Military Attrition:

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

T-NSIAD-98-117: Published: Mar 12, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1998.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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GAO discussed: (1) the historical problem of attrition of enlisted personnel 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 recommendations.

GAO noted that: (1) despite increases in the quality of DOD's enlistees, about one-third of all new recruits continue to leave military service before they fulfill their first term of enlistment; (2) this attrition rate is costly in that the services must maintain infrastructures to recruit and train around 200,000 persons per year; (3) in fiscal year 1996, the services' recruiting and training investment in enlistees who separated before they had completed 6 months totalled $390 million; (4) 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; (5) GAO has concentrated on what it has found to be major categories of separation, such as medical problems and fraudulent enlistments; (6) because these types of separations involve the 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 the physical preparation of recruits for basic training; (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 Defence 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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