Index

Military Personnel: First-Term Recruiting and Attrition Continue to
Require Focused Attention (Statement/Record, 02/24/2000,
GAO/T-NSIAD-00-102).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed ways that the
Department of Defense (DOD) and the services are attempting to meet
their recent enlistment shortfalls and to reduce the attrition rate of
their first-term enlisted personnel.

GAO noted that: (1) over the past 2 years, the Army, the Navy, and the
Air Force have been experiencing problems in recruiting qualified
enlisted personnel; (2) in response, these three services have all
refocused their attention on this area and added resources to address
perceived problems; (3) for example, most have increased the number of
recruiters and their advertising budgets, as well as offering larger
enlistment bonuses and more money for college; (4) all these tools have
been shown by past research to help the services attract new recruits;
(5) the services have also sought innovative ways of expanding their
shrinking recruiting market without reducing the quality of recruits;
(6) also, all the services hope to more vigorously target students at
community colleges; (7) the Marine Corps has been successful in meeting
recruiting goals, therefore, it does not plan to initiate any major
changes to its recruiting program; (8) the services' problems with
recruiting first-term enlistees are exacerbated by the fact that they
have historically lost about one-third of their enlistees before they
have completed their initial terms of service; (9) therefore, the
services have also focused their attention on how to retain more
personnel; (10) while many of their initiatives appear promising, the
latest 4-year attrition data available, for those who entered the
services in fiscal year (FY) 1994 and left by the end of FY 1998,
indicate that this rate continued to rise and is at an all-time DOD high
of 36.9 percent; (11) as GAO pointed out in past reports, the services
will not be able to develop appropriate steps to reduce attrition until
they have more precise data on why these persons are leaving the
military early; (12) to obtain this type of information, DOD and the
services are making progress collecting accurate data on why people
leave the service early, especially for medical reasons; and (13)
however, though the services have taken many initiatives to target
enlistees whom they wish to rehabilitate, such as persons who fail the
physical training test or appear to be struggling with academic or
language problems in basic training, they have not yet extended their
more extensive data collection effort toward these other types of
separations in order to identify the root causes of the problems.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-NSIAD-00-102
     TITLE:  Military Personnel: First-Term Recruiting and Attrition
	     Continue to Require Focused Attention
      DATE:  02/24/2000
   SUBJECT:  Military enlistment
	     Military recruiting
	     Military training
	     Military cost control
	     Attrition rates
	     Enlisted personnel
	     Management information systems
	     Personnel management
IDENTIFIER:  Army General Educational Development Plus Program
	     Army College First Program
	     Navy College Program
	     Army Partnership for Youth Success Program
	     Navy College Assistance Student Headstart program
	     Navy Technical Partnership Program

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Before the Subcommittee on Personnel, Committee on Armed Services, U. S.
Senate

For Release on Delivery Expected at 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 24, 2000

MILITARY PERSONNEL

First-Term Recruiting and

Attrition Continue to Require Focused Attention

Statement for the Record of Norman J. Rabkin, Director

National Security Preparedness Issues, National Security and International
Affairs Division

GAO/T-NSIAD-00-102

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to provide this statement for the record on our ongoing work
for this Subcommittee dealing with recruiting and attrition issues. The
statement includes preliminary observations on ways the Department of
Defense (DOD) and the services are attempting to meet their recent
enlistment shortfalls and to reduce the attrition rate of their first-term
enlisted personnel. These observations are based on ongoing work, including
field visits to the services' recruiting commands and basic training sites.
We plan to summarize the results of this work in a report to this
Subcommittee to be issued this summer. That report will contain a more
detailed description of DOD's actions, our conclusions about the success of
various initiatives, and any appropriate recommendations.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Over the past 2 years, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force have been
experiencing problems in recruiting qualified enlisted personnel. In
response, these three services have all refocused their attention on this
area and added resources to address perceived problems. For example, most
have increased the number of recruiters and their advertising budgets, as
well as offering larger enlistment bonuses and more money for college. All
these tools have been shown by past research to help the services attract
new recruits. The services have also sought innovative ways of expanding
their shrinking recruiting market without reducing the quality of recruits.
For example, the Army is experimenting with attracting youth who do not have
high school diplomas through its General Educational Development Plus
Enlistment program, which will enable applicants who currently have not
graduated from high school to be sponsored by the Army to attain enlistment
standards through an attendance-based course. Also, all the services hope to
more vigorously target students at community colleges. The Marine Corps has
been successful in meeting recruiting goals; therefore, it does not plan to
initiate any major changes to its recruiting program.

The services' problems with recruiting first-term enlistees are exacerbated
by the fact that they have historically lost about one-third of their
enlistees before they have completed their initial terms of service.
Therefore, the services have also focused their attention on how to retain
more personnel. While many of their initiatives appear promising, the latest
4-year attrition data available, for those who entered the services in
fiscal year 1994 and left by the end of fiscal year 1998, indicate that this
rate continued to rise and currently is at an all-time DOD high of 36.9
percent. As we point out in past reports, the services will not be able to
develop appropriate steps to reduce attrition until they have more precise
data on why these persons are leaving the military early. To obtain this
type of information, DOD and the services are making progress collecting
accurate data on why people leave the service early, especially for medical
reasons. However, though the services have taken many initiatives to target
enlistees whom they wish to rehabilitate, such as persons who fail the
physical training test or appear to be struggling with academic or language
problems in basic training, they have not yet extended their more extensive
data collection effort toward these other types of separations in order to
identify the root causes of the problems.

BACKGROUND

Fiscal year 1998 marked the first year in almost a decade that DOD did not
meet its overall recruiting goal for enlistees. That year, the Marine Corps
and the Air Force met their recruiting goals, but the Army achieved 99
percent and the Navy only 88 percent of their recruiting needs. In fiscal
year 1999, the Marine Corps and the Navy met their goals, but the Air Force
achieved only 95 percent of its goal, and the Army only 92 percent.

For many reasons, it is difficult to compare the ways the individual
services recruit and retain their enlisted personnel. First, with a goal of
74,500 for fiscal year 1999, the Army needed to enlist more than twice as
many new recruits as the Marine Corps and the Air Force, and the Navy's goal
was a little over two-thirds of the Army's. Second, coupled with the sheer
size differences among the services, each offers a unique image or "brand
name." As a result, what works for one service may not work for another.
Third, success in meeting recruiting goals has varied among the services.
For example, until 1999, the Air Force had met its goal every year since
1979, and its recruiters have historically produced more recruits per
recruiter.

For at least the past decade, the attrition of enlistees before the
completion of their first terms has remained at around 30 percent. While the
individual services' attrition rates have varied during this period, all
services' attrition has remained within a broad band, ranging from around 25
percent to 40 percent. Generally, the Army's attrition has been highest and
the Air Force's lowest.

SERVICES ARE TAKING A VARIETY OF STEPS TO ADDRESS RECRUITING PROBLEMS

Except for the Marine Corps, each service has either increased or plans to
increase the number of recruiters, advertising budgets, and enlistment
bonuses. In addition, the Army and the Navy are expanding their recruiting
target markets. The Marine Corps has been successful in meeting recruiting
goals; therefore, it does not plan to initiate any major changes to its
recruiting program.

Army Has Increased Recruiters, Bonuses, and Advertising

The Army has missed its recruiting goals for the past 2 years. In response,
the Army has been putting resources into areas that historically have proven
to result in greater numbers of recruits, but it has not yet had time to
fully analyze whether what has worked in the past is currently working or is
likely to work in the future. For example, from fiscal year 1993 through
1998, the Army increased its number of recruiters from 4,368 to 6,331. It
also increased its advertising budget from $32.8 million in fiscal year 1993
to $97.2 million in fiscal year 1998. The Army has also offered an array of
enlistment bonuses to qualified personnel and increased the maximum amount
offered to $20,000. It has increased its budget for this purpose
substantially in just the past year, from $58.2 million in fiscal year 1998
to $103.7 million in fiscal year 1999.

The Army has also recently announced experimenting with new ways to expand
its recruiting market to persons it would not have sought out in the past.
For example, through its General Educational Development Plus program, the
Army intends to target youth who do not have high school diplomas but who
have higher-than-average aptitude scores and no histories of disciplinary
problems. It also plans to focus attention on youth who are college-bound.
The "College First" program, for example, proposes to pay enlistees
attending college $150 per month for up to 2 years after they have signed a
contract to enlist but before they actually do so.

In an effort to more directly compete with private sector pay and benefits,
the Army is developing what it calls a "Partnership for Youth Success
Program." Under this proposed program, the Army would obtain guarantees from
private sector companies that the companies would have jobs waiting for
specially trained enlisted personnel who successfully complete their tours.
The companies would benefit by obtaining highly skilled personnel, and the
former Army personnel would benefit by being assured a secure job, using
their skills upon their departure from the Army.

Navy Met Its Recruiting Goal by Increasing Its Efforts

The Navy missed its recruiting goal in fiscal year 1998 but met it in the
following year. Navy Recruiting Command officials noted several factors that
they believe enabled them to meet their recruiting goals in fiscal year
1999. For example, between fiscal year 1998 and 1999, the Navy increased its
number of recruiters from 3,342 to 4,725. Simultaneously, it opened
recruiting jobs to lower ranked, but "hard charging," enlisted personnel.
Also, between fiscal year 1997 and 1999, the Navy substantially increased
its funding for advertising--from $41.1 million to $73.2 million. Finally,
the Navy enhanced its bonus offerings to enlistees. For example, it awarded
special bonuses of $3,000 to enlistees who agreed to enter basic training
between February and May, a time when the Navy traditionally is hard-pressed
to fill their slots.

While increasing the amounts of resources spent on recruiting, the Navy also
began to seek ways to expand its recruiting market. For example, it began to
target personnel who have prior military service and persons without high
school diplomas who scored high on newly defined selection criteria. The
Navy is also targeting college-bound recruits under three separate programs.
The first two are underway, and the third is being developed. Under the
"Navy College Assistance Student Headstart" program, selected recruits in
the nuclear and submarine fields are placed on active duty while they are in
college, receive entry-level pay for up to 1 year, and then attend basic
training. In the second program, called "Technical Preparation
Partnerships," the Navy coordinates with community colleges to allow
recruits to earn their associates' degrees while they are serving their
first enlistment terms. A third program, the "Navy College Program," which
is under development, will allow Navy servicemembers to receive college
credit for Navy-provided training.

Air Force Has Stepped Up Its Efforts After Falling Short on Its Fiscal Year
1999 Goal

Air Force recruiting officials told us that complacency contributed to their
inability to meet fiscal year 1999 recruiting goals. Air Force officials
said that, because they had easily met their goals in the past, they
generally believed that there would always be a readily available pool of
recruits. Moreover, Air Force recruiters had historically signed up about
two times more recruits than recruiters in other services while working
fewer hours. For example, in fiscal year 1999, the Marine Corps employed
2,650 recruiters to recruit 33,685 new active-duty Marines, while the Air
Force employed only 950 recruiters to recruit 32,068 enlistees. Banking on
continued high productivity in fiscal year 1999, the Air Force did not staff
its field recruiting force to its authorized level of 1,209. That is, even
while the number of required annual enlistments increased and the Air Force
said it became more difficult to recruit, the Air Force not only did not
increase the number of its recruiters but allowed the number to fall below
authorized levels. For fiscal year 2000, the Air Force plans to increase its
authorization for recruiters by 237 to 1,446. Prior to this year, the Air
Force also maintained a minimal advertising budget and had not requested
money for paid advertising on commercial television. In fiscal year 1999,
for the first time, the Air Force requested and received funding for
television advertisements. The Air Force increased funding for all
advertising from approximately $17.2 million in fiscal year 1998 to $76
million in fiscal year 1999.

In October 1998, the Air Force expanded its enlistment bonus program to
target persons willing to commit to 6- rather than 4-year contracts in
critical and highly technical skills, such as combat controllers, pararescue
personnel, linguists, and security forces. The Air Force believed that
offering such bonuses (1) positioned it for a better return on its
recruiting and training investment, (2) provided another tool to attract
youth into the Air Force, and (3) would result in improved retention over
time and ultimately in a reduction in future requirements for new recruits
without prior military service. Approximately 100 occupations are eligible
for bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $12,000. Combat controllers and
pararescue personnel are the only two occupations eligible for $12,000
6-year enlistment bonuses and $3,000 4-year enlistment bonuses.

Marine Corps Sees No Need to Change Its Recruiting Strategy

The Marine Corps is the only service that has successfully met its
recruiting goals each year. Consequently, it does not plan to initiate major
changes in its recruiting strategy. Over the years, the Marine Corps has
slowly but steadily increased its recruiting workforce and advertising
budget. Recruiting officials believe they have been able to meet their goals
because the Marine Corps has a consistent and recognizable identity to
appeal to youth and an institutional, financial, and resource commitment to
supporting recruiting services and because its recruiters work extremely
hard. Data from the Defense Manpower Data Center's 1998 survey of recruiters
indicate that the Marine Corps' recruiting success comes at a price. Marine
Corps recruiters work longer hours and take less leave than recruiters in
any other service.

The Marine Corps does not see itself in competition with the private sector
to the same extent that the other services do. As such, it is
institutionally against attempting to lure recruits with bonuses, changing
its entry-level requirements, or increasing the number of recruiters.

DATA AVAILABLE ON REASONS FOR ATTRITION REMAIN IMPRECISE

As we have previously reported, the only available DOD-wide data on enlisted
separations are not very useful in specifying why enlistees are leaving
early. This is because the codes used to categorize separations are vague,
more than one code can be chosen to classify the same separation, and the
services use these codes differently.

During our recent visit to the Military Entrance Processing Command, in
Chicago, Illinois, we found that DOD and the services had in place long-term
efforts to collect more precise information on the medical reasons enlistees
were being separated early. Collecting such data will enable DOD and the
services--at some point in the future--to make fact-based decisions on which
medical conditions result in greater or lesser attrition risks. While DOD
has formed a working group whose purpose is to revise all separations codes
and to issue guidance to the services on how to more uniformly and
consistently categorize all types of discharges, this effort was not
progressing rapidly. At present, we see no evidence that the problems we
previously identified with these codes have been solved. The current status
of the codes does not allow DOD to make cross-service comparisons of
attrition or to formulate fact-based policy changes to reduce it.

Early Separations for Medical, Physical, Background, and Performance
Problems

Notwithstanding the limitations of existing attrition data, it indicates
that during the first 6 months of enlistment, there are three major
categories of attrition: (1) separations for medical/physical problems, that
is, for medical conditions that existed prior to service or for physical
problems that develop while enlistees are in training; (2) separations for
fraudulent or erroneous enlistment, indicating either that the services did
not detect military applicants' disqualifying conditions prior to their
enlistments or that the applicants deliberately withheld disqualifying
information from the services; and (3) separations for performance problems,
such as failure of the physical training test, loss of motivation, or
inability to adapt to military life. The remaining separations at the
6-month point are for various reasons, none of which is particularly
predominant. These reasons include misconduct, exceeding weight and body fat
standards, character and behavior disorders, alcoholism, drug use, and
homosexuality. (See fig. 1).

Figure 1: Primary Reasons That Enlistees Who Entered the Services in the
First Half of Fiscal Year 1998 Were Separated in Their First 6 Months of
Service

To address these problems, DOD and the services have designed programs to
address them where they occur, namely during the screening process and
during training.

Steps to Improve the Medical Screening of Enlistees

To improve the medical screening of enlistees during their physical
examinations at the Military Entrance Processing Stations, DOD has adopted
our prior recommendations to revise the medical form used to gather
historical medical information on applicants for military service. It has
also, in response to our recommendation, required military applicants to
list their medical providers and insurers in hopes that applicants will more
readily report their past medical histories if they believe that the
services may try to verify information they provide. Ultimately, the
Military Entrance Processing Command hopes to add medical screening tests,
such as tests for asthma, at its processing stations that will help to
screen out medical conditions known to be high attrition risks.

Steps to Reduce Fraudulent and Erroneous Enlistments

Recruits can be separated for fraudulent enlistment if they knowingly
conceal information that would disqualify them from military service. Such a
discharge can result from concealing the number of one's dependents; from
lying about prior drug use; or from failing to report a prior medical or
criminal disqualifying condition. Recruits can be separated for erroneous
enlistment if their disqualifying conditions are discovered after they enter
the military, though this type of separation has also been used to discharge
Navy enlistees who test positive on their drug tests upon arrival at basic
training.

To reduce the numbers of fraudulent and erroneous enlistments due to
concealment of medical and psychiatric histories, the services have
attempted to improve the gathering of prior medical histories of military
applicants. To reduce the number of these enlistments due to concealment of
criminal backgrounds, DOD and the services have also taken some actions. For
example, the Military Entrance Processing Command is now procuring funding
for fingerprint machines from the services for their processing stations
that will allow the services to do more thorough background searches of
military applicants before they enter the service.

Programs to Reduce Medical Injuries and Performance Problems

Available data indicates that about 31 percent of all early separations are
for performance problems, such as failure of the physical training test,
loss of motivation, or inability to adapt to military life. Of this
percentage, some of these separations occur because of physical injuries.
Officials in the four training bases we visited believe that attrition
because of performance problems can be reduced and have instituted programs
to do so.

The Army has targeted different groups of enlistees for retention at its
basic training site at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. Remedial training
programs include

   * a "Think It Over" program, targeting recruits who have second thoughts
     about basic training in the first week after they have arrived;
   * a 4-day English as a Second Language program designed to help recruits
     who are struggling with their language skills;
   * a Fitness Training Company for all recruits who fail the mandatory
     physical fitness test on the second day of basic training;
   * a remedial "Prepare to Train" program for recruits whose scores on the
     DOD entrance aptitude test suggest they might have difficulty in the
     academic portion of training;
   * a "See It Through" program, targeted at recruits who have performance
     and behavioral problems during their first through final weeks of basic
     training;
   * a mandatory Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program for all
     enlistees who are injured in training; and
   * a 3-week remedial physical training course for enlistees who fail the
     Army Physical Fitness Test required for graduation from basic training.

Fort Jackson officials estimate that in fiscal year 1999, they placed 7,612
enlistees in these programs, and 68 percent successfully completed their
programs and were returned to regular basic training units. Prior to 1999,
many of these persons might have been summarily separated.

Fort Jackson is also attempting to reduce attrition resulting from
unnecessary physical injuries. Training officials determined that providing
athletic shoes designed to properly fit each recruit would reduce the threat
of injury. While officials believe that it is logical to assume that such a
change has resulted in reductions in injuries, they have not collected
independent data to verify this assumption.

The Navy has also attempted to retain more personnel in view of basic
training attrition rates that grew steadily during fiscal years 1996-99-from
13.2 to 18.3 percent. Navy officials believe that attrition rates would have
gone even higher if they did not have the following six remedial programs:

   * Fundamental Applied Skills Training, a 3- or 4-week course on academic
     skills;
   * Personal Applied Skills Streaming, a 1-week program for recruits with
     anger, motivational, or other behavioral problems;
   * the Academic Capacity Enhancement Program, a 5-day course to enhance
     recruits' academic skills;
   * a Battle Stations Remedial Unit aimed at recruits who have difficulty
     completing the final culminating field event;
   * "PT-O," a remedial physical training program designed to help recruits
     pass their initial physical training tests; and
   * a Physical Fitness Training Unit to help recruits pass the physical
     fitness test required for graduation.

Navy officials did not have data on the long-term success rates of these
programs. However, in November 1999, their data showed that in fiscal year
1999, 861 enlistees were enrolled in the Personal Applied Skills Streaming
program, 1,526 were enrolled in the Fundamental Applied Skills Training
Program, and 1,555 were enrolled in PT-O. Before these programs were
implemented, these persons might have been separated for performance
problems.

Navy basic training officials have also taken several actions to reduce
injury-related separations by redesigning their training program. This
redesign has included rewriting the physical conditioning schedule,
including how often recruits are required to run and march, and retraining
drill instructors to emphasize the importance of keeping to a regimented
routine to reduce stress fractures and other injuries. Data maintained by
the Navy indicate that these efforts resulted in a reduction in the number
of severe stress fractures between fiscal year 1998 and 1999.

The Marine Corps has had some success in reducing attrition. Data provided
by the basic training site at Parris Island, South Carolina, indicate that
the Marine Corps' attrition dropped from 17.8 percent in fiscal year 1998 to
around 12.1 percent by fiscal year 1999, which is closer to the norm.
Training officials attributed this drop almost entirely to a change in
training philosophy that primarily involves spending more time with troubled
recruits to bring them up to Marine Corps standards. Previously, enlistees
might have been separated because drill instructors did not take the time to
work with struggling recruits. Training officials stressed that such a
change does not reduce quality or graduation requirements; it simply means
that drill instructors are taking more time to train recruits and to target
some enlistees who might previously have been separated. Retention is seen
as a measure of leadership for both officers and enlisted drill instructors.

In addition to this change in philosophy, training officials instituted new
or reinforced ongoing programs to reduce attrition. Some of these programs
were introduced well before fiscal year 1999 and include a week-long
remedial program to help recruits pass their marksmanship qualification and
a physical conditioning program for enlistees who fail their initial
physical fitness test. Marine Corps training officials said that 81 percent
of all male recruits and 90 percent of all female recruits who were sent to
the physical conditioning program were returned to training. Officials did
not have information on how well Parris Island's remedial programs were
working in the long term.

To reduce training-related injuries, Parris Island's training officials
introduced initiatives such as a Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Therapy
Clinic to rehabilitate rather than separate recruits who suffer injuries and
to expedite their return to training. Marine Corps training officials noted
that attrition due to lower extremity problems fell by 10 percent during the
first 6 months after the Sports Medicine Clinic was opened.

Air Force basic training officials said that they were satisfied with their
level of attrition. When the rate rises above 11 percent, they become
concerned. For fiscal year 1999, Air Force basic training officials report a
rate of 8.4 percent. The Air Force began to make changes to its basic
training regimen after a spike in the number of injuries during training in
1995. In that year, training officials began to alternate enlistees' wearing
of boots and athletic shoes, and in 1997, they added a central physical
therapy clinic closer to where trainees were located. In January 1999, a new
sports medicine specialist began to emphasize the importance of
rehabilitating rather than separating enlistees who suffered injuries.
Because of this change in philosophy, as well as the Air Force's other
initiatives, the number of separations for medical reasons, including
injuries, was reduced by half by the end of fiscal year 1999.

- - - -

This concludes our statement for the record. As noted, we plan to issue a
more detailed report in the summer of 2000.

Contact and Acknowledgments

If you have any questions about this statement for the record, please
contact Norman J. Rabkin at (202) 512-3610. Individuals making key
contributions to this statement include Carol Schuster, William Beusse,
Beverly Schladt, Joan Slowitsky, and Donna Rogers.

(702052)

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