Attrition in the Military--An Issue Needing Management Attention

FPCD-80-10: Published: Feb 20, 1980. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 1980.

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A review was made that discussed the attrition phenomenon, the Department of Defense's (DOD) activities in this area, and what is needed to be done to better manage attrition. The key issue addressed was the question of whether the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the military services could do more to reduce attrition through more effective manpower management without adversely affecting the quality of the output. Also questioned, was whether some attrition resulted from less than fully effective manpower policies and programs used to recruit, train, and maintain a motivated and effective military force. Though the recruitment and selection systems can never be perfect, some mistakes must be weeded out. Already positive measures to manage attrition more effectively have been undertaken, however, further improvements are needed.

Attrition is a complex issue and must be viewed in terms of the overall enlisted personnel management system. Attrition emerged as a significant concern during the all-volunteer environment because of the following factors: (1) it increased sharply with the implementation of the All-Volunteer Force from 30 percent for those entering the service in fiscal year 1971, to 40 percent for those entering the service in fiscal year 1974; (2) it was difficult to replace individuals who were separated early and still meet accession requirements because of the limited and projected declining pool of eligible recruits; (3) attrition was costly; (4) high attrition was a barrier to military readiness; and (5) early discharges could adversely affect individuals' future, labeling them as losers. There is no readily identifiable single cause of attrition with a single solution. Although a possibility would be that the services could lower the attrition rate by arbitrarily limiting the number of individuals discharged. However this solution is unacceptable. Retaining unproductive personnel or those with disciplinary problems could adversely affect military readiness. In addition, an appropriate level of attrition cannot be objectively determined since at no time can the number of enlisted individuals who are not assets to the services be precisely quantified. However, through its personnel management policies the military can play a major role in determining how well the sometimes opposing goals and characteristics of the individual mesh with the military's mission and requirements.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Office of the Secretary of Defense should: (1) establish more definite criteria for discharge; (2) improve existing management information systems to include data-reporting systems that are more uniform; (3) establish a more systematic approach to developing and evaluating manpower and personnel policy and programs, and require more centralized monitoring and oversight; and (4) abolish attrition ceilings as a long-term means to control attrition levels.

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