Physically Demanding Jobs:

Services Have Little Data on Ability of Personnel to Perform

NSIAD-96-169: Published: Jul 9, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the use and development of gender-neutral occupational performance standards in the military services, focusing on how the services implement and evaluate standards.

GAO found that: (1) each service takes a different approach to screening members' physical fitness; (2) the Air Force is the only service that requires new recruits to take a strength aptitude test; (3) the Air Force uses the results to qualify individuals for their military occupations; (4) the services believe that their approaches to assigning members to physically demanding tasks are appropriate, because they receive few complaints from members about such tasks; (5) the services have little data to assess a member's capability to perform tasks; (6) the Army has systematically collected physical performance data since 1989; (7) the data show that at least 84 percent of the Army members had no problems in completing their tasks; (8) a 1994-1995 survey determined that 51 to 79 percent of members have no problem in completing physically demanding tasks; and (9) the validity of the Air Force's strength aptitude test is questionable because of concerns about the administration, accuracy, and relevance of the test's physical requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD directed the services to systematically collect data on job performance difficulties related to physical strength. The services were also directed to focus on physically demanding occupations with a history of strength-related injuries and occupations recently opened to women. The services plan to collect appropriate data in fiscal year 1999.

    Recommendation: Because the services have little systematically collected data on the ability of service members to meet the physical demands of occupational tasks, the Secretary of Defense should require the services to assess whether a significant problem exists in physically demanding occupations and identify solutions, if needed. Such solutions could include redesigning job tasks to reduce the physical demands, providing additional training, or establishing valid performance standards to enhance job sustainment, safety, and personnel utilization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD directed the Air Force to continue its periodic validation efforts and assessments of the strength aptitude test and submit a report on its efforts by the end of fiscal year 1997. The Air Force did not conduct any new validation efforts, but merely reviewed its prior effort.

    Recommendation: Given the questions concerning the validity of the strength aptitude test and the implementation problems found, the Secretary of the Air Force should reassess the use of the strength aptitude test as a means of predicting future performance in physically demanding occupations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force


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