Military Personnel:

Services Need to Assess Efforts to Meet Recruiting Goals and Cut Attrition

NSIAD-00-146: Published: Jun 23, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the military services' efforts to meet their recruiting goals and cut attrition, focusing on the services': (1) responses to recent recruiting shortfalls; and (2) efforts to reduce their historically high attrition rates for first-term enlistees.

GAO noted that: (1) to address problems in recruiting personnel, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force have increased their numbers of recruiters and their advertising budgets and have offered larger enlistment bonuses and more money for college; (2) these tools have been shown by past research to help the services attract new recruits; (3) the services have also sought innovative ways of expanding their recruiting market without reducing the quality of recruits, for example, by targeting persons attending community colleges and persons without high school degrees who meet other quality standards; (4) because so little time has passed since the services have begun to respond to their recent recruiting problems, they cannot yet assess the long-term success of their efforts; (5) also, the services do not yet know which of their new recruiting initiatives work best; (6) while each of the services might point to localized successes, the Department of Defense (DOD) does not know the extent to which the services might be competing with each other for the same potential recruits; (7) until sufficient time has passed and each of the services consistently meets its goal, DOD cannot be assured that individual service strategies will collectively enable DOD to meet its overall recruiting requirements; (8) in addition to improving the screening of applicants before they enlist, the services have also begun many efforts to reduce the attrition of first-term enlistees while they are in training and after they have been assigned to their first duty stations; (9) these efforts include providing extra attention to recruits struggling during basic training and disciplining and working with enlistees who have completed training and are experiencing minor behavioral problems; (10) the latest attrition data available indicate that first-term attrition has reached all-time highs for DOD enlistees; (11) the attrition rate for enlistees entering the services in the mid- to late 1980s hovered between 30 and 34 percent, and this rate gradually rose in the 1990s from a low of 33 percent to a peak of nearly 37 percent for enlistees entering the services in fiscal year 1994 and 1995; (12) greater success in reducing attrition may not yet be apparent because the services have just begun many of their efforts; and (13) the services, however, are not developing tools needed to measure the long-term success of their efforts, thus limiting their ability to judge the effectiveness of those efforts in reducing attrition.

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: To maximize the effectiveness of DOD's recruiting efforts, the Secretary of Defense and the service Secretaries should assess the relative success of their various recruiting strategies in meeting DOD's future needs. This assessment should address how one service's best practices might be applied to the other services, how the services can minimize competition with each other for the same limited number of enlistees, and how the services can create the most cost-effective mix of numbers of recruiters, amounts of enlistment bonuses, college incentives, advertising, and other recruiting tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, DOD worked with RAND to undertake the assessment. RAND's assessment, dated June 2003, addresses the services' success of their recruiting strategies. The research is part of a larger effort that is examining whether more service cooperation could improve recruiting efficiency.

    Recommendation: To maximize the effectiveness of DOD's recruiting efforts, the Secretary of Defense and the service Secretaries should assess the relative success of their various recruiting strategies in meeting DOD's future needs. This assessment should address how one service's best practices might be applied to the other services, how the services can minimize competition with each other for the same limited number of enlistees, and how the services can create the most cost-effective mix of numbers of recruiters, amounts of enlistment bonuses, college incentives, advertising, and other recruiting tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: United States Marine Corps

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, DOD worked with RAND to undertake the assessment. RAND's assessment, dated June 2003, addresses the services' success of their various recruiting strategies. The research is part of a larger effort that is examining whether more service cooperation could improve recruiting efficiency.

    Recommendation: To maximize the effectiveness of DOD's recruiting efforts, the Secretary of Defense and the service Secretaries should assess the relative success of their various recruiting strategies in meeting DOD's future needs. This assessment should address how one service's best practices might be applied to the other services, how the services can minimize competition with each other for the same limited number of enlistees, and how the services can create the most cost-effective mix of numbers of recruiters, amounts of enlistment bonuses, college incentives, advertising, and other recruiting tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, DOD worked with RAND to undertake the assessment. RAND's assessment, dated June 2003, addresses the services' success of their various recruiting strategies. The research is part of a larger effort that is examining whether more service cooperation could improve recruiting efficiency.

    Recommendation: To maximize the effectiveness of DOD's recruiting efforts, the Secretary of Defense and the service Secretaries should assess the relative success of their various recruiting strategies in meeting DOD's future needs. This assessment should address how one service's best practices might be applied to the other services, how the services can minimize competition with each other for the same limited number of enlistees, and how the services can create the most cost-effective mix of numbers of recruiters, amounts of enlistment bonuses, college incentives, advertising, and other recruiting tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, DOD worked with RAND to undertake the assessment. RAND's assessment, dated June 2003, addresses the services' success of their various recruiting strategies. The research is part of a larger effort that is examining whether more service cooperation could improve recruiting efficiency.

    Recommendation: To maximize the effectiveness of DOD's recruiting efforts, the Secretary of Defense and the service Secretaries should assess the relative success of their various recruiting strategies in meeting DOD's future needs. This assessment should address how one service's best practices might be applied to the other services, how the services can minimize competition with each other for the same limited number of enlistees, and how the services can create the most cost-effective mix of numbers of recruiters, amounts of enlistment bonuses, college incentives, advertising, and other recruiting tools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, DOD worked with RAND to undertake the assessment. The RAND assessment, dated June 2003, addresses the services' success of their various recruiting strategies. The research is part of a larger effort that is examining whether more service cooperation could improve recruiting efficiency.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the service Secretaries to: (1) continue to identify groups of enlistees whom they believe could be rehabilitated and retained, both during and after training; and (2) put in place tools for measuring the long-term success of the rehabilitative efforts. These measurement tools should allow the services to verify that attrition that is being reduced is not simply being delayed until later in enlistees' first terms. These measurement tools should also allow the services to determine what effect their recruitment of persons outside their traditional market has on attrition.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Services work first term attrition and DOD monitors the services efforts on a quarterly basis. Attrition data is now presented as part of the monitoring status of the force briefing.

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