Military Personnel:

Reporting Additional Servicemember Demographics Could Enhance Congressional Oversight

GAO-05-952: Published: Sep 22, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2005.

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The high pace of military operations, thousands of casualties in ongoing military operations, and the services' recruiting challenges have raised questions about who is serving in today's military and concern that certain subgroups of the U.S. population may be disproportionately represented among those fighting and dying in support of the war on terrorism. These challenges and concerns have increased the need for information on the demographic characteristics of military personnel. GAO was asked to address three questions: (1) What are the demographic characteristics of servicemembers and how do they compare to the comparable U.S. civilian workforce? (2) How well are the services meeting their overall recruitment goals, and what influences whether or not individuals join the military? (3) What are the demographic characteristics of servicemembers who remained in the military in fiscal years 2000, 2002, and 2004? GAO was also asked to examine the demographic characteristics of servicemembers who died or were wounded in combat in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Since the institution of the All Volunteer Force in 1973, the military has become older and better educated, with increasing representation of racial and ethnic minorities, females, spouses, and parents. Today's force also differs from the U.S. civilian workforce in a number of important ways. For example, the military is younger than the civilian workforce. From a racial diversity perspective, the military, as of December 2004, had proportionately fewer Whites, partly because the military has proportionately more African Americans. Although Hispanic representation in the Active Component has markedly increased from 5 percent in 1993 to 9 percent in 2004, it is below the 11 percent for the U.S. civilian workforce. The representation of women in the military, at 16 percent, is below that of women in the U.S. workforce, at 48 percent, partly because of military policy and federal statutes. Although the 1997 government-wide requirements for the collection and reporting of information on race and ethnicity were to have been implemented by January 1, 2003, DOD has not yet fully implemented the requirements and its internal monthly reports continue to use some of the former racial/ethnic categories. This situation makes it difficult for Congress to monitor and directly compare the military and U.S. civilian racial and ethnic compositions. Over the past decade, the Active Component met its overall recruiting goals more frequently than has the Reserve Component. GAO found that a combination of personal, demographic, family, and societal factors, as well as the availability of economic and educational incentives, influence youths' decision to join or not to join the military. DOD reports that over half of today's youth are not qualified to serve because they cannot meet the military's entry standards for health, education, aptitude, or other requirements. DOD has not collected information on a recruit's socioeconomic status since 1999. Recent DOD research using recruits' zip codes as a proxy to indicate socioeconomic status and community population density found that the median income of recruits' communities is similar to that of other youth and that the majority of recruits come from rural and suburban areas. Without ongoing research on recruits' socioeconomic status and communities, DOD will not be able to promptly and accurately inform Congress and the public about how representation in the services matches that of the applicable U.S. population. In fiscal years 2000, 2002, and 2004, AC enlisted personnel had lower retention rates than officers and there were no consistent differences between the rates of racial/ethnic subgroups. While DOD prepares retention rates, it does not publish active duty retention rates which could be used by Congress in its oversight of military retention and related issues. As of May 28, 2005, 1,841 servicemembers had died and 12,658 had been wounded in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. Most of those who died or were wounded were Active Component Army or Marine Corps junior enlisted personnel. Among those who died, 71 percent were White, 10 percent were Hispanic, and 9 percent were African American.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD supplied the following information. 7/06: Beginning with the FY2006 Population Representation in the Military Services, an annual mandated report to Congress, OUSD(P&R) will devote an entire chapter/appendix to the socioeconomic status of recruits, as well as the population density and type of community for the recruits' home of record. 11/06: The expected completion date for the agreed-upon information to be published in the FY 2006 Pop Rep report is 6/07. The report was not available on the web in 9/07 when GAO staff did an Web search for it. 8/09: Beginning with the 2007 Population Representation in the Military Services report, DOD has presented the information on the type of community that we recommended.

    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the public, department, and Congress to identify and monitor demographic changes in the race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and community population density of servicemembers in the All- Volunteer Force and to enhance Congress's ability to perform its oversight functions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to conduct research to determine a feasible process for assessing the type of community (for example, rural, suburban, and urban) from which recruits were drawn and periodically include a measure of population density in the annual reports that describe the demographic characteristics of recruits in the active and reserve components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD supplied the following information. 7/06: Beginning with the FY2006 Population Representation in the Military Services, an annual mandated report to Congress, OUSD(P&R) will devote an entire chapter/appendix to the socioeconomic status of recruits, as well as the population density and type of community for the recruits' home of record. 11/06: The expected completion date for the agreed-upon information to be published in the FY 2006 Pop Rep report is 6/07. The report was not available on the web in 9/07 when GAO staff did an Web search for it. 8/09: Beginning with the 2007 Population Representation in the Military Services report, DOD has presented the information on socioeconomic status that we recommended.

    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the public, department, and Congress to identify and monitor demographic changes in the race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and community population density of servicemembers in the All- Volunteer Force and to enhance Congress's ability to perform its oversight functions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to conduct research to determine a feasible process for assessing the socioeconomic status of recruits, implement that process, and periodically include findings on the socioeconomic status of recruits' households in annual reports on servicemembers in the active and reserve components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Recently, GAO obtained racial and ethnic group data from DOD's Defense Manpower Data Center. Those racial and ethnic group findings used membership categories that corresponded with the categories that the Office of Management and Budget set forth in 1997. In addition, DOD officials recently stated that since our report, DOD has adopted new forms with more racial categories and a separate question on ethnicity, so that Hispanics can self-identify, regardless of race (See, for example DD Form 1966/1, March 2007, questions 7a and 7b.") The "FY 2007 Population Representation in the Military Services" report also showed that data were displayed using the five single race subgroups and the two ethnic subgroups as called for in the OMB 1977 Directive and in our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the public, department, and Congress to identify and monitor demographic changes in the race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and community population density of servicemembers in the All- Volunteer Force and to enhance Congress's ability to perform its oversight functions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to gather and report data on racial and ethnic subgroup membership in a manner that is consistent with the required procedures set forth by the Office of Management and Budget in 1997. In addition to requiring that recruits provide their racial and ethnic subgroup membership using revised categories and procedures, DOD should also determine procedures that could be used for updating the information on servicemembers who previously provided their racial and ethnic subgroup membership with different subgroup categories and questions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD supplied the following information. 7/06: Beginning with the FY2006 Population Representation in the Military Services, an annual mandated report to Congress, OUSD(P&R) will devote an entire chapter/appendix to the socioeconomic status of recruits, as well as the population density and type of community for the recruits' home of record. 11/06: The expected completion date for the agreed-upon information to be published in the FY 2006 Pop Rep report is 6/07. The report was not available on the web in 9/07 when GAO staff did an Web search for it. 8/09: DOD's 2007 Population Representation in the Military Services (POPREP) report has reported the Active component portion of this continuation rate information. The DODIG reported that the continuation rate data for Reserve Component recruits will instead be reported in the annual Guard and Reserve Manpower Strengths and Statistics report.

    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the public, department, and Congress to identify and monitor demographic changes in the race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and community population density of servicemembers in the All- Volunteer Force and to enhance Congress's ability to perform its oversight functions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to include continuation rates on active and reserve component personnel in DOD's annual demographic reports. Implementation of the recommendation could use findings from the analyses that the Defense Manpower Data Center already conducts for the department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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