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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Army reserve components do not have complete, accurate, and timely information to report soldiers' non-availability rates. In January 2015, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard reported overall non-availability rates of 22 and 21 percent, respectively. However, GAO analyzed a limited number of medical, training, and administrative availability-related variables for all 85,000 soldiers in six units during this time period and identified more than 3,800 examples of soldiers' records that were inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent. For example, GAO identified soldiers who were listed as available but were incarcerated or had a medically limiting condition. A comprehensive analysis could reveal additional inaccuracies. While the Army reserve component commands and some units perform some data quality reviews to identify and correct discrepancies within the multiple data systems that they rely on for availability data, these reviews examine a limited scope of availability-related variables and are performed infrequently. For example, one system generates a report that identifies a small number of problematic variables, but only reports this information quarterly. Further, it does not provide information specific enough to correct individual problems or cover the full range of variables contributing to inaccurate data. Furthermore, the multiple systems do not interface with each other in a way to allow for timely updates of inconsistent availability information. Without an increase in the scope and frequency of data quality reviews, and improvements to systems to update information in a timely manner, the Army reserve components' availability data will continue to be inaccurate.

The Army reserve components do not verify in a timely manner whether soldiers' injuries or illnesses are service-connected (i.e., occurred in the line of duty) which could lengthen the time that some soldiers are classified as non-available. In January 2015, 81 percent of Army Reserve and 74 percent of the Army National Guard investigations of soldiers' injuries and illnesses were overdue per Army regulation. However, the Army does not have a plan to reduce the existing backlog which officials said is caused in part by soldiers not complying with information requests during investigations. The Army is updating its program guidance to address some of the causes cited for these delays, but as of June 2015, officials stated that the revised regulation had not been issued and did not address soldier noncompliance.

Figure: Army Reserve Components' Backlog of Investigations as of January 2015

Figure: Army Reserve Components' Backlog of Investigations as of January 2015

Note: Overdue means the investigation has been in process longer than the standard processing time as prescribed by Army Regulation 600-8-4.

Why GAO Did This Study

The sustained readiness and availability of the Army's reserve component forces (the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard) is critical to U.S. national defense. These soldiers comprise over half of the Army's total force and their availability is key, as the Army plans to reduce its number of soldiers over the next several years.

The House Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision for GAO to review issues related to the non-availability of soldiers in the Army reserve components. In this report GAO examined, among other things, the extent to which the Army reserve components (1) have complete, accurate, and timely soldier information to report soldiers' non-availability rates and (2) verify in a timely manner whether soldiers' injuries and illnesses are service-connected, as delays can affect soldier non-availability.

GAO reviewed Army regulations and analyzed soldier non-availability data for fiscal years 2012-14; however, due to concerns with data reliability, GAO focused its analysis on January 2015.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that the Army reserve components increase the scope and frequency of data quality reviews; improve data system updates of availability-related information; reduce the backlog of investigations of service-connected injuries and illnesses; and issue revised guidance that addresses causes for the delays. In written comments, DOD agreed with the recommendations and provided additional comments for context.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to improve the Army Reserve's and the Army National Guard's internal control procedures to ensure that individual soldier availability information in each data system is complete, accurate, and timely by increasing the scope and frequency of data quality reviews at the unit and national levels to address issues resulting from self-reporting and inaccurate inputs.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. To address this recommendation, effective October 1, 2019, the Army National Guard is centralizing all Line of Duty investigations (i.e., investigations of service-connected injuries or illnesses) for review, approval, adjudication and authorization at the National Guard Bureau national level. Further, the Army Reserve established its Data Correctness Campaign (DCC) which is a major effort to identify and correct data inconsistencies within every soldier's record in preparation for deployment of the Integrated Personnel and Pay System army (IPPS-A). In June 2017, DCC team members started visiting the various Army Reserve Commands to work with unit level Human Resource professionals to review and ensure soldier records are correct. Also, in an effort to align with the Department of the Army, the US Army Reserve issued in March 2018 Operation Order 18-085 which prioritizes non-availability readiness coding in the Regional Legacy Application Software in order to improve accountability and reduce non-deployable soldiers. This effort is in accordance with the Secretary of the Army's order to reduce non-deployable personnel to 5 percent. By taking these actions, the Army's reserve components have prioritized improving data quality with either higher level centralized reviews or ongoing individual soldier record reviews.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and implement ways that the Army reserve components can facilitate timely updates of availability data between all data systems through the current system interfaces to improve the relevance and value of the data that management is using to make soldier availability-related decisions.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of August 2019, the Army National Guard has transitioned four states to the Integrated Personnel and Pay System for the Army (IPPS-A) with total implementation of IPPS-A expected to be completed by the third quarter of FY 2020. This new computer system incorporates numerous human resources systems into one platform thereby eliminating the possibility of conflicting data, thus improving data quality. Additionally, the Army Reserve is continuing the process of reviewing, validating, and certifying its first standardized automated record within the Reserve Component Manpower System to support its Data Correctness Campaign. This effort will increase the accuracy of the data in the Total Army Personnel Data Base-Reserve (TAPDB-R) which feeds the IPPS-A system. By taking these actions, the Army' reserve components have taken steps to increase the quality of data available to leaders to better monitor and manage the availability of its Reserve Component solders.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop a plan with timelines and take actions accordingly to address the backlog of Line of Duty investigations.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. Efforts to streamline the evaluation and adjudication of LOD investigations have been codified in recently published Army Regulation 600-8-4: Line of Duty Policies, Procedures, and Investigations, dated March 15, 2019. In this updated regulatory guidance, improved processes and procedures have been identified to address the concerns captured in the GAO report numbered GAO-15-626. As of August 2019, there is no backlog at the national level. Additionally, Army Regulation 600-8-4 directs that all formal LOD investigations must be initiated within 5 calendar days of the command's discovery of the injury, illness, disease, or death and that the timeline for completing formal investigations, to include the approving authority finding, to be no more than 180 days. Further, along with other updated guidance regarding personnel readiness and medical or dental deployability reporting published between March 2018 and February 2019, for example, the Army Reserve's non-deployable trend due to medical reasons has dropped from almost 17 percent in April 2018 to about 7.5 percent in April 2019. In line with our recommendation, the Army revised its guidance to set LOD investigation processing time limits and other regulations which has resulted in fewer soldiers being non-deployable.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to revise the Line of Duty program regulation to include procedures that would address implementation challenges that contribute to delays in the processing of Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers' claims of incurring service-connected injuries and illnesses, such as by including the identification of and procedures to address non-compliance by soldiers, and take steps to expeditiously issue that revised program regulation.
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation.In March 2019, the Army released a revised AR 600-8-4: Line of Duty Policy, Procedures, and Investigations and noted in an email that the changes were based on the result of the May 2015 audit. In accordance with our recommendation, the Army issued a revised regulation with changes related to the processing of soldiers' service-connected injuries or illnesses.

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