuance of a list of standardized separation codes was a step
in the right direction, we found that the services have not been applying
these codes consistently and that this lack of consistency makes it
impossible for DOD to analyze reasons for attrition on a service-wide basis.

DOD  questions our statement that basic training personnel sometimes
choose the separation code that allows them to “save face,” stating that
the original intent of the separation codes listed on the DD-214s was not to
capture reasons for attrition. Though this may be the case, these codes are
at present the only service-wide information on reasons for separations. If
DOD decides that it would be more feasible to collect service-wide reasons
for separation using a different mechanism, we would not object. Our
concern is that such data be collected and analyzed, not that the data be
based on separation codes listed on the DD-214s.




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              During this review, we focused on separations in three categories:
              separations for medical conditions that were not disabilities, separations
              for drug use, and separations for failure to meet performance standards.
              Separations for medical conditions and failure to meet performance
              standards represent at least 55 percent of all 6-month attrition for enlistees
              who entered the services in fiscal year 1994. This percentage is
              understated for two reasons. First, some persons who have medical
              problems are being separated as fraudulent enlistments because they
              concealed their medical histories. Second, some persons who have
              performance problems are being separated for character or behavior
              disorders. We were not able to calculate the number of persons discharged
              for drug use in all the services because separations for these persons are
              categorized in many different ways. For example, a person who uses drugs
              could be separated for erroneous or fraudulent enlistment, personality
              disorder (if found to be drug-dependent), misconduct, or drug
              rehabilitation failure.

              A calculation of the numbers of persons in each of these three categories
              can only be approximate because the services assign separation codes
              differently and because persons placed in one of these categories might
              have actually been separated for many different reasons. Even so, the data
              indicates in a general way why attrition during the first 6 months of an
              enlistee’s term occurs. This data—along with our interviews with
              recruiting, examining, and training personnel and with separating
              recruits—indicates that the services’ screening processes are not
              identifying significant numbers of persons who have disqualifying medical
              conditions or who use drugs.

              The data also indicates that DOD separates thousands of personnel who do
              not meet minimum performance standards. Recruits have problems
              meeting performance standards because they are not physically prepared
              for basic training and because they lack motivation. GAO’s interviews with
              separating recruits and recent research suggest that negative leadership
              techniques at basic training may contribute to some recruits’ lack of
              motivation to meet performance standards.




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                                 DOD’s current processes for screening enlisted recruits are inadequate in
Screening Processes              the following ways:
Do Not Identify
Thousands of Recruits        •   Recruiters do not have sufficient incentives to screen out persons who
                                 may not be fully qualified to complete basic training.
Who Are Unqualified          •   Recruiting and MEPS screening mechanisms and service waiver policies
for Service                      result in the enlistment of thousands of persons who have preexisting
                                 medical conditions and who are later separated. Also, the responsibility
                                 for reviewing cases involving preexisting medical conditions resides with
                                 MEPCOM, which poses a conflict of interest because this is the command
                                 most directly responsible for determining the physical qualifications of
                                 military applicants.
                             •   The Navy and the Marine Corps do not test recruits for drugs until they
                                 arrive at basic training.


Recruiters’ Incentives Are       In a sense, recruiters have a conflict of interest. Though they are obliged to
Not Adequately Tied to           their services to recruit only qualified personnel, their performance is
Enlistees’ Successful            judged primarily on how many recruits they enlist per month. Recruiters’
                                 monthly recruiting goals are established on the basis of the services’
Completion of Basic              accession needs, which are in turn driven by end strength numbers and
Training                         budget allocations. The recruiters’ goals are also connected to the
                                 numbers of basic and follow-on training slots. That is, recruiters must
                                 keep a steady and constant flow of enlisted personnel into the services. At
                                 the same time, recruiters are the first step in the process of determining
                                 whether applicants are qualified mentally and physically to serve in the
                                 military. Despite this secondary but very important function, recruiters
                                 receive no credit for screening out unqualified applicants before they are
                                 enlisted.

                                 Recruiters’ quotas are tied to whether their recruits enter active duty after
                                 being in the Delayed Entry Program. After enlisting, recruits may remain in
                                 the Delayed Entry Program from 2 days to 1 year. If an enlistee drops out
                                 of the Delayed Entry Program, the recruiter gets no credit for that
                                 enlistment. After the recruit begins active duty and is transported to basic
                                 training, only two services—the Marine Corps and the Navy—continue to
                                 hold their recruiters responsible for whether their recruits successfully
                                 complete basic training.

                                 The Air Force and the Army do not tie their recruiters’ incentive systems
                                 to successful completion of basic training because they believe that
                                 recruiters should not be penalized for their recruits’ failure to complete



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basic training. According to Air Force officials, the Air Force provides
feedback to its recruiters on each loss from training and produces data
quarterly to identify recruiters whose recruits have high or low training
attrition rates. This allows Air Force supervisors to take corrective actions
with recruiters whose recruits are separated at a high rate. The Army
believes that once applicants are transported to basic training, recruiters
have done their jobs and are no longer able to influence their enlistees’
performance.

Beginning in June 1996, the Navy implemented a revised recruiter
incentive system that will subtract points from recruiters whose enlistees
do not complete basic training. Because the new system has just been
implemented, the Navy has not yet determined whether the system will
help to reduce attrition.

For many years, the Marine Corps has given its recruiting units the
flexibility to design incentive systems that factor in successful basic
training graduation rates and to deduct recruiter points when a recruit
fails basic training. According to Marine Corps recruiting officials,
however, their recruiting incentive systems are not uniform because
Marine Corps headquarters authorizes each recruiting district and station
to develop its own awards systems. That is, some recruiting stations may
choose to award additional points to recruiters for each successful basic
training graduate or to take points away for each recruit who drops out,
and others may not. In any case, some Marine Corps basic training officials
suggested that Marine Corps recruiters are still driven primarily by their
monthly goals. These officials said that the threat that recruiters might
lose points 3 months later (when the recruit fails basic training) does not
provide sufficient motivation for Marine Corps recruiters to do more
thorough screening.

Basic training officials from all services told us that they believed that
recruiters do not have adequate incentives to ensure that their recruits are
qualified medically, morally, and psychologically. That is, these officials
believe that recruiters are driven by their monthly goals to recruit persons
who may not be fully qualified and that recruiters do not have an incentive
to thoroughly probe applicants to learn of possibly disqualifying medical,
psychological, or criminal problems.

Recruiters are not solely responsible for the services’ failure to screen out
unqualified recruits. We agree with service officials that it is not the
recruiters’ job to determine whether recruits are medically qualified.



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Rather, it is the MEPS physicians’ job to perform this function. Even so, we
believe that the services do not provide recruiters with adequate
incentives to ask applicants probing questions that might reveal
disqualifying information. Asking probing questions leads to two
complications for recruiters. First, if recruiters uncover potentially
disqualifying information about their applicants, they create more
paperwork for themselves in that they must request waivers. Second,
recruiters might have to reject applicants who are not qualified and miss
their monthly quotas.

In some cases, recruiters are given bonus points for recruiting top quality
recruits, “quality” recruits being defined as those who have high school
diplomas and score in the upper percentiles of the ASVAB. However,
recruiters are not sufficiently rewarded for other indicators of excellence
in enlisting personnel for the services, measures such as thoroughness of
screening, suitability of matches between an applicant and the job for
which he or she is most qualified, and length of time the applicant stays in
the military. These indicators suggest that recruiters’ incentive systems
could be improved by comparing them to incentive systems for job
counselors. Recruiters are trained to be sales people, rather than job
counselors or placement officers.

Two suggestions were made to us during our fieldwork for improving
recruiters’ incentive systems to relieve the pressure to recruit unqualified
personnel. First, it was suggested that recruiters receive partial credit for
thoroughly probing applicants and ultimately finding that they are
unqualified. This partial credit would provide an incentive for recruiters to
fully screen applicants without losing all credit for investing time in
working with these persons.

A second idea for improving the recruiter incentive systems was to give
recruiters a “floating goal.” Under this type of system, a recruiter’s goal
would not be set for one month only but could, for example, be a 3-month
goal that continued to move forward. With such a floating goal system, a
recruiter would be provided with an incentive to overproduce one month
to relieve the pressure of the next month’s goal. Conversely, if the
recruiter were unable to meet one month’s goal, he or she would be able to
make up that lack in the next month. According to officials from the Office
of the Secretary of Defense, this floating goal system has been tried and
has met with failure. Past experience showed that recruiters tended to
wait until the last possible moment to meet their recruiting goals. While
we did not evaluate why this floating goal system did not work in the past,



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                          we continue to believe that innovative ideas like these merit further
                          consideration and study.


Thousands Are Separated   The services are enlisting persons with disqualifying medical conditions
for Preexisting Medical   for two primary reasons: (1) applicants conceal their medical histories and
Disqualifications         (2) the services waive medical conditions that, according to DOD directives,
                          are disqualifying. The Military Entrance Processing Command reviews the
                          personnel files for all enlistees who are separated for preexisting medical
                          conditions to determine when medical screening has not been effective.
                          However, the fact that the responsibility for reviewing these cases lies
                          with the same command that does the medical screening raises the
                          possibility of a conflict of interest.

                          DMDC   data indicates that approximately 6,800 of the nearly
                          176,400 enlistees who entered the services in fiscal year 1994, or
                          3.9 percent, were found to be not medically qualified for service within the
                          first 6 months of their terms. Of the approximately 6,800 personnel who
                          were separated for preexisting medical conditions, around 3,600 were in
                          the Army, 1,700 were in the Navy, 1,400 were in the Air Force, and 100
                          were in the Marine Corps. The Air Force’s and the Marine Corps’ numbers
                          are understated because they separate persons who conceal medically
                          disqualifying information for fraud.

                          The problem with enlisting medically unqualified recruits into the services
                          is a long-standing one. In 1965, in 1968, and again in 1970, we reported the
                          numbers of personnel who enlisted in the services with preexisting
                          medical conditions.1 We estimated that $17.9 million was expended during
                          fiscal year 1969 by the military services, primarily for pay and allowances,
                          uniforms, and travel, for personnel discharged because of preservice
                          physical defects after serving in the military for a year or less.

                          In our 1970 report, we stated that discharges for medical conditions that
                          existed prior to service accounted for 2.3 percent of all accessions
                          between fiscal years 1966 through 1969. During our current review,
                          MEPCOM reported that discharges in this category represented 2.9 percent
                          of all accessions in fiscal year 1994 and 3.3 percent of all accessions in
                          fiscal year 1995. According to an official in the Office of the Secretary of

                          1
                           Unnecessary Costs Incurred Because of Acceptance of Physically Unqualified Enlisted Members in
                          the Armed Services (B-14686, Apr. 2, 1965); Report on Matters Relating to Enlisted Personnel
                          Discharged Because of Defects That Existed Prior to Entrance Into Military Service (B-146986, Mar. 21,
                          1968); and Discharge of Military Enlisted Personnel Because of Preservice Physical Defects (B-146986,
                          July 27, 1970).



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                                Defense, enlistees today are more likely to conceal disqualifying medical
                                conditions than they were during the draft. During the draft, many
                                inductees wished to avoid military service, while now enlistees are
                                voluntarily enlisting and have more of an incentive to conceal medical
                                conditions.

Applicants Are Not              MEPCOM’s   data for fiscal year 1994 indicates that over half of all separations
Systematically Required to      for preexisting medical conditions involved the applicants’ concealment of
Provide Medical Records Prior   their medical conditions. Concealment of past medical history is made
to Enlistment                   easier by the fact that applicants are required to present medical histories
                                only if they report past medical problems. Applicants who wish to join the
                                service have an incentive to conceal such information.

                                Of all the services, the Navy had the most complete data on whether
                                enlistees who were separated for medical conditions had known about
                                and reported these conditions prior to enlistment. Personnel at the Navy’s
                                basic training clinic administer a questionnaire to all recruits who are
                                separated for preexisting medical conditions asking them whether they
                                had previously reported their conditions. According to Navy clinic
                                personnel, 1,684 Navy recruits were separated for medical conditions in
                                calendar year 1995. Of these, 43 percent, or 724 recruits, reported on their
                                questionnaires that they had seen civilian physicians at some time before
                                they enlisted in the Navy about the condition for which they were
                                separated. Fifty-five percent of all those discharged for preexisting
                                medical conditions (928 recruits) reported that they had told their
                                recruiters of their conditions before enlisting, and 41 percent
                                (683 recruits) reported that their recruiters had told them not to mention
                                the medical conditions. Navy clinic personnel told us that “identifying
                                those patients with conditions not compatible with Navy service prior to
                                their enlistment saves training dollars and keeps these patients away from
                                a potentially dangerous environment.” However, while Navy doctors had
                                compiled these statistics, they knew of no resulting changes to the
                                enlistment screening process.

                                According to Navy recruiting officials, data compiled by Navy doctors
                                from this questionnaire began to be reported to the Navy’s Recruiting
                                Command in January 1996. These officials said that to date, 60 percent of
                                all the fiscal year 1997 allegations against recruiters had been immediately
                                retracted by recruits. The remaining 40 percent of these allegations were
                                referred to the Navy Recruiting Command’s Inspector General for further
                                investigation.




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Personnel from basic training camps for all four services told us that they
share information with their recruiting commands on what enlistees tell
them about recruiters’ failure to encourage the enlistees to completely
divulge medical conditions. However, they also stressed that enlistees
often blame their recruiters when they themselves are guilty of
withholding medical information. According to these officials, only a very
small percentage of enlistees’ allegations about recruiters are
substantiated. These officials also told us that when it comes down to the
recruit’s word against the recruiter, the services side with the recruiter.

Personnel throughout the services stressed the difficulty of encouraging
applicants to be honest in divulging their past medical conditions and the
difficulty of obtaining past medical records. If an applicant has lived in
several different places, it would be extremely difficult for the services to
research medical records from dozens of hospitals.

The services now ask applicants to provide medical records only when
they divulge past medical problems. Neither do the services ask all
applicants to provide the names of their medical insurers and medical
providers. Asking all applicants to provide such information might reduce
the number who do not fully disclose past medical histories. We realize
that some applicants may not be insured; some might have had several
different insurers and visited many hospitals and doctors over a period of
years; and others may continue to withhold information about their
medical histories. However, we believe that applicants would be less likely
to conceal past medical problems if they were required to (1) provide the
names of their medical insurers and past medical providers and (2) sign a
release form allowing the services to request their medical records.

The services would not necessarily have to obtain medical records for all
applicants. Rather, the services could determine how frequently they
needed to research applicants’ medical histories in order to ensure that
applicants believed that the information they provided the services could
and might be verified. To ensure that the paperwork burden of recruiters
was not increased and that recruiters themselves did not know which
applicants would receive this greater scrutiny, the services could place the
responsibility for obtaining medical files on persons who are not
production recruiters.

Officials from the Office of the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel
suggested that one reason that applicants may not be reporting
disqualifying medical information is that the questions on the “Applicant



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Medical Prescreening Form” (DD Form 2246) are not specific enough.
Recruiters use this form to ask applicants about their past medical
histories and drug use. Army officials believe that recruiters are following
“the letter of the law” when gathering medical data. That is, recruiters are
asking the questions contained on the form verbatim and are not asking
follow-up questions at least in part because they are not medically
qualified to know what the relevant medical questions are. Army officials
suggested that the prescreening form might be revised to make the
questions more specific and to tie the questions more closely to medical
conditions that most often result in recruits’ separations.

During our review, we also found that some of the questions on the
recruiter’s prescreening form were vague and ambiguous. For example,
one question is “Have you ever had or have you now back trouble?” The
form does not define or give examples of what an applicant should
consider to be “back trouble.” Another question is “Have you ever had or
have you now addiction to drugs or alcohol?” There is no question on the
form asking whether the applicant has tried alcohol or drugs or how often
the applicant has used alcohol or a particular drug.

After applicants have completed the recruiter’s prescreening form, they fill
out a second medical history form at the MEPS, the “Report of Medical
History” (SF 93). During our visit to the Navy’s basic training camp,
doctors there said that they believed that the MEPS medical history form
was obsolete, ambiguous, and easy for applicants for falsify. For example,
one of the questions on the form is “Have you ever had or have you now
lameness?” Navy doctors pointed out that the term “lameness” is no longer
used by medical personnel. The form also asks, “Have you ever had or
have you now [a] ’trick’ or locked knee?” The form contains no definitions
of “trick” or “locked.” Also, Navy basic training doctors said that they
could tell that applicants do not thoroughly read the form as they record
their answers. These doctors believe that applicants often automatically
check “no” to all questions, not realizing that one question requires a “yes”
answer if an applicant is to be determined qualified. The question that
requires a “yes” answer asks whether applicants have vision in both eyes.
Navy doctors often find that applicants have checked “no” to this question
and then have had to go back to correct and initial their answer.

In an effort to get more complete and accurate information from recruits
on their medical histories, the Navy’s basic training doctors ask recruits to
fill out an automated form upon arrival at basic training. This
questionnaire, which the Navy doctors wrote themselves, contains more



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                                 specific questions and requires recruits to fully read the questions because
                                 some questions require “yes” answers, and others require “no” answers.
                                 Also, for some questions, the doctors deliberately use different
                                 terminology to ask the same medical question. Navy basic training doctors
                                 believe that asking questions in different ways makes it more likely that
                                 recruits will recognize their particular symptoms and report them.

DOD Does Not Have Empirical      MEPCOM data for fiscal year 1994 indicates that close to 8 percent of
Data on the Cost-Effectiveness   separations for preexisting medical conditions involved cases in which the
of Waivers or Medical            services granted waivers for the very conditions for which the recruit was
Screening Tests                  later separated. DOD has set uniform enlistment standards for all the
                                 services in DOD Directive 6130.3, “Physical Standards for Appointment,
                                 Enlistment, and Induction.” However, this same directive also grants the
                                 services the authority to waive the enlistment standards, and, according to
                                 MEPCOM officials, the services frequently do so. The Army, for example,
                                 told us that the only two medical conditions for which waivers could not
                                 be granted were pregnancy that existed prior to enlistment and human
                                 immunodeficiency virus.

                                 Personnel throughout the services explained that it is difficult to
                                 determine which medical conditions to waive because some recruits with
                                 disqualifying medical conditions, such as severe flat feet, are able to
                                 successfully complete basic training, while others are not. Statistical data
                                 is not currently available that would enable the services to predict which
                                 disqualifying medical conditions represent good attrition risks.

                                 According to an official in DOD’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of
                                 Defense for Health Affairs, DOD’s physical enlistment standards are not
                                 empirically linked to performance in the military, but rather are based on
                                 military experience and expert judgment. This official cited as an example
                                 DOD’s change in its asthma policy. Before Operation Desert Storm,
                                 applicants who had histories of asthma but had not had an asthma attack
                                 since age 12 could qualify for military service. Just after the war, however,
                                 military leaders recommended that persons who had any history of asthma
                                 should be disqualified. This recommendation was based on military
                                 leaders’ personal observations of the effects of environmental conditions
                                 on servicemembers during the war.

                                 DOD’srecently approved plan to collect data on the medical histories of all
                                 accessions, including those who separate early, will provide an
                                 opportunity for DOD to base its enlistment standards and waiver policies on
                                 sound research data. DOD plans to begin revising its enlistment standards



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using this new database beginning in fiscal year 1997. DOD’s new database
will also allow DOD to determine whether it would be cost-effective to add
screening tests to MEPCOM medical examinations or to refrain from giving
some medical screening tests at the basic training sites. At present, some
basic training screening tests are more thorough than those given at the
MEPS, and at other times, recruits are given the same tests at the MEPS and
at basic training. For example, while some basic training camps do pap
smears, tests for Hepatitis B, and sickle cell anemia, the MEPS do not.
According to MEPCOM officials, female applicants are not given pap smears
at the MEPS because, statistically, women of this age typically do not have
health problems that would be surfaced through pap smears. If this were
the case, however, it is not clear why female recruits are given pap smears
when they arrive at basic training. When recruits are found to have
medical problems related to these tests given at basic training but not at
the MEPS, they are sometimes separated from the services.

On the other hand, the MEPS do some examinations that are repeated at the
basic training camps. For example, all recruits are tested for vision and
hearing at the MEPS, and at basic training, all or selected recruits are
retested. During our review of separation files and our interviews with
separating recruits, we found many cases of recruits who were being
separated for vision and hearing problems that were not discovered until
the recruits had been retested at basic training. MEPCOM officials told us
that the vision and hearing testing done at the MEPS is comparable in
sophistication to the testing done at the basic training camps. If this is the
case, it is unclear (1) why recruits need to be retested at basic training and
(2) why recruits frequently fail the vision and hearing tests given at basic
training camps after having passed them at the MEPS.

Army officials suggested that an alternative to conducting more thorough
medical screening on all recruits would be to conduct more thorough
medical screening only on applicants whose medical histories indicated
problems. The MEPS already require that applicants who report medical
problems be seen by medical specialists. However, if applicants do not
report medical problems and MEPS doctors do not detect problems,
applicants can avoid such medical consultations. With improved screening
forms, with better incentives for recruiters to collect medical information,
and with DOD’s proposed medical database, DOD would have a sound basis
for determining which applicants should undergo more thorough medical
examinations.




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MEPCOM’s Review of Medical        The military services are required to send to MEPCOM all separation
Cases Poses a Possible Conflict   packages for persons discharged for medical conditions that existed prior
of Interest                       to service. MEPCOM’s doctors then categorize the individual cases to
                                  determine whether the medical conditions should have been detected at
                                  the MEPS. According to MEPCOM’s Command Surgeon, in fiscal year 1994,
                                  only 3.3 percent of the medical separation cases were due to an error on
                                  the part of MEPS personnel.

                                  Basic training doctors and other personnel told us of cases in which
                                  persons arrived at basic training who were very obviously medically or
                                  psychologically disqualified. They cited cases of a recruit with a glass eye,
                                  numerous recruits who had no vision out of one eye, a recruit with a
                                  hearing aid, recruits with holes in their eardrums, and a recruit who had
                                  severe and debilitating mental problems. When we asked MEPCOM officials
                                  about these cases, they said that they had heard similar anecdotal
                                  information about recruits who had not been screened out at the MEPS.
                                  However, they said that, generally, persons reporting these cases cannot
                                  provide the type of information that would allow MEPCOM to investigate the
                                  cases and trace them back to the appropriate MEPS.

                                  We reviewed a selected sample of MEPCOM’s files on these cases and its
                                  determination of whether medical conditions should have been detected
                                  by MEPS doctors. We found no instances in which MEPCOM had improperly
                                  classified cases. However, we believe that there is a conflict of interest
                                  because the responsibility for reviewing and categorizing cases resides
                                  with MEPCOM, which plays the most significant role in the medical
                                  screening process. MEPCOM’s Command Surgeon told us that the Air Force
                                  also categorizes preexisting medical separation cases and has in certain
                                  instances challenged MEPCOM’s classifications.


Thousands Separated for           The Air Force and the Army test all of their applicants for drugs at the
Drug Use                          MEPS. As a result, they are able to screen out persons who test positive for
                                  drugs at the time of their preenlistment medical examinations. The Navy
                                  and the Marine Corps, on the other hand, do not test applicants for drugs
                                  at the MEPS but wait until they arrive at basic training. The Navy and the
                                  Marine Corps then separate many recruits for testing positive for drug use
                                  upon arrival at basic training.

                                  After the Army and the Air Force test their recruits for drugs during the
                                  MEPS medical examination, they require recruits to sign a statement that
                                  they will refrain from drug use while in the Delayed Entry Program. The



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Army’s and the Air Force’s rationale for not retesting recruits for drugs at
basic training is that any drug use on the part of recruits will demonstrate
itself in recruits’ performance.

In fiscal year 1994, 1,669 recruits were discharged from the Navy because
of drug use. During our initial visit to the Great Lakes Naval Training
Center, our review of personnel records and interviews with separating
personnel indicated that some of these recruits had received waivers for
preenlistment drug use, and some had been in the Delayed Entry Program
for insufficient periods of time to eliminate all drugs from their systems.
We reviewed the personnel records of 19 Navy recruits who were
separated for drug use. Of these 19, the personnel records included
documentation that 17 had admitted to drug use prior to enlistment; 2 had
not. Of those who tested positive for drugs upon arrival at basic training,
seven had been in the Delayed Entry Program 1 month or less. Six of these
seven had admitted to prior drug use. In other words, some recruits were
transported to Navy basic training when recruiters or MEPS personnel
knew that they had used drugs. Navy recruiting officials said that if these
recruits had admitted to drug use within the past 30 days, they would not
have been sent to basic training. Since March 1990, this has been the
Navy’s policy. Up until March 27, 1996, the Navy denied reenlistment rights
to enlisted persons who tested positive for drugs at basic training. On that
date, the Navy changed its policy to allow some recruits who tested
positive for marijuana to reenlist after a period of 6 months.

Navy recruit division commanders told us that recruits being separated for
positive drug tests are generally good performers and want to stay in the
Navy. At the Navy’s basic training camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, we
interviewed seven recruits being separated for drug use. Four had tested
positive for marijuana, two for cocaine, and one for an hallucinogenic
drug. Of the four who had tested positive for marijuana, three had been in
the Delayed Entry Program 1 month or less. All four wanted to stay in the
Navy, and two wished to appeal their cases.

Like the Navy, the Marine Corps tests for drugs at basic training but not at
the MEPS. While the Navy grants no waivers for those who test positive for
drugs, the Marine Corps grants waivers to enlistees who test positive for
marijuana at basic training. In fiscal years 1995 and 1996, around
70 percent of recruits who tested positive for marijuana at Parris Island
Marine Corps Recruit Depot were granted waivers. The Marine Corps
bases its decisions on granting waivers on (1) what type of drug was used,
(2) whether the use was experimental or routine, (3) whether the drug was



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                         used while the enlistee was in the Delayed Entry Program, (4) whether the
                         enlistee admitted to the drug use, (5) whether the enlistee is drug
                         dependent, and (6) whether the enlistee has been convicted of any
                         drug-related offenses.


                         Of all recruits entering the services in fiscal year 1994, approximately 7,200
Thousands of Recruits    were discharged in the first 6 months of service because they failed to
Discharged for Failure   meet minimum performance criteria: around 4,800 in the Army, 1,300 in
to Meet Minimum          the Marine Corps, 600 in the Air Force, and 500 in the Navy. The Army’s
                         numbers for recruits separated in this category are significantly higher
Performance Criteria     than those of the other services for at least three reasons: (1) the Army
                         enlists more recruits than any other service; (2) the Army places persons
                         with mild, situational adjustment problems in this category; and (3) until
                         recently, the Army placed recruits who had been injured in training in this
                         category. According to basic training personnel, recruits who are
                         discharged for failure to meet minimum performance criteria include
                         those who fail physical training standards, who cannot meet weight
                         standards, who fail inspections, or who cannot otherwise adapt to basic
                         training.


Recruits Fail to Meet    Basic training personnel throughout the services said that recruits who are
Performance Standards    in good physical shape have a greater chance of meeting overall military
Because They Are Not     performance standards. Those struggling to meet physical requirements
                         are often correspondingly demotivated to meet other military
Physically Fit           requirements. Service officials suggested that two ways of ensuring that
                         recruits are better prepared to succeed in basic training are to (1) more
                         fully inform them of the physical training requirements of basic training
                         while they are still in the Delayed Entry Program and (2) encourage
                         recruits to become physically fit while they are waiting to go on active
                         duty.

                         All of the services encourage enlistees to become physically fit while they
                         are in the Delayed Entry Program. The services stress that these physical
                         activities must be voluntary. For many years, the Marine Corps has
                         encouraged its recruiters to provide opportunities for enlistees to
                         participate in physical training activities on a voluntary basis. Recently,
                         the Navy and the Army have also restructured their Delayed Entry
                         Programs to encourage recruits to become more physically fit before they
                         enter basic training. As part of the Army’s new proposed program, which
                         was near the implementation stages in December 1996, the Army will



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                        allow recruits in the Delayed Entry Program access to military fitness
                        centers before they report to basic training and reward them with
                        retirement points for participating in voluntary physical training exercises
                        with their recruiters.2 As another part of the Army’s proposed new Delayed
                        Entry Program, enlistees will be required to learn basic military customs
                        and rules. Learning such material before arriving at basic training will
                        lessen recruits’ stress in attempting to learn large amounts of material in
                        the short time allotted to basic training. Air Force officials told us that they
                        do not require recruiters to conduct any formalized physical training for
                        recruits while they are in the Delayed Entry Program because they believe
                        that the Air Force would be legally liable for injuries sustained by recruits
                        while participating in such training.

                        All four services stop short of making physical training activities
                        mandatory for enlistees because they believe that requiring physical
                        training activities could make the services liable for any injuries enlistees
                        sustain while in such training. Yet, according to Army legal officials,
                        enlistees are already entitled to the use of military health care facilities
                        when they are participating in training activities. Enlistees in the Delayed
                        Entry Program are members of the Individual Ready Reserve in an inactive
                        duty status. We believe that taking more assertive steps to make recruits
                        physically fit will result in fewer injuries during basic training and in
                        reducing the number of enlistees who are separated during basic training.


Recruits Fail to Meet   Another principal reason that recruits are discharged for failure to meet
Performance Standards   minimum performance standards is that they lack motivation. During our
Because They Lack       review, we found that all four services have taken steps to improve
                        recruits’ motivation by changing the basic training environment. For
Motivation              example, the services have all established remedial physical training
                        programs for recruits who are not able to meet physical standards. The
                        services have also established motivational and rehabilitation units for
                        those with motivational problems and injuries. The services are also
                        concerned with ensuring that drill instructors do not abuse their recruits.
                        The Air Force, in particular, believes that it has made significant
                        improvements in this area. A senior Air Force official wrote in June 1995,
                        “The negative, profane and perhaps even abusive drill sergeant is all but
                        gone. [In 1992], almost 10% of our trainees complained of verbal abuse or


                        2
                         According to an official from the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, retirement points may be used to
                        calculate retirement eligibility if the soldier chooses future service in the reserve component. If the
                        soldier chooses active service, these retirement points would not be included in the calculation of
                        retirement eligibility for the regular component.



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profanity. Today it’s 4.1%, and this continues to come down. We will get it
to zero.”

While all four services have similar prohibitions on drill instructors’
treatment of basic trainees, many recruits told us that some drill
instructors motivated recruits through negative leadership. The official
policy in each service is to treat recruits with respect. Navy instructions,
for example, state that “the training process must at all times reflect
respect for dignity and rights of the individual and provide a training
environment which is free from all forms of abuse.” Specifically, the
instructions say that “the use of vulgar, obscene, profane,
sexually-oriented, humiliating, or racially/ethnically-slanted language to
address or refer to a trainee(s) directly or indirectly is prohibited. A
trainee will be addressed only by his/her last name, rank/rate, or by the
word ‘recruit.’”

Despite this official policy, about one-third of the 126 recruits we
interviewed told us that they were subjected to humiliating treatment and
that this treatment contributed to their desire to leave the military. We
were told that drill instructors use obscene language frequently. What we
heard from recruits reinforced findings of Army, Air Force, and Rand
studies that concluded that negative motivation has a detrimental effect on
recruits’ desire to stay in the military.3 We do not conclude from the
anecdotes that recruits related to us that negative treatment of recruits is
widespread because we cannot generalize from our 126 interviews.

One study completed by the Army Training and Doctrine Command
(TRADOC) in 1984 found that the way drill sergeants interacted with their
trainees influenced their units’ early discharge rates. According to the
TRADOC report, “Those drill sergeants who outwardly demonstrated
concern for the trainees’ well-being, personally gave additional informal
instruction to marginal performers, and who were effective counselors
tended to have more cohesive platoons with lower attrition.” The TRADOC
report recommended that training for drill instructors be bolstered to
stress positive leadership and performance counseling. TRADOC hoped to
create a “win-win” climate in which they expected higher cohesion and
lower attrition. TRADOC called this positive leadership philosophy
“Insist/Assist.” The Army intended to continue to insist that military

3
 “Trainee Discharge Program Study,” (Army Training and Doctrine Command, Dec. 26, 1984); Trends in
Attrition of High-Quality Military Recruits (R-3539-FMP, Aug. 1988); and “Developing Airmanship: The
Focus of the Air Force Indoctrination Process,” paper prepared for the Air War College, Air University,
Maxwell Air Force Base, April 1993. As a disclaimer contained in the Air Force paper suggests, it does
not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Air War College or the Department of the Air Force.



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standards be met and to assist all recruits to meet these standards. TRADOC
emphasized that “The leadership approach of all trainers must be based on
positive leadership techniques and the understanding that trainee
performance is nearly always a function of cadre leadership.”

In 1988, a Rand study noted that the Army’s basic training attrition rate
was sharply reduced for the fiscal year 1984 and 1985 cohorts. Rand
concluded that this reduction in attrition “reflects at least in part the
explicit or implicit effect of the Army [1984 TRADOC] study.” That is, Rand
believed that this drop in attrition demonstrated that attrition management
can yield large benefits. Rand qualified this conclusion by stating that a
study would have to be conducted to ensure that the Army’s lower basic
training attrition would not result in a correspondingly higher attrition rate
for enlistees later in their terms. For the short term, however, Rand stated
that the Army’s change in training philosophy and other changes made as a
result of TRADOC’s 1984 study, meant that

With no adjustment in recruit quality or standards, the new Army program resulted in 4 and
6 percent more trained high-quality men and women available, respectively, in FY85 than in
FY83. These effects are comparable in magnitude with those of enlistment incentives such
as enlistment bonuses and educational benefits.


During our review, we found that the Army had readopted its 1984
philosophy to “Assist/Insist.” In a Department of the Army briefing on
attrition dated July 17, 1996, the Army reasserted its 1984 study’s
conclusions. The Army stated that it hoped to change its training
philosophy to “stress a positive, reinforcing, success-oriented
environment.” The Army said that it hoped to stress positive leadership, to
tell its training personnel, “Don’t tear down to build. Instead build to
build.”

In 1993, an Air Force basic training squadron commander came to similar
conclusions to those of the Army concerning the effects of negative and
positive leadership during basic training. The Air Force training
commander said that at the time he was a basic training squadron
commander in 1988, training philosophies, particularly recruit motivation
techniques, varied among the eight Air Force training squadrons. The
squadron commander reported that “some were notoriously negative (and
borderline abusive by using such methods as threatening language,
physical intimidation, and excessive profanity). Others were more
moderate, and several were quite positive. . . .” The squadron commander
believed that negative styles of leadership would not instill the qualities,




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                      values, and attitudes that were important to the Air Force. He noted the
                      following:

                      While there is the need for “rigid” motivation in [basic training] to instill certain military
                      skills (i.e., discipline, following orders, etc.), and to organize and control large numbers of
                      recruits, total reliance on the “negative” style won’t produce the objectives we seek. For
                      instance, an airman (or flight) that has been motivated mostly by fear, who repeatedly over
                      six weeks has been corrected in a degrading or harassing manner, may end up resenting
                      authority rather than respecting it. While we may produce someone who follows orders,
                      he/she may not do so willingly. Further, a total emphasis on negative motivation risks
                      seeing individual effort dissipating in a more relaxed training environment later on. We
                      can’t afford that. Our focus must be on positive motivation. This does not mean that we
                      “coddle” or “carry” trainees, nor does it mean eliminating the firmness that is an essential
                      element of the Basic Training program. It does mean a total emphasis on professional
                      behavior and proper role modeling.


                      The Air Force officer who made these observations said that in the years
                      that he was a squadron commander, attrition rates varied widely from
                      squadron to squadron, depending on leadership techniques. In his
                      squadron, where he employed positive motivational techniques, the
                      attrition rate remained at 5 to 6 percent, below the Air Force’s basic
                      training rate of 7.07 in fiscal year 1988 and 7.87 in fiscal year 1989. This Air
                      Force officer attributes differences in attrition rates among the squadrons
                      to differences in leadership styles.




                      To reduce the attrition of enlisted personnel during the first 6 months of
Recommendations       their terms of enlistment, we recommend that the Secretary of Defense
                      take the following actions:

                  •   Require (1) all the services to review and revise their recruiter incentive
                      systems to strengthen incentives for recruiters to thoroughly prescreen
                      persons with medical histories and (2) the Marine Corps, the Air Force,
                      and the Army to more closely link recruiting quotas to recruits’ successful
                      completion of basic training. The services may wish to consider such ideas
                      as awarding recruiters partial credit for thoroughly screening applicants or
                      using a “floating goal” system.
                  •   Direct the services to require all applicants for enlistment to (1) provide
                      the names of their medical insurers and providers and (2) sign a release
                      form allowing the services to obtain past medical information. Taking
                      these two steps would provide the services with the tools to identify
                      applicants’ past medical problems and add an incentive for applicants to




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                         be forthcoming in reporting past medical conditions. To ensure that
                         applicants are made aware that the services do follow up in researching
                         medical histories, the services could determine how frequently they need
                         to obtain applicants’ medical records. To ensure that recruiters do not
                         know which applicants will have their medical histories researched and
                         that recruiters are not further burdened by paperwork, records should be
                         obtained by someone who is not a recruiter. Medical records obtained
                         through this process should be included in the file reviewed by the MEPS
                         physician at the applicant’s preenlistment physical examination.
                     •   Direct the services to revise their “Applicant Medical Prescreening Form”
                         (DD Form 2246) and their “Report of Medical History” (SF 93) to ensure
                         that medical questions are specific, unambiguous, and tied directly to the
                         types of medical separations most common for recruits during basic and
                         follow-on training.
                     •   Use DOD’s newly proposed database of medical diagnostic codes to
                         determine whether adding medical screening tests to the MEPS
                         examinations and/or providing more thorough medical examinations to
                         selected groups of applicants could cost-effectively reduce attrition at
                         basic training.
                     •   Place the responsibility for reviewing medical separation files, which
                         currently resides with MEPCOM, with an organization completely outside the
                         screening process. Such a review would ensure that no conflict of interest
                         interfered with the objective review of which medical conditions should
                         have been detected by MEPS physicians.
                     •   Direct all the services to test applicants for drugs at the MEPS to prevent
                         the enlistment of those who now test positive for drugs upon arrival at
                         basic training.
                     •   Direct the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force to consider adopting
                         a program similar to the Army’s new Delayed Entry Program, under which
                         recruits are encouraged to participate in voluntary physical activities with
                         their recruiters and may be granted military retirement points for their
                         participation. Also, direct the services to provide those in the Delayed
                         Entry Program with access to military fitness facilities and to military
                         medical facilities if they are injured while participating in physical
                         activities with their recruiters.


                         In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD provided the following
Agency Comments          responses to our recommendations. (DOD’s comments are presented in
and Our Evaluation       their entirety in app. I.)




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DOD  partially concurred with our recommendation that the services be
directed to review and revise their recruiter incentive systems and stated
that it will direct the services to review their programs and make revisions
as necessary. Although DOD also stated that it does not find it advisable to
direct the services to revise their recruiter quota systems unless careful
analyses warrant revisions, DOD also stated that the Navy’s new recruiter
incentive system, which subtracts points from the recruiter’s quota when a
recruit does not complete basic training, has resulted in lower attrition.
Revisions such as the Navy’s, to “ensure that recruiters maintain a level of
’ownership’ in the process,” are exactly what we are recommending in our
report. We believe that the Navy’s new incentive system provides an added
incentive for recruiters to take responsibility for the success of their
recruits in basic training.

DOD  also partially concurred with our recommendation that DOD take
actions to improve applicants’ reporting of past medical problems. DOD
stated that it would direct MEPCOM to obtain from applicants the names of
their medical insurers and providers, along with a medical records release
form. DOD stated that MEPCOM will monitor changes in the rates of
disclosures for past medical conditions and obtain cost estimates for
tracking and obtaining medical records.

In response to our recommendation that DOD revise its medical screening
forms, DOD partially concurred. DOD stated that it will direct the services to
review and revise DD Form 2246 and to review SF 93, which is not a DOD
form.

DOD concurred with our recommendation to use its newly proposed
database of medical diagnostic codes to determine whether adding
medical screening tests to the MEPS examinations and/or providing more
thorough medical examinations to selected groups of applicants could
cost-effectively reduce attrition at basic training. DOD stated that it has
already established a panel to address this and related issues.

DOD  did not concur with our recommendation to place responsibility for
reviewing medical separation files outside MEPCOM. DOD stated that MEPCOM
is an independent agent, completely separate from the recruiting services,
and has no conflict of interest. DOD said that the primary purpose of
MEPCOM’s reviews is to “improve medical judgment—to educate physicians
with the intent of improving physicians’ ability to make the right call given
the context of their screening exams.” We believe that this is an important
function. However, we continue to believe that MEPCOM has a conflict of



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interest in determining whether its own physicians should have discovered
disqualifying medical problems in applicants and whether its own
screening methods could be improved. We believe that an entity
completely outside the medical screening process would be more able to
objectively make these determinations.

In response to our recommendation that all services test applicants for
drugs at the MEPS, DOD partially concurred. Before requiring the Navy and
the Marine Corps to change their drug testing procedures, DOD will require
them to conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis. We agree that a
cost-benefit analysis would give DOD a sound basis for this change in
policy. However, we believe that any such cost analysis should include the
cost of transporting, feeding, clothing, and paying recruits who are now
entering the Navy and the Marine Corps and almost immediately being
separated because they test positive for drugs upon arrival at basic
training. Of the Navy’s enlisted personnel entering basic training in fiscal
year 1994, 1,669 were separated for erroneous entry, drug abuse.
Considering the $4,700 marginal cost of transporting, feeding, clothing,
and paying each of these recruits while they were being separated, the
Navy could have avoided $7.8 million in costs by testing these recruits
before they entered the service.

DOD  concurred with our recommendation that the Navy, the Marine Corps,
and the Air Force consider adopting a program similar to the Army’s new
Delayed Entry Program. However, DOD stated that the benefits of this new
program have not yet been confirmed and that it is not likely that military
retirement points will be included in this program. DOD did not state why
military retirement points may not be included.




Page 48                                       GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Page 49   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Appendix I

Comments From the Department of Defense


Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.




See comment 1.




See comment 2.




                             Page 50   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Appendix I
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Page 51                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                    Appendix I
                    Comments From the Department of Defense




Now on p. 27.




Now on p. 25.


Now on pp. 24-25.



See comment 3.




See comment 4.
Now on p. 19.




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                    Comments From the Department of Defense




See comment 5.




See comment 6.




Now on p. 45.




Now on pp. 30-31.
See comment 7.




                    Page 53                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the Department of Defense




Now on p. 6.


See comment 8.




See comment 9.




                 Page 54                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                    Appendix I
                    Comments From the Department of Defense




See comment 10.


Now on pp. 42-43.




See pp. 46-47.




                    Page 55                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
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                    Comments From the Department of Defense




Now on pp. 45-46.




See p. 47.




Now on p. 46.




                    Page 56                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
                Appendix I
                Comments From the Department of Defense




See p. 47.




Now on p. 46.




See p. 47.




Now on p. 46.




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                 Comments From the Department of Defense




See pp. 47-48.



Now on p. 46.




See p. 48.




Now on p. 46.




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             Comments From the Department of Defense




See p. 48.




             Page 59                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
               Appendix I
               Comments From the Department of Defense




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Department of Defense’s (DOD)
               letter dated December 5, 1996.


               1. We agree that the problems DOD is experiencing with enlisted attrition
GAO Comments   are not new. We disagree, however, with DOD’s statement that our report
               offers no new insights. DOD’s problems with attrition date back to at least
               1965, when we reported on the numbers of recruits who were entering the
               service with physically disqualifying conditions. DOD’s problems with data
               on reasons for attrition date back to at least 1980, when we recommended
               that it improve its data collection in this area.

               Despite DOD’s long-standing history of losing one-third of its enlisted
               personnel before the end of their first terms, DOD’s department-wide
               approach to predicting and screening for attrition has been limited to two
               primary criteria: whether recruits have high school diplomas and whether
               they score in the upper half of the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).
               While it is true that recruits with high school diplomas and high AFQT
               scores have lower attrition, we believe that using these two predictors to
               manage attrition has reached its limit. That is, since 1983, the percentage
               of DOD recruits who have high school degrees has been over 90 percent,
               and the percentage of recruits who score in the upper half of the AFQT
               percentile has remained at 58 percent and above. Yet attrition has
               remained at around 30 percent or higher for this entire period of time.

               We believe that our approach in this report is new in that we are urging
               DOD to recognize the limitations of these two predictors and concentrate
               on what we see as the real drivers of high attrition: the recruiting and
               examining processes themselves. To reduce enlisted attrition, DOD must
               make systemic, and even cultural, changes to its recruiting and screening
               processes. We believe that the primary reason for high attrition is that the
               services are driven by their obligation to meet overall recruiting goals and
               end strength numbers. Further, we believe that the changes that DOD has
               made to its recruiting and screening processes over the years have been
               only incremental and that addressing the problem of first-term attrition
               will require innovative changes to the recruiting quota system and
               screening process such as those we present in our recommendations. We
               also believe that, though the services may be taking individual initiatives
               to reduce attrition, DOD needs to gather service-wide data on the reasons
               for attrition and take service-wide measures to control and manage
               attrition. We do not mean to imply that the services are not concerned or
               are not taking actions to address attrition. In fact, we cite many of these



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Comments From the Department of Defense




efforts throughout the report. We do believe, however, that DOD needs to
control and manage attrition service-wide. Cultural changes to the
recruiting and examining processes will require DOD’s direct involvement
and its application of individual service successes among all the services.

2. We could not estimate the cost of implementing the recommendations
we make to improve the screening of recruits because of DOD’s
long-standing failure to collect service-wide reasons for attrition. For
example, because DOD does not now know how many recruits are
separated for a particular medical condition, we could not calculate the
cost-effectiveness of adding various medical tests at the Military Entrance
Processing Stations. As another example, because DOD does not have
service-wide and consistent information on how many recruits are
separated for drug use, we could not evaluate the relative effectiveness
and costs of the services’ different drug-testing policies. Until DOD collects
such service-wide data, it will be unable to make policy changes based on
sound evaluations of their cost impact. We support DOD’s recent efforts to
capture more accurate medical diagnoses for those who are separated
from the military. This action indicates that DOD recognizes its need to
collect more specific data on why personnel separate.

3. During our review, various officials told us that when there are several
reasons for separating a recruit, the basic training commands have an
incentive to choose the most “face-saving” reason to record on a
servicemember’s official release form. For example, if a recruit has both
motivational and medical problems, the basic training unit has a built-in
incentive to record the medical problem as the reason for separation both
because the basic training unit would not have to admit that it failed to
motivate the recruit and because the recruit would not have to admit that
he or she failed. We make this point simply to illustrate the fact that DOD’s
only service-wide database on reasons for attrition does not always
accurately capture the actual reason that a recruit fails to complete his or
her first term of enlistment. Even if military units are not intentionally
miscoding separations, our point remains. The separation codes now being
captured by the Defense Manpower Data Center represent DOD’s only
service-wide information on why recruits are being separated, and this
information is not useful in determining why attrition is occurring. We do
not mean to suggest that DOD must use its database of separation program
designators for this purpose. What we do recommend is that DOD issue
implementing guidance for DOD’s separation codes to provide a reliable
database for managing attrition. DOD could adapt its current database of
separation codes or create a new one to serve this purpose.



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Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Defense




4. Our recommendations are intended to prevent unqualified recruits from
ever entering the services, not to allow unqualified recruits to be retained
in training and later separated. We do not believe that unqualified recruits
should be retained. Rather, we believe that better screening would prevent
unqualified recruits from ever enlisting.

5. The Attrition Advisory Group may in the future be successful in
proposing ways to reduce attrition. However, at the time of our review, the
Army had not provided us with information on whether the Group had
implemented any initiatives.

6. We discuss the efforts of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense
(Health Affairs) to create a medical database on separations in chapters 2
and 3.

7. We state in our report that we believe that the recruiters’ award systems
need to be more closely tied to their recruits’ successful completion of
basic training. We believe that the Navy’s newly implemented recruiter
incentive system provides such a link, though it is too soon to predict the
new system’s effect on attrition. We have just begun a review of the
recruiter incentive system and plan to issue a report providing more detail
on this issue next year.

8. We state in our report that our interviews with 126 separating recruits
do not represent a statistically significant sample. Nevertheless, we
present the information because we believe that what these recruits had to
say about why they were leaving is valid in presenting the emotional
effects on recruits of being separated from the military and that any
positive changes the services make to improve the atmosphere for recruits
at basic training will enhance the morale of all recruits. On the basis of
DOD’s comments on our draft report, we have deleted all conclusionary
statements on this issue.

9. Our comment on the inadequacy of DOD’s data was intended to point out
that the data is not specific enough to allow DOD to determine whether
counseling and rehabilitation efforts would have been called for in certain
instances. For example, if recruits who have disqualifying medical
problems are being discharged under a separation code that indicates
performance problems, then counseling and rehabilitation for these
recruits would not have any effect. As another example, because recruits
with motivational problems can be discharged under separation codes that




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Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Defense




indicate medical problems, DOD cannot determine whether motivational
techniques might have worked to help these recruits.

10. We discuss the Air Force’s efforts to reduce attrition, in a general way,
in chapter 3.




Page 63                                        GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Sharon Cekala
National Security and   Elliott Smith
International Affairs   Beverly Schladt
Division, Washington,   David Moser
                        MaeWanda Jackson
D.C.                    Jai Lee
                        Charles Perdue
                        Bill Beusse
                        Waverly Sykes
                        Ernie Jackson
                        Nancy Ragsdale




(703122)                Page 64            GAO/NSIAD-97-39 Military Attrition
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