Military Personnel:

DOD Needs to Take Further Actions to Prevent Sexual Assault during Initial Military Training

GAO-14-806: Published: Sep 9, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2014.

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Brenda S. Farrell
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farrellb@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Air Force implemented most recommendations from the 2012 Commander's report intended to better prevent, investigate, and respond to sexual assaults and related misconduct during the Air Force's basic training for new enlisted personnel, but it has not evaluated the effectiveness of its actions. GAO found that as of July 2014, of the 46 recommendations, the Air Force implemented 39, partially implemented 6, and did not implement 1. The Air Force established a council to provide senior leadership and oversight of actions taken in response to those recommendations. However, the Air Force has not fully established an oversight framework to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken in response to the recommendations. Key practices for organizational change call for using a results-oriented framework to enable program oversight and for the framework to include performance goals. Without fully establishing an oversight framework for evaluating the effectiveness of its actions to prevent sexual assault during basic training, the Air Force will not know whether to sustain the efforts it has implemented or undertake different actions.

Most military services share lessons learned through the Council on Recruit Basic Training (CORBT) and collect selected information to oversee their efforts, but do not have comprehensive, detailed data about sexual assault and related misconduct during initial military training, which includes basic and subsequent career training. CORBT was established in 2013 to address a variety of topics to improve basic training. Key practices for interagency collaboration include clearly defining roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in formalized guidance. However, the draft charter for CORBT does not identify the council's role as the forum for discussing sexual assault prevention for the entire range of initial military training. Further, it does not include key stakeholders who are critical to the success of sharing lessons learned on prevention of sexual assault and misconduct, such as the Marine Corps and service representatives responsible for sexual harassment. Without formalizing this role and involving key stakeholders, the Department of Defense (DOD) cannot ensure that the council is the most effective mechanism for sharing lessons learned for better prevention and response to sexual assault during initial military training. Also, three services have taken steps to obtain more comprehensive and detailed data that are specific to initial military training and provide better information about unreported misconduct for oversight, but these efforts vary by service. Further, none of the services have detailed data for both their basic and subsequent training environments. For example, the Air Force has a survey administered during basic training and the Navy has a survey given during subsequent career training. The Army has an annual survey but plans to develop a more comprehensive survey for basic training. The Marine Corps obtains information through leadership meetings with groups of recruits but does not have a formalized survey. Without developing or leveraging existing surveys about sexual assault and misconduct that can occur during initial military training, service officials may not have the comprehensive and detailed data needed to improve their sexual assault and sexual misconduct prevention programs. Further, military training leadership may have difficulty in determining the corrective actions that could best address remaining challenges in preventing sexual assault within initial military training.

Why GAO Did This Study

In September 2012, following investigations for alleged sexual assaults during basic training, an Air Force Commander-directed report made 46 recommendations intended to better prevent sexual assaults during basic training. Congress mandated that GAO review the Air Force's efforts to implement the recommendations and lessons learned to better prevent and respond to sexual assault incidents among the services.

This report examines the extent to which (1) the Air Force implemented the recommendations to better prevent, investigate, and respond to sexual assault during basic training and evaluated the effectiveness of actions taken and (2) the military services have a process to share lessons learned and have data to oversee their efforts to prevent sexual assault and related misconduct during initial military training. GAO analyzed the Commander's report, DOD policies, annual reports on efforts to improve the Air Force's program, and surveys, and met with officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that the Air Force establish an oversight framework to evaluate the effectiveness of its actions, the military services formalize CORBT's role and include key stakeholders, and the services develop or leverage existing military training surveys to provide more comprehensive and detailed data. DOD concurred with the first three recommendations but partially concurred with the last, citing a need for more analysis. GAO continues to believe the recommendation is valid as discussed in this report.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation that the Air Force establish an oversight framework to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken in response to recommendations in the Commander's Report and to include the results of that evaluation in the department's next annual report to Congress on sexual assault. In DOD's Fiscal Year 2014 annual report to Congress on sexual assault within the military, the Air Force enclosure contained a significant amount of performance information regarding the efforts of the Air Force to better prevent and address sexual assault in the basic training environment. The Air Force included over 20 metrics that it described as process, output, or outcome based measures that are monitored and tracked by the Council and that provide information about the results of their efforts according to several themes, such as a willingness to report misconduct and views of training environment. The Air Force reported all steps taken in response to the Commander's Report and describes to process and structure of the Council that will provide ongoing, continuous monitoring and reporting of accomplishments toward its goals and objectives. As of 2016, there were two efforts from the Commander's Report that were yet to be implemented. As of 2017, Air Force officials stated that (1) the duty length of its military training instructors (MTIs) had been shortened and (2) the Air Force has reached full staffing of MTIs, as recommended by the Commander's Report. As such, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure that the actions taken by the Air Force are better preventing, investigating, and responding to sexual assaults incidents during basic training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to establish an oversight framework to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken in response to the recommendations in the Commander's report. This would include adding the results, or preliminary results, of that evaluation in the department's next annual report to Congress on sexual assault.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation that the Air Force establish an oversight framework to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken in response to recommendations in the Commander?s Report, which would include identifying time frames for completion of its efforts to develop and implement performance goals and measures for evaluating the progress made as a result of implementing its actions. DOD stated in its comments that the Air Force continually evaluates implementation actions on a monthly basis using its Recruiting, Education, and Training Oversight Council and it continues to refine performance goals and measures utilizing baseline data from a trainee survey that as of fiscal year 2015 will include one year of data collection. We stated that while the Air Force has effectively tracked the implementation of the recommendations, without evaluating the impact of its actions through the use of performance goals and measures, it may not know whether it needs to sustain the efforts it has implemented or undertake different corrective actions and that that identification of timeframes for completion of its efforts to develop and implement performance goals and measures is an important next step. In DOD's Fiscal Year 2014 annual report to Congress on sexual assault within the military, the Air Force enclosure contained a significant amount of performance information regarding the efforts of the Air Force to better prevent and address sexual assault in the basic training environment. The Air Force included over 20 metrics that it described as process, output, or outcome based measures that are monitored and tracked by the Council and that provide information about the results of their efforts according to several themes, such as a willingness to report misconduct and views of training environment. The metrics are tied to objectives with goals for performance, as applicable, and the few that have yet to be developed, there are timeframes identified for completion. As such, we consider the recommendation to be closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure that the actions taken by the Air Force are better preventing, investigating, and responding to sexual assaults incidents during basic training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to establish an oversight framework to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken in response to the recommendations in the Commander's report. This would include identifying time frames for completion of its efforts to develop and implement performance goals and measures for evaluating the progress made as a result of implementing its actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on the report, DOD concurred with our recommendation to clarify the charter of CORBT to define and finalize in policy the role of the council in both basic and subsequent career-specific training. As of August 2017, DOD clarified the role and scope of the Council on Recruit Basic Training (CORBT)in its charter. The CORBT charter clarifies the group's role as the mechanism for collaborating and sharing lessons learned for better prevention, investigations, and response to sexual assault and other misconduct. Further, charter states that the focus of the group is both basic and subsequent technical training. As these changes included in the final, signed charter for CORBT address all aspects of the related recommendation GAO made in 2014, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: As CORBT is currently used by most of the military services as the forum for sharing lessons learned across the services regarding better prevention, investigation, and response to sexual assault within basic training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military services, in collaboration with the Director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, to clarify the CORBT charter to define and finalize in policy its role as the mechanism for collaborating and sharing lessons learned for better preventing, investigating, and responding to sexual assault and misconduct during initial military training--both basic and subsequent career-specific training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on the report, DOD concurred with our recommendation to clarify the charter of CORBT to identify and include key stakeholders who should participate in the forum, such as officials from DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) and representatives from the U.S. Marine Corps. As of August 2017, DOD has finalized the charter for the Council on Recruit Basic Training (CORBT)and it focuses on a broad array of misconduct that can occur at basic or technical training, to include all types of sexual misconduct and other misconduct. The CORBT charter now requires the participation of senior leadership responsible for basic and technical training in the Marine Corps. Further, in August 2017, senior DOD officials stated that officials from DOD's SAPRO office participate in each meeting of CORBT and the charter requires the group to report its efforts to senior DOD leadership. As these changes included in the final, signed charter for CORBT address the related recommendation GAO made in 2014, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: As CORBT is currently used by most of the military services as the forum for sharing lessons learned across the services regarding better prevention, investigation, and response to sexual assault within basic training, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military services, in collaboration with the Director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, to clarify the CORBT charter to identify and include key stakeholders who should participate in the forum, such as officials from DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, representatives from the U.S. Marine Corps, and officials responsible for addressing sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation to develop and implement a survey, or leverage existing military training surveys, which will provide more comprehensive and detailed information to decision makers about sexual assault and other sexual misconduct that occurs during initial military training, including basic and subsequent career-specific military training. In its written comments, DOD stated that the department values the intent of this recommendation; but stated that more analysis needs to be conducted to determine the best tool or methodology to meet the intent of this recommendation and reduce the negative impact of possible survey fatigue. As of August 2017, DOD requires each service to respond about actions taken in response to this recommendation in its enclosure to the department's annual report on sexual assault. While the Navy and Air Force continue to survey recruits and technical training students, the Marine Corps and Army have not implemented surveys. As such, this recommendation will remain open and we will monitor the response of the Army and Marine Corps in next year's annual report.

    Recommendation: In order for the military services to obtain more comprehensive and detailed information regarding sexual assault prevention and response during basic and subsequent career-specific training to help oversee their programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct each military service, in collaboration with the Director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, to develop and implement a tool, such as a survey, or leverage existing military training surveys--such as those used by the Air Force or the Navy--that will provide more comprehensive and detailed information to decision makers about sexual assault and other sexual misconduct that occur during initial military training, including basic and subsequent career-specific military training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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