Reserve Forces:

DOD Actions Needed to Better Manage Relations between Reservists and Their Employers

GAO-02-608: Published: Jun 13, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 2002.

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Following the 1991 Gulf War, reservists and employers flooded the government with questions and complaints concerning the reemployment rights of reservists who had been away from their jobs during the war. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 grants service members reemployment rights following military duty and addresses the rights and responsibilities of both reservists and their employers. Despite increases in operations since 1992, the average operational tempo of reserves department-wide increased only slightly between 1992 and 2001--from 43 to 46 days a year. Normal required training periods accounted for the bulk of this total. Several factors hamper Department of Defense (DOD) outreach efforts to both employers and reservists. DOD lacks complete information on who the reservists' employers are, and it has viewed the Privacy Act as a constraint that prevents it from requiring reservists to provide this information. DOD relies on volunteers in the field to carry out many of its outreach activities. However, these volunteers do not always report their contacts with reservists and employers, and, as a result, DOD does not know the full extent of problems that arise and has no assurance that its outreach activities are being implemented consistently. Although DOD has an active program in place to address problems that arise between reservists and their civilian employers, no such program is in place to deal systematically with issues that arise between students and their educational institutions. DOD has not fully analyzed existing data on reservists' operational tempo and recruiting and retention trends on an ongoing basis to determine how deployments might be affecting reservists and their employers. GAO surveys and discussions with reservists and employers further suggest that DOD's activities to enhance reserve-employer relations are not as effective as they could be.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: "The Department of Defense Embraces Volunteerism in the Reserve Component." GAO's report, "Reserve Forces: DOD Actions Needed to Better Manage Relations between Reservists and Their Employers," (GAO-02-608, June 13, 2002) stated that the services should be allowed to use reservists who volunteer without paying the high-deployment per diem allowance in order to help minimize the negative effects and hardships associated with involuntary mobilizations. GAO noted that the legislation that dictated the services to pay members an extra $100 per day for service in excess of 400 days had the unintentional effect of penalizing a number of experienced reservists who wanted to deploy for more than that length of time during a 2-year period. In order to meet wartime needs, this legislative provision was suspended following the events of September 11, 2001, and it is still not in effect in 2004. Nevertheless, GAO was concerned that the Department of Defense had not reconsidered its policy on this matter, and that it would result in volunteers for redeployment being denied the opportunity to serve. Thus, GAO urged the Department of Defense to allow volunteers to serve another tour if they so desired. Although the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (OASD RA) was initially opposed to GAO's recommendation, they have recently responded with policies that embrace unit volunteerism. For example, in their policy paper entitled, "Rebalancing Forces: Easing the Stress on the Guard and Reserve," (released by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs--Readiness, Training, and Mobilization on January 15, 2004), the concept of a continuum of service proposes that reserve members could voluntarily participate in units with higher readiness levels and deployment requirements, without being constrained by the current structure of the traditional 39-day training program for reservists. While this does not directly address the limitation discussed above, it does illustrate that the Department of Defense's previous reluctance to accept volunteers due to the 400-day restriction is no longer germane to their policy positions. Furthermore, officials from OASD RA gave a briefing to GAO on June 21, 2004 that is additional evidence of this shift in the Department's thinking. During their presentation entitled, "Transformation of the Reserve Components of the United States' Armed Forces," they noted the innovative management techniques that the Department of Defense would employ to more effectively utilize the reserve forces. One of these techniques was to enhance volunteerism to provide trained, ready individual reservists and units who can respond immediately without requiring mobilization. Thus, it is apparent that the Department of Defense is willingly accepting individuals in the Reserve Forces who want to volunteer to serve beyond their initial period of mobilization if their services are deemed necessary, which implements the intent of the recommendation that was made in GAO's 2002 report.

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should analyze the effects of the high-deployment per diem statutory provision on reservists, taking into account that deployment patterns for reservists are different from those of active duty members, and that virtually no reservists have been forced to deploy involuntarily for more than 400 days over a 730-day period; if warranted, propose changes to this statutory provision.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and is still investigating whether or not there is a feasible development and implementation plan that it can pursue. They state that, "the Department continues to strongly recommend that Reserve component members provide copies of all active duty orders to their civilian employer." Nevertheless, a mechanism exists which enables an employer to obtain a copy of their employee's active duty orders in the event the employee doesn't have the documentation or refuses to provide it voluntarily. The ESGR Employer Resource Guide provides information regarding ESGR "Ombudsman" which may be contacted to assist the employer in receiving the requested active duty orders from the employee's unit. The guide provides a phone number (1-800-336-4590) for employers to contact to obtain contact information for their local area ombudsman. Employers may also utilize the national staff members available at the ESGR national headquarters in the event a local ombudsman is not available. The guide further states Ombudsmen are qualified to help, sympathetic to the needs of both the employers and employees, and committed to remaining impartial in their counsel. This mechanism provides the employers a tool to solicit the additional information they need regarding their employee's active duty service for the employee's reserve unit.

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should develop a policy so that reserve units will provide employers, upon request, with verification of military service periods lasting less than 30 days.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In GAO's report, "Reserve Forces: DOD Actions Needed to Better Manage Relations between Reservists and Their Employers" (GAO-02-608), GAO discussed the issue of "late" orders as they affected reservists. GAO said that DOD recognized that extended deployments can have a disruptive effect on both reservists and their employers, and has emphasized the importance of providing sufficient advance notification of deployments to both parties. GAO also said that DOD has made several attempts over the last few years to achieve its goal of issuing orders 30 days in advance of deployments so that reservists can notify their employees promptly. Despite these efforts, advance notification continues to be a problem. In response to these concerns, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the services to determine how many orders are not being issued 30 days in advance of deployments, and why. GAO recognized that it will not be possible to achieve the 30-day goal in all cases. Once the causes are clearly identified, the Secretary should direct the services to take the necessary corrective actions and periodically assess progress toward fuller compliance with the goal. DOD partially concurred with this recommendation and is taking steps toward addressing GAO's concerns. As part of DOD's overarching effort to rebalance the force, the Secretary of Defense has directed that specific actions be taken to address timely notification of mobilizations. In a July 9, 2003 memorandum to the Services, the Secretary called for far reaching policy changes, to include a joint requirements process that ensures that "force structure is designed appropriately and which validates requests for forces in time to provide timely notice of mobilization." He called on the military departments to assess the actions needed to implement his policies and to submit their implementation plans no later than July 31, 2003.

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should direct the services to determine how many orders are not being issued 30 days in advance of deployments, and why. GAO recognizes that it will not be possible to achieve the 30-day goal in all cases. Once the causes are clearly identified, the Secretary of Defense should direct the services to take the necessary corrective actions and periodically assess progress toward fuller compliance with the goal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: "Reserve Affairs Establishes a 24-Hour Call Center that Citizen Soldiers Use for Information and Assistance." GAO's report, "Reserve Forces: DOD Actions Needed to Better Manage Relations between Reservists and Their Employers," (GAO-02-608, June 13, 2002) recommended that the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) should promptly finalize and implement its plans to have all calls to ombudsmen routed through a single toll-free number and central processing station. GAO urged that this system should be established so that more complete and accurate information regarding complaints, conflicts, and allegations could be collected in order for them to be addressed promptly and consistently. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation, and in response, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (OASD RA) directed the ESGR to establish a Call Center in April 2003. According to the Director of Military Member Support and Ombudsmen Services at ESGR, the GAO report was, "the motivating factor to establish a Call Center." During normal business hours, ESGR personnel answer the phone calls that are placed to 1-800-336-4590. After working hours, calls placed to the 1-800 number listed above are rerouted to the Navy command in Millington, Tennessee that is manned during these off-peak hours. Personnel who are receiving the phone calls are trained on how to generate "query sheets" that are completed and then sent to the appropriate state ESGR committee. Reservists have been utilizing the Call Center, as it received around 2,000 inquiries in April 2004, and the uses have varied from merely requests for information to appeals for mediation with an employer. Finally, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs noted in a Memorandum for Department of Defense Inspector General dated June 23, 2004, that a database was being populated from the ESGR Call Center. Thus, the purpose for the Call Center that GAO recommended is being implemented and utilized in a manner consistent with GAO's proposal.

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should direct the ESGR to promptly finalize and implement its plans to have all calls to ombudsmen routed through a single toll-free number and central processing station.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. Representatives from ESGR stated that their organization instructs Ombudsmen and state committees to rely on the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges' (SOC) resources to assist with student reservists' issues. Documentation on the ESGR website indicates that the SOC is the preferred method for servicemembers to resolve problems. The website states, "If a student called to active duty is experiencing problems related to course credit, tuition, fees or re-enrollment in a program of study, he/she can call, toll free, 1-800-368-5622, or write to: Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, 1 DuPont Circle, NW, Suite 680, Washington, DC 20036. A representative from SOC will work with the student soldier and the institution involved to resolve the issue."

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should add students as a target population to the mission and responsibilities of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), study in depth the problems related to deployments that student reservists have experienced, and determine what actions the ESGR might take to help students and their educational institutions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation in the report and has now established a new policy that will effectively implement the recommendation. The Under Secretary of Defense, in a memorandum dated March 21, 2003, is now requiring that all members of the Reserve components of the Armed Forces provide required employment-related information upon assignment to the Ready Reserve and at such other times as determined by their respective military department. To ensure the Department has relevant and necessary employer-related information, each military department must maintain current and accurate information of the selected items in the Reserve Components Common Personnel Data System. These items include: employment status, employer's name, employer's complete mailing address, member's civilian job title, and total years experience in current civilian occupation.

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should reexamine the provisions of the Privacy Act and determine whether requiring reservists to report information about their civilian employers is consistent with the act. If a positive determination is made, the Secretary of Defense should require all reserve personnel to provide the Defense Manpower Data Center with the name, full address, and telephone number of their civilian employer, and update this information promptly, as necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: "Reserve Affairs Implements Plan to Increase Effectiveness of Employer Outreach Programs." GAO's report, "Reserve Forces: DOD Actions Needed to Better Manage Relations between Reservists and Their Employers," (GAO-02-608, June 13, 2002) recommended that the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, analyze, on an ongoing basis, departmental data on trends in the Reserve components for use in formulating outreach activities to employers. This collection and evaluation of a full range of data would help the Department of Defense to gain a better understanding of the reasons why reservists leave the reserves and why active-duty service members choose not to enter the reserves, in addition to being able to determine how to most effectively engage employers who have reservists in their work force. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (OASD RA) responded by establishing an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) database in October of 2003, populating it with information garnered from the newly established Call Center. In February of 2004, ESGR began using the Oracle eBusiness Suite consisting of the Customer Relationship Manager and the Marketing Online programs to collect the desired data. Testing and modification of these capabilities has continued through May 2004, with approximately 4,000 cases accumulating in the database, but analysis of the data is still in its initial stages. To prepare for this analysis, the Department of Defense entered into a contract with the Institute for Defense Analyses in which they are to develop intake category codes for the database that will be designed to provide early warning indicators for immediate and long-term consideration. These indicators will provide the basis for Employer Outreach activities. Once this step is completed and employer and military personnel data from the Civilian Employment Information/Reserve Components Common Personnel Data System database is merged with ESGR case records, sufficient data should be available for employee outreach efforts to be initiated. OASD RA expects this to be completed during late fiscal year (FY) 2004, enabling outreach activities to be conducted during FY 2005.

    Recommendation: In order to (1) increase the scope and effectiveness of DOD's outreach programs, (2) promote good relations between reservists and their employers or schools, and (3) increase an understanding of the effects of high operational tempos on reservists, the Secretrary of Defense, in conjunction with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, should analyze, on an ongoing basis, departmental data on trends in the reserves for use in formulating outreach activities to employers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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