Fast Facts

In May 2019, we issued a report examining whether there are racial, ethnic, or gender disparities in the military justice system. Among other things, we found the military services do not collect consistent information on race, ethnicity, and gender making it more difficult to identify disparities.

We made 11 recommendations to DOD and the military services. This report examines their responses.

DOD and the services implemented 8 of our recommendations aimed at improving the collection and reporting of demographic data.

DOD has not implemented our recommendation that it identify disparity causes and address them.

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Highlights

Why GAO Did This Study

In May 2019, GAO issued a report on whether there are racial, ethnic, or gender disparities in the military justice system. Among other things, GAO found that the military services did not collect consistent information about race, ethnicity, and gender in their investigations, military justice, and personnel databases. GAO also found that Black, Hispanic, and male servicemembers were more likely than White or female servicemembers to be the subjects of investigations recorded in databases used by the military criminal investigative organizations, and to be tried in general and special courts-martial in all of the military services. DOD had taken some steps to study disparities, but had not comprehensively evaluated the causes of racial or gender disparities in the military justice system. GAO made 11 recommendations as a result of the findings in GAO-19-344, three of which were enacted into law in section 540I(b) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020.

Additionally, section 547 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry NDAA for Fiscal Year 2021 included a provision for GAO to review the actions that DOD and the military services have taken to implement the statutory requirements from section 540I(b) of the 2020 NDAA and the recommendations from GAO's May 2019 report. This report assesses what actions DOD and the military services have taken, or plan to take, to implement the recommendations from GAO's May 2019 report and the requirements of section 540I(b) from the 2020 NDAA, and whether any actions taken met the intended objectives. To assess actions taken to implement recommendations from GAO-19-344, GAO reviewed documentation about their respective actions and interviewed agency officials.

What GAO Found

As of June 2021, the military services have implemented 8 of GAO's recommendations to improve their ability to collect and report consistent demographic and nonjudicial punishment data, and to report demographic data in their military justice annual reports as follows:

  • The Coast Guard has developed the capability to report gender information in its military justice database.
  • The Army, the Navy, and the Coast Guard have taken key steps to collect and maintain consistent data for race and ethnicity.
  • The military services have begun reporting demographic data in annual reports that could provide greater visibility into potential racial, ethnic, or gender disparities.
  • The Army, the Navy, and the Coast Guard have started to collect complete nonjudicial punishment data.

However, three of our 11 recommendations have not been implemented. Specifically, the Air Force investigations database is not yet able to report consistent demographic data and the Department of Defense (DOD) has not identified when disparities should be further reviewed or studied the causes of disparities in the military justice system. Agency actions taken thus far to address the three remaining open recommendations are as follows:

  • The Air Force has developed the capability to present race and ethnicity data in its personnel database consistent with the uniform standards established by the Department of Defense in 2018, but has not yet done so for its investigations database as GAO recommended. The Air Force is currently developing a new case management system that will replace its existing investigations database either in fiscal year 2021 or fiscal year 2022.
  • DOD has not identified when any possible racial, ethnic, or gender disparities in the military justice system should be examined further, as GAO had recommended. Officials from DOD's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) said that a nonprofit research and analysis organization will conduct a study to further identify disparities in the military justice system. ODEI officials said that they plan to use the findings and recommendations from that study to develop criteria and steps that will be taken to conduct a review on disparities. ODEI officials said that the study should be completed around June 2022.
  • DOD and the military services have some assessments of military justice system disparities completed or underway, within which they are beginning to comprehensively study the extent and causes of any disparities, as GAO had recommended. However, DOD has not identified causes or taken steps to address disparities. ODEI officials said the study that will be conducted by a nonprofit research and analysis organization would provide a more independent assessment than a study conducted using internal DOD capabilities. The officials said that they plan to use the findings and recommendations from this study to identify the causes and steps to take to address those causes. In addition to the planned ODEI study, four of the military services are respectively conducting studies about disparities.

GAO did not make any recommendations in this correspondence.

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

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