Military Personnel:

DOD Needs More Effective Controls to Better Assess the Progress of the Selective Reenlistment Bonus Program

GAO-04-86: Published: Nov 13, 2003. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 2003.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) uses the Selective Reenlistment Bonus (SRB) program to reenlist military personnel in critical specialties. In fiscal years 1997-2003, the program budget rose 138 percent, from $308 million to $734 million. In fiscal year 2003, the House Appropriations Committee directed the Secretary of Defense to reassess program efficiency and report on five concerns: (1) how effective the program is in correcting retention shortfalls in critical occupations, (2) how replacement guidance will ensure targeting critical specialties that impact readiness, (3) how DOD will match program execution with appropriated funding, (4) how well the services' processes for administering the program work, and (5) advantages and disadvantages of paying bonuses in lump sum payments. The committee also directed GAO to review and assess DOD's report.

Despite congressional concerns about the SRB program, DOD's May 2003 report stated that the program is managed carefully, bonuses are offered sparingly, and the services need flexibility in administering the program. However, DOD's responses did not thoroughly address four of the five SRB program concerns contained in the mandate. As a result, Congress does not have sufficient information to determine if the program is being managed effectively or efficiently. DOD has not issued replacement program guidance and did not allow us to review the guidance that has been drafted. DOD's report focused primarily on criteria for designating occupations as critical, but the report did not address an important change--the potential elimination of the requirement for conducting annual program reviews. In response to our 2002 report, DOD stated that this requirement would be eliminated from future program guidance. DOD recently told us that the new guidance will require periodic reviews, but neither the frequency nor the details of how these reviews would be conducted was explained. DOD conducted a limited evaluation to address the congressional concern about how well the services are administering their programs. The response consisted largely of program descriptions provided by the services. Among other things, DOD did not use a consistent set of procedures and metrics to evaluate each of the services' programs. Consequently, it is difficult to identify best practices, or to gain other insights into ways in which the effectiveness and efficiency of the services' programs could be improved. DOD thoroughly addressed the congressional concern pertaining to the advantages and disadvantages of paying SRBs as lump sums.

Status Legend:

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  • 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 assist Congress in its efforts to monitor the management of the SRB program and to ensure that DOD is effectively and efficiently targeting retention bonuses to critical occupations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to retain the requirement for an annual review of the SRB program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD Has Begun Conducting Annual Reviews of the Selective Reenlistment Bonus Program and Reporting the Results

    Recommendation: To assist Congress in its efforts to monitor the management of the SRB program and to ensure that DOD is effectively and efficiently targeting retention bonuses to critical occupations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop a consistent set of methodologically sound procedures and metrics for reviewing the effectiveness and efficiency of all aspects of each service's SRB program administration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, DOD developed a new metric to track reenlistment rates for personnel deemed by each of the Services as critical. This metric was implemented on May 31, 2005, as part of the Balanced Scorecard Briefing presented to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. DOD reported that this new metric would require each Service to annually identify approximately 10 specialties deemed most critical for retention. The metric measures the achievement of retention goals for the identified skills. Based on this description, the new metric will not provide a comprehensive understanding of all the services retention critical occupations. Since the services will be required to identify only 10 occupational areas for review annually, it is not clear how this metric will address retention problems in all critical occupational areas. In addition, the lack of a consistent process used by the services for identifying critical occupations further limits the effectiveness of this metric. Without a consistent and comprehensive means of measuring retention shortfalls in all critical occupational areas, DOD and Congress will be hindered in their efforts to effectively monitor the management of the SRB program and ensure that retention bonuses are effectively and efficiently targeted to all critical occupations.

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