Military Compensation:

DOD Needs More Complete and Consistent Data to Assess the Costs and Policies of Relocating Personnel

GAO-15-713: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2015.

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Brenda S. Farrell
(202) 512-3604
farrellb@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has experienced an overall increase in Permanent Change of Station (PCS) per-move costs since 2001. GAO's analysis of DOD budget data shows that average PCS per-move costs, after accounting for inflation, increased by 28 percent from fiscal years 2001 to 2014. However, GAO's review of the services' annual budget materials found that the services have not reported complete and consistent PCS data, thereby limiting the extent to which DOD can identify and evaluate changes occurring within the PCS program. For example, the services did not completely or consistently report budget data on non-temporary storage costs, temporary lodging expenses, or tour extension payments. Program changes and factors outside the program can affect PCS costs. The specific factors driving the growth in per-move costs are unclear, however, because DOD does not periodically evaluate whether the PCS program is efficiently supporting requirements to relocate personnel. DOD therefore is not in a position to identify and evaluate changes that may be occurring over time in PCS per-move costs, or to take steps to manage and control cost growth.

DOD does not have information for determining whether personnel are meeting time-on-station requirements. DOD guidance specifies time-on-station lengths for U.S. and overseas locations and also allows for personnel to move prior to reaching these lengths if they qualify for an exception or obtain a waiver. However, DOD does not have complete or consistent data on the reasons why PCS moves occur prior to reaching specified lengths, because the services (1) do not maintain required data on their usage of exceptions and (2) do not have a requirement to maintain data on their usage of waivers. Moreover, availability of service data on time-on-station lengths is limited and varies by service. For example, each service has different years of available data. In addition, one service provided time-on-station data for officers and enlisted personnel separately, and these data covered different time periods.

In its September 2014 report to Congress on increasing time-on-station, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) addressed the elements that were specifically identified in congressional direction. OSD also used approaches consistent with generally accepted research standards in preparing its report. Nonetheless, OSD could have included additional information, such as more explicitly discussing constraints and information about the model used to develop cost savings estimates, and thereby improved the utility of the report for decision makers. The report stated that DOD plans to take actions aimed at extending servicemembers' time-on-station, which OSD believes could reduce PCS costs. However, without more complete and consistent data on both PCS costs and the use of exceptions and waivers, DOD does not have the information it needs for evaluating whether the implementation of its planned actions will be effective in extending time-on-station lengths and reducing PCS costs.

Why GAO Did This Study

PCS involves moving military personnel to new locations and is a key tool used by the military services to fill assignments both in the United States and overseas. In fiscal year 2014, DOD obligated $4.3 billion for approximately 650,000 servicemember PCS moves.

Senate Report 113-176 included a provision for GAO to report on aspects of the PCS program. This report evaluates the extent to which (1) PCS per-move costs have changed since 2001, (2) military personnel are meeting time-on-station requirements, and (3) OSD's September 2014 study on increasing time-on-station addressed the elements in Senate Report 112-196 and used approaches consistent with generally accepted research standards.

GAO analyzed PCS cost and move data for fiscal years 2001 through 2014 using fiscal year 2014 dollars; obtained and analyzed available time-on-station data; reviewed OSD's September 2014 report to Congress on increasing time-on-station; and interviewed OSD and service officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD, in coordination with the services, take actions to report complete and consistent PCS budget data; conduct periodic evaluations of the PCS program; and address limitations on the availability of data on exceptions and waivers for PCS moves that occur prior to reaching minimum time-on-station lengths. DOD generally agreed with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD is forming a working group to address issues concerning the PSC program. Although a charter had not been finalized as of July 2016, the working group, including the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Personnel Policy), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), and the Director, Military Personnel and Construction, within the Office of the Deputy Comptroller (Program/Budget), will review current PCS budgetary reporting requirements and revise these as necessary. DOD expected the effort under the working group to be completed in October 2017, but as of October 2017 DOD had not taken further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the availability of information needed for effective and efficient management of the PCS program, including program costs and time-on-station requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), in coordination with the military services, to improve the completeness and consistency of PCS data in service budget materials. This action should include revising existing guidance on the reporting of non-temporary storage costs, and clarifying existing guidance on the presentation of other PCS data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD is forming a working group to address issues concerning the PSC program. Although a charter had not been finalized as of July 2016, the working group, including the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Personnel Policy), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), and the Director, Military Personnel and Construction, within the Office of the Deputy Comptroller (Program/Budget), will coordinate with key stakeholders (e.g. Military Departments and Services, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Defense Travel Management Office) on efforts to complete periodic evaluations of the efficiency and effective of the PCS program. DOD expected the effort under the working group to be completed in October 2017, but as of October 2017 DOD had not taken further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the availability of information needed for effective and efficient management of the PCS program, including program costs and time-on-station requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the military services, to complete periodic evaluations of whether the PCS program is efficiently supporting DOD's requirements for assigning military personnel to new locations while reimbursing servicemembers for allowable expenses incurred during PCS moves. These periodic evaluations should identify changes in PCS per-move costs over time, factors driving such changes, and steps that could be taken to manage and control cost growth.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD is forming a working group to address issues concerning the PSC program. Although a charter had not been finalized as of July 2016, the working group, including the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Personnel Policy), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), and the Director, Military Personnel and Construction, within the Office of the Deputy Comptroller (Program/Budget), will coordinate with key stakeholders (e.g. Military Departments and Services, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Defense Travel Management Office) on efforts to improve the completeness and consistency of data. DOD expected the effort under the working group to be completed in October 2017, but as of October 2017 DOD had not taken further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the availability of information needed for effective and efficient management of the PCS program, including program costs and time-on-station requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the military services, to improve the completeness and consistency of data on exceptions used for PCS moves that occur prior to established time-on-station lengths. This action should include clarifying existing guidance with regard to how the services collect, maintain, and report data on exceptions for use in evaluating performance in meeting time-on-station requirements and addressing challenges related to the services' abilities to collect, maintain, and report exceptions data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD is forming a working group to address issues concerning the PSC program. Although a charter had not been finalized as of July 2016, the working group, including the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Personnel Policy), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), and the Director, Military Personnel and Construction, within the Office of the Deputy Comptroller (Program/Budget), will coordinate with key stakeholders (e.g. Military Departments and Services, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Defense Travel Management Office) on efforts to improve the completeness and consistency of data. DOD expects the effort under the working group to be completed in October 2017, but as of October 2017 DOD had not taken further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the availability of information needed for effective and efficient management of the PCS program, including program costs and time-on-station requirements, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the military services, to improve the completeness and consistency of data on waivers used for PCS moves that occur prior to established time-on-station lengths. This action should include establishing guidance for the military services to collect, maintain, and report data on waivers for use in evaluating performance in meeting time-on-station requirements and addressing challenges related to the services' abilities to collect, maintain, and report waiver data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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