Military Attrition:

DOD Needs to Better Understand Reasons for Separation and Improve Recruiting Systems

T-NSIAD-98-109: Published: Mar 4, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 1998.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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GAO discussed its work on the attrition and recruiting of the military services' enlisted personnel, focusing on: (1) the historical problem of attrition and its costs; (2) the Department of Defense's (DOD) lack of complete data on why enlistees are being separated early; (3) GAO's recommendations on ways to improve the screening of recruiters and recruits; and (4) DOD's actions thus far to respond to GAO's recommendations.

GAO noted that: (1) despite increases in the quality of DOD's enlistees, about one-third of all new recruits continue to leave the military service before they fulfill their first term of enlistment; (2) this attrition rate is costly in that the services must maintain infrastructure to recruit and train around 200,000 persons per year; (3) solving the problem of attrition will not be simple in large part because DOD does not have complete data on why enlisted personnel are being separated; (4) in GAO's work, it has concentrated on what it has found to be major categories of separation, such as medical problems and fraudulent enlistments; (5) because these types of separations involve services' entire screening processes, GAO has reexamined these processes from the time recruiters are selected, through the time that applicants are prescreened by recruiters, through the medical examinations applicants undergo, and through physical preparation of recruits for basic training; (6) the process of attracting quality recruits and retaining them involves many service entities and many processes; (7) GAO has recommended ways to improve the: (a) data DOD collects to analyze reasons for attrition; (b) services' criteria for selecting recruiters; (c) incentive systems for recruiters to enlist persons who will complete basic training; and (d) services' mechanisms for identifying medical problems before recruits are enlisted; (8) many of these recommendations have been incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998; (9) DOD and the services have already taken some positive steps in response to GAO's recommendations and the National Defense Authorization Act; and (10) however, GAO believes that DOD needs to take further action to change the criteria by which recruiters are selected, provide recruiters with more opportunities to interact with drill instructors, and revise recruiters' incentive systems to improve their quality of life.

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