Military Tour-Length and Tour-Curtailment Policies and Practices

NSIAD-85-114: Published: Jul 19, 1985. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 1985.

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Martin M. Ferber
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed certain aspects of the Department of Defense's (DOD) permanent change of station and tour-length policies and practices to determine: (1) how DOD develops, justifies, and changes overseas prescribed tour lengths; and (2) whether DOD has adequate systems to ensure that service members complete their prescribed tours of duty and that individual tour curtailments are justified and kept to a minimum.

GAO found that, in fiscal year 1985, DOD will spend about $2.4 billion to accomplish approximately 1.3 million permanent moves, of which over half are to bring in or separate people from the military, with few options for cost reduction. However, $1.2 billion will be spent moving military personnel to and from overseas locations, called rotational moves. GAO also found that increases or decreases in overseas tour lengths can have substantial impacts on the budget, but prescribed tour lengths have remained largely unchanged since they were established in the 1950's. The standard accompanied tours have been 36 months and unaccompanied tours have been 24 months with no documentation explaining the rationale for selecting the tour lengths or what cost trade-offs were considered. In 1980, DOD began permitting first-term, unaccompanied 3-year initial enlistees to serve 18 months in long-term overseas areas, since shorter terms were cost-effective when compared to the problems attributed to long tours. The number of problems has declined, which may be attributed to improved recruit quality and increased pay. GAO believes that lengthening first-term tours could save as much as $75 million annually. Limited testing of individual tour curtailments indicated that justifications for approved curtailments generally seemed reasonable. However, because DOD databases are inadequate, evaluation of variances between prescribed and actual tour lengths could not be done.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Based on Army analysis reported in the DOD Permanent Change of Station (PCS) Program, DOD believes that this recommendation is no longer applicable because the analysis reported that the 18-month tour: (1) had lower actual costs than initially estimated; (2) allowed the Army to establish the 2-year enlistment, a battalion rotation system; and (3) lessened support costs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Army to reevaluate its decision to shorten the first-term tour length to 18 months, taking into account changed conditions since 1980.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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