Military Compensation:

Additional Actions Are Needed to Better Manage Special and Incentive Pay Programs

GAO-17-39: Published: Feb 3, 2017. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 2017.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense's (DOD) special and incentive (S&I) pay obligations for active duty servicemembers decreased from fiscal years 2005 through 2015 from $5.8 billion to $3.4 billion (about 42 percent) in constant 2015 dollars (see fig.). DOD officials attributed the decrease to a combination of reduced overseas contingency operations, a reduced annual average strength of the force, and a favorable recruiting climate. DOD does not collect and report complete S&I obligation data for the reserve components because, according to officials, there is no requirement to do so and the services would likely need to make changes to their financial and personnel systems to separately track the obligations. However, according to officials, DOD has not explored cost-effective approaches to collect and report this information, which would better position the department to know the full cost of its S&I pay programs.

Active Duty Personnel Special and Incentive Pay Program Obligations and Total Active Duty Average Strengths, Fiscal Years 2005 - 2015

Active Duty Personnel Special and Incentive Pay Program Obligations and Total Active Duty Average Strengths, Fiscal Years 2005 - 2015

The military services largely applied key principles of effective human capital management in the design of their S&I pay programs for nuclear propulsion, aviation, and cybersecurity occupations. However, the application of these key principles varied by service and occupation. Only the Navy's S&I pay programs for nuclear propulsion and aviation fully addressed all seven principles; programs for other occupations and services generally exhibited a mixture of full and partial application. GAO found that, according to officials, DOD and the services had not taken steps to fully ensure consistent application of the principles. For example, DOD has not reviewed the extent to which its S&I pay programs have incorporated principles of effective human capital management and used resources efficiently. DOD also has not established related measures to ensure efficient use of resources. Without such measures, DOD and the services generally assess the effectiveness of S&I pay programs by the extent to which they achieve desired staffing targets. However, this approach does not ensure that S&I pay programs are using resources in the most efficient manner, as DOD guidance requires. Until DOD reviews the extent to which S&I pay programs have incorporated human capital management principles and used resources efficiently—and develops related measures for efficient use of resources—DOD and the services may lack assurance that S&I pay programs are effective and that resources are optimized for the greatest return on investment.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD uses S&I pay programs to compensate and incentivize servicemembers for occupations that are dangerous, less desirable, or require special skills. Senate Report 114-49 included a provision for GAO to review the effectiveness of DOD's S&I pay programs. This report assesses (1) trends in DOD obligations for S&I pay programs for fiscal years 2005 through 2015 and the extent to which DOD reports such obligations department-wide; and (2) the extent to which the military services applied key principles of effective human capital management in the design of S&I pay programs for selected high-skill occupations for fiscal years 2010 through 2015.

GAO analyzed DOD S&I pay obligations for fiscal years 2005 through 2015; reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of S&I pay programs for nuclear propulsion, aviation, and cybersecurity occupations, chosen based on their pay programs' attributes; compared DOD and service policies and documents with key principles of effective human capital management; and interviewed DOD officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making five recommendations, including that DOD explore reporting reserve S&I pay program data, review the incorporation of human capital management principles and use of resources, and develop related measures. DOD concurred with three recommendations and partially concurred with two. GAO continues to believe that actions to fully address these two recommendations are needed, as discussed in the report.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In its initial response, DOD noted that it will maintain its focus on the recruiting and retention pays for both the active and reserve components, and will continue to work with the Reserve Components to strengthen the collection of the remaining special and incentive pays. As of August 2018, DOD had not taken action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To facilitate DOD's oversight of the military services' S&I pay programs, and to fully ensure the effectiveness of these programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), in coordination with the military services, to explore cost-effective approaches to collect and report S&I pay program data for the Reserve Components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In DOD's initial response, it stated that DOD does use key principles of effective human capital management, and although not articulated as GAO's principles, DOD's and GAO's principles share common goals and results. In addition, DOD stated that it will support the opportunity to review and improve upon the principles and methods to assess the efficiency of its S&I pay programs, and, where appropriate, will incorporate these principles in future DOD policy issuances and updates. In May 2018, DOD stated that it believed it was in compliance with this recommendation and that the action was complete. DOD stated that this assessment was based on our finding that most of the Department's S&I pay programs either met or partially met the key principles of effective human capital management. But our finding was on select pay programs. Further, DOD's response did not document what actions the Department has taken to ensure all programs fully meet the key principles. We continue to believe that fully implementing the key principles of effective human capital management that we identified would help DOD and the services to ensure that S&I pay programs are effectively designed and that resources are optimized for the greatest return on investment.

    Recommendation: To facilitate DOD's oversight of the military services' S&I pay programs, and to fully ensure the effectiveness of these programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the military services, to review whether S&I pay programs have incorporated key principles of effective human capital management and used resources efficiently, and prioritize and complete the establishment of measures for the efficient use of resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of August 2017, DOD had submitted a proposal to conduct a study focused on aviation officers that will examine the military services' methodologies used to accomplish their retention goals to determine the primary reasons aviation officers remain or leave the service and the degree to which these reasons affect their retention decisions. According to DOD officials, a portion of the study will consider the interaction between monetary and non-monetary incentives such as duty assignments, flying opportunities, reduced administrative burdens, and quality of life. In May 2018, DOD stated that the Military Departments continue to utilize non-monetary incentives as their first approach to access and retain quality servicemembers. DOD added that these incentives consist of choice of career path, duty assignment, selective military training, educational benefits, as well as the career intermission program. DOD noted that the Army's Career Satisfaction Program is just one example of using non-monetary pay incentives to improve retention. According to DOD, this program increases the retention of Army officers at no additional cost to the Army by offering academy cadets and senior ROTC cadets the choice of occupational specialty and assignment location upon commissioning in exchange for extending their active duty service obligation for an additional 3 years. DOD also stated that the Navy currently uses both monetary and non-monetary incentives to retain its surface warfare officer (SWO) community to ensure it retains adequate numbers of officers to fill critical SWO Department Head positions in the rank of Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander. The Department concluded that it believes the recommendation is closed, as it has offered and continues to offer non-monetary incentives as part of its S&l pay program, and continues to encourage the use of non-monetary incentives as an alternative to cash incentives. While the programs DOD mentioned in its response demonstrate progress toward fully implementing our recommendation, we believe that this recommendation should remain open until more progress is made.

    Recommendation: To facilitate DOD's oversight of the military services' S&I pay programs, and to fully ensure the effectiveness of these programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the military services, to routinely assess the impact of non-monetary incentive approaches on retention behavior and on the necessary levels of S&I pays.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In August 2018 DOD stated that the Department now allows the military services to recognize individual performance as one of several criteria by varying the dollar amount of retention bonuses offered to a member, with high performers being offered more and lower performers being offered less. As this action meets the intent of our recommendation, we consider this recommendation to be implemented.

    Recommendation: To facilitate DOD's oversight of the military services' S&I pay programs, and to fully ensure the effectiveness of these programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the military services, to clarify existing guidance for S&I pay programs regarding the extent to which personnel performance should be incorporated into retention decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. In DOD's initial response, it stated that the services are responsible for developing their personnel requirements in order to meet individual service needs and that it has provided the services with the necessary staffing tools to recruit and retain servicemembers in the cybersecurity skill sets. DOD also noted that it is crucial for the services to retain their flexibility to utilize these pays and benefits to address service-specific shortfalls within their cybersecurity workforce and noted that it will assist the services in growing and maintaining their cybersecurity workforce through existing and future DOD policies. In August 2018, DOD reiterated that the services have responsibility for developing their manpower requirements and employing the necessary manpower tools, such as bonuses and incentives, to achieve their goals, including those for the cybersecurity workforce. DOD added that the current suite of special and incentive pays already provides the services the necessary authorities and flexibilities to access and retain servicemembers in their cybersecurity communities. DOD concluded that it believed their actions to address this recommendation were complete. We recognize that the services are responsible for their specific personnel requirements and that flexibility is important. However, as noted in our report, each military service has assigned cybersecurity personnel to military occupational specialties that include other types of personnel skill sets, such as intelligence or information technology. As a result, because the services offer SRBs by military occupational specialty, the services may award SRBs to specialties that include non-cybersecurity personnel for whom the SRB is unneeded. Therefore, we continue to believe that there are benefits to developing approaches to target cybersecurity personnel in non-designated cybersecurity fields and that this recommendation should remain open.

    Recommendation: To facilitate DOD's oversight of the military services' S&I pay programs, and to fully ensure the effectiveness of these programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Military Departments to develop approaches to directly target Selective Reenlistment Bonuses to cybersecurity skill sets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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