Military Recruiting:

New Initiatives Could Improve Criminal History Screening

NSIAD-99-53: Published: Feb 23, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1999.


Derek B. Stewart
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) processes for investigating military enlistees' criminal history, focusing on: (1) the extent to which relevant criminal history information on potential enlistees is available to the military services; and (2) federal government initiatives that could improve the process of obtaining criminal history information.

GAO noted that: (1) the military services have extensive policies and procedures for encouraging applicants to self-report criminal history information; (2) among other things, the services repeatedly query each applicant, providing as many as 14 opportunities to disclose any criminal offenses to as many as seven different service and military entrance processing station officials; (3) the services also conduct periodic inspections and investigations to ensure the integrity of the entire recruiting process, which includes the disclosure of disqualifying information; (4) the services, however, are not always able to obtain or substantiate all available criminal history information because of service policies and federal, state, and local laws and policies that sometimes preclude access; (5) the services do not use fingerprints to substantiate the majority of enlistees' criminal histories; (6) without full fingerprint searches, the services cannot detect undisclosed aliases and ensure that they are aware of all available criminal history information; (7) federal law and state and local laws and policies, which generally limit or prohibit disclosure of criminal history information, impede the recruiting community's access to certain criminal history information; (8) in addition, state and local governments sometimes charge fees or require fingerprints to release the information; (9) available criminal history databases (not controlled by DOD) are incomplete; (10) of further concern is the services' practice of sending enlistees to basic training before the results of criminal record checks are received; (11) this practice results in training costs that could be avoided; (12) several DOD and Department of Justice initiatives are underway that could improve the access of obtaining criminal history information; (13) these initiatives have the potential of making available to DOD and the services more complete information upon which to make moral waiver decisions and expedite the process for obtaining record checks; and (14) however, DOD and the services have not yet formulated a coordinated approach for using these initiatives to better ensure that the military does not enlist and train individuals with undesirable backgrounds.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop and monitor a DOD-wide plan to use the initiatives cited in this report. Such a plan should, at a minimum, incorporate the benefits of using the Defense Security Service's Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Additionally, the plan should address the integration of these two initiatives with the expanded security clearance background investigation requirements contained in Executive Order 12968. The plan should also include specific timeframes and budget requirements for implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) has developed a draft strategic plan that incorporates these and other initiatives to address personnel security functions overall. The Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire and automated fingerprints are being used by the Recruiting Command. Also, the expanded security clearance background requirements have been implemented with two of the services having the investigations conducted for all recruits so that they are able to go directly into positions requiring clearances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require all national agency checks for enlistment into the military services to be based on a full fingerprint search to: (1) reduce the risks associated with enlisting individuals who have been convicted of more serious misdemeanors and felonies; and (2) identify individuals who have used aliases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The automated fingerprint scanners that are needed for accomplishing full fingerprint searches have been installed in all 65 military entrance processing stations. This has facilitated obtaining full fingerprint searches in a timely manner.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the services, after the initiatives available in 1999 are in use, to end their practices of sending enlistees to training and to first-duty stations without having all available criminal history information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD now uses digitized fingerprint checks for enlisted recruits, which helps to expedite checking criminal history information. Also, the Defense Security Service has taken steps to improve its timeliness in processing background checks. With these processes in place, DOD is committed to ensuring that the services do not send recruits to units without first having all available criminal history information.

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