Factors Affecting Approval Time for Officer Appointments
GAO-19-527R: Published: Jun 27, 2019. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2019.
- Full Report:
About 360,000 officers serve in the U.S. military. Officers must be appointed to their positions. This report describes the appointment process and factors that determine how long it takes.
Appointments that require presidential approval and Senate confirmation took about 7 additional weeks after DOD approved them
Appointments for officers transferring between active and reserve components may be redundant, but are legally required
Military services often submit inaccurate information in appointment packages, which can delay them
DOD is taking steps to address these factors such as working with a think tank to identify process improvements.
Department of Defense Appointment Packages
Two DOD appointment packages: one for original appointment and one for promotion.
- Full Report:
What GAO Found
Similar processes are used for approving original appointments of military officers, such as those who graduate from a military academy, and federally recognizing state promotions of National Guard officers. The military services develop and submit to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) officer appointment packages, which include one or more "scrolls" (lists of names nominated for appointment). OSD completes quality assurance steps and facilitates a legal review of the packages, which are then approved by the Secretary of Defense or, if required, sent to the White House for the President's signature and then to the Senate for a confirmation vote.
The Secretary of Defense approved, or the Senate confirmed, 2,832 original appointment and federal recognition scrolls that included 111,837 names submitted to OSD during fiscal years 2017 and 2018. GAO found that 2,619 scrolls (about 92 percent) were approved by the Secretary of Defense and 213 scrolls (about 8 percent) were approved by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The Department of Defense (DOD) identified three factors that affect the time it takes to approve officer appointments.
(1) Presidential approval and Senate confirmation. GAO found that appointments requiring presidential approval and Senate confirmation took, on average, an additional 34 business days (about 7 weeks) to process after OSD's review and approval—based on analysis of data from fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
(2) Appointments for officer transfers. Service officials told GAO that obtaining Secretary of Defense or Senate approval for officers transferring between active and reserve components may affect processing time, and that obtaining such approval from military department secretaries—instead of going to higher levels for approval—could be faster. Additionally, service officials said appointments for transferring officers are redundant because existing officers have already gone through the approval process for their current appointment. However, OSD officials stated that such appointments are required under current law.
(3) Inaccurate information in appointment packages. OSD officials told GAO that the services often submit inaccurate information in appointment packages, which can delay approval until corrected. According to military service officials, the current appointments process is not automated and is labor intensive because DOD does not currently have an information system to automate the process for developing, reviewing, and approving officer appointments.
DOD officials told GAO that they are taking steps to address these factors, including tasking RAND's National Defense Research Institute to conduct a study—planned for completion by the end of 2019—to identify improvements to DOD's officer appointment processes.
Why GAO Did This Study
To function effectively, DOD must have sufficient numbers of qualified officers. As of December 2018, over 360,000 officers were serving in the military services' active and reserve components. Officers must be appointed to a service, component, and pay grade. "Original appointments" are made to new officers, such as those who graduate from a military academy, as well as to existing officers who transfer to another service or between the active and reserve components within a service. A "promotion" is an appointment of an officer to a higher pay grade. States promote National Guard officers, but these promotions must be federally recognized for officers to wear the insignia or to receive the pay of their new grade when under federal orders.
Senate Report 115-262, accompanying a bill for the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, included a provision for GAO to review DOD's officer appointment processes. This report describes: (1) the processes used for approving original appointments and federal recognition of National Guard promotions; (2) the number of original appointment and federal recognition scrolls that were approved from fiscal years 2017 and 2018; and (3) factors that affect the time it takes to approve officer appointments.
To address these objectives, GAO reviewed relevant sections of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Code, executive orders, and DOD policies; analyzed data from OSD's appointments database to identify the number of approved scrolls and the amount of time it took to process them; and met with officials from OSD, the military services, the White House Military Office, and the Senate.
For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202)-512-3604 or FarrellB@gao.gov.