Military Personnel:

Improvements Needed to Increase Effectiveness of DOD's Programs to Promote Positive Working Relationships between Reservists and Their Employers

GAO-08-981R: Published: Aug 15, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 2008.

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Since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on more than 650,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve to support operations at home and abroad. As demobilized reservists return to civilian life and their civilian employment, the difficulties some face in maintaining positive working relationships with their employers is an area of interest. Maintaining employers' continued support for their reservist employees will be critical if DOD is to retain experienced reservists in these times of longer and more frequent deployments. The employment and reemployment rights of service members as they transition between their federal duties and their civilian employment are governed by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994. Education of reservists and employers about USERRA is primarily conducted through DOD's office of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), which serves as DOD's focal point in managing the department's relations with reservists and their civilian employers. The Military Reservists and Veteran Small Business Reauthorization and Opportunity Act of 20083 directed the Comptroller General of the United States to report to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the House Committee on Armed Services, and the House Committee on Small Business by August 15, 2008, on the options for promoting positive working relationships between reservists and their employers, including assessing options for improving the time in which employers of reservists are notified of a call to active duty other than training. Accordingly, we examined the extent to which DOD has (1) taken steps to inform reservists of their obligations and responsibilities to their employers to provide timely notification of a call to active duty, and (2) developed initiatives to promote positive working relations between reservists and their employers. We also were directed to determine whether there has been a reduction in the hiring of reservists by business concerns because of (1) any increase in the use of reservists after September 11, 2001, or (2) any change in any policy of DOD relating to reservists after September 11, 2001.

DOD has taken steps to inform reservists of their obligations and responsibilities to their civilian employers when they are mobilized, but it does not collect data to assess the effectiveness of its efforts. In order to qualify for rights under USERRA, reservists must generally provide their employers with advance notice prior to departure for military duty, and we found that the amount of advance notice provided to employers varies. The steps DOD has taken to inform reservists of their obligations and responsibilities to their employers include (1) implementing policies and procedures that encourage reservists to provide advance notification, and to provide this notification in writing, and (2) providing outreach and education for reservists of obligations and responsibilities under USERRA through ESGR. Despite these efforts to inform reservists of their obligations and responsibilities to provide advance notice to their civilian employers of a call to active duty, DOD does not determine whether its efforts (1) are helpful in informing reservists of their USERRA responsibilities, or (2) enable employers to receive advance notification of reservists' deployments because DOD does not collect data that would enable it to gauge the effectiveness of its efforts. DOD administers Status of Forces Surveys to reservists biannually to monitor the extent to which it informs service members about USERRA obligations and the occurrence of USERRA-related problems, but the surveys do not contain questions on the amount and type of notice that reservists provide to their employers. Since DOD regularly administers these already established surveys, the most effective way to provide DOD with pertinent information on advance notification without imposing a significant administrative burden or cost would be through these surveys. Until DOD collects data on both the amount and type of advance notice that reservists are providing to their employers, it will be unable to determine the effectiveness of its efforts to encourage and enable reservists to provide advance notice to their employers consistent with USERRA or determine if additional measures are required. Toward the completion of our review, officials at the Defense Manpower Data Center, the Defense activity which administers the biannual Status of Forces Surveys, told us that they are planning to include questions in subsequent Status of Forces Surveys regarding the extent to which reservists are providing notification to their employers and whether the notifications are being given orally or in writing.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD issued an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Operational Plan in Fiscal Year 2011 to provide additional guidance and measurements.

    Recommendation: To gauge the effectiveness of DOD's actions to increase the likelihood that more progress will be made in promoting positive relationships with employers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish an annual performance plan that develops and facilitates the implementation of performance measures on how well ESGR is achieving its goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2009 Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve initiated a direct mail campaign for employers and service-members. This outreach to employers included specific subsets of the employer community and is expected to continue throughout fiscal year 2010. Many of the organizations had already signed Statements of Support and are therefore receiving follow-up contacts in order to ensure continued support through receipt of both an employer brochure and handbook.

    Recommendation: To gauge the effectiveness of DOD's actions to increase the likelihood that more progress will be made in promoting positive relationships with employers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to conduct regular and recurring follow-up activities on outreach efforts to maintain positive working relationships with employers who have previously signed statements of support.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs) has engaged and formed an alliance with the Small Business Administration to identify and develop programs, such as the Patriot Express Loan Program, to assist small business owners with the challenges they may encounter during the absence of a reservist employee.

    Recommendation: To gauge the effectiveness of DOD's actions to increase the likelihood that more progress will be made in promoting positive relationships with employers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop initiatives to specifically conduct outreach efforts to small businesses that employ reservists.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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