Military Education:

DOD Needs to Enhance Performance Goals and Measures to Improve Oversight of Military Academies

GAO-03-1000: Published: Sep 10, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2003.

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Graduates of the service academies operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force currently make up approximately 18 percent of the officer corps for the nation's armed services. The academies represent the military's most expensive source of new officers. The Department of Defense (DOD) pays the full cost of a student's 4-year education at the academies; and the related cost has increased over the past 4 years. Admission to the academies is highly competitive. The academies use a "whole person" method to make admission decisions. Recent studies by the Air Force raised questions about possible adverse effects of whole person admissions policies on student quality. GAO was asked to review all three service academies and specifically address the extent to which (1) DOD oversees the service academies, (2) applicants are granted waivers of academic standards, and (3) various groups of students differ in admissions scores and academy performance.

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (OUSD/P&R), the services, and the academies' boards of visitors conduct considerable oversight of the academies' operations and performance, but they lack a complete oversight framework. A complete oversight framework includes performance goals and measures against which the academies' performance could be better assessed. OUSD/P&R and the services use the number and type of commissioned officers as the primary measure of academy performance. OUSD/P&R requires and receives reports on academy performance from the services. While data submitted in these reports provide perspective on current performance compared with past performance, without stated performance goals and measures, these reports do not offer OUSD/P&R or the services as good an insight into the academies performance as they could. Additionally, though the academy boards of visitors serve as an external oversight mechanism to focus attention on a wide range of issues, they also do not assess the academies' performance against established performance goals and measures. The academies do not grant waivers from academic criteria or have absolute minimum scores for admission. However, under the whole person approach, the academies can admit some applicants whose academic scores are lower than might normally be competitive for admission, but who in their totality (academics, physical aptitude, and leadership) are evaluated by academy officials as being capable of succeeding at the academy. In our review of the academy classes that started in 1998 (class of 2002), we found that despite differences among various groups of students in their admissions scores and similar differences in their performance while at the academies, the differences in performance were not sizable. Some groups, such as females, performed better in some categories than the class as a whole and worse in others. Some groups (minorities, preparatory school graduates, recruited athletes, and students in the lower 30 percent of their class in terms of academic admissions scores) performed at lower levels on average in all categories than the class as a whole.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In February 2012, GAO reported that DOD had only partially implemented GAO's 2003 recommendation regarding the service academies. Specifically, while conducting a follow-up review of DOD's oversight of the academies and preparatory schools, GAO determined that the Air Force and the Navy had established performance goals and measures for their respective academies, but the Army had not. See Military Education: Additional DOD Guidance Is Needed to Enhance Oversight of the Service Academies and Their Preparatory Schools (GAO-12-327R) for GAO's February 2012 report.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD oversight of the operations and performance of the service academies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the OUSD/P&R, in concert with the services, to further enhance performance goals and measures whereby the information required in annual assessment reports can be better evaluated. These performance goals should be developed for each academy and, where appropriate, in common for all academies. The specific goals should coincide with performance elements agreed upon by the services and OUSD/P&R and might include such things as graduation rates, demographic composition of student classes, assessments of officer performance after graduation, and other performance information already collected by the academies, including performance characteristics of various groups of students.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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