For new enlisted personnel, the military services provide uniforms (worth from $1,600-$2,400) and then annual replacement allowances. Enlisted personnel may have out-of-pocket costs, too. For example, the Air Force and Marines pay for an all-weather coat. The Army does not.
For new officers, the services generally provide $400 for uniforms and no replacement allowance.
When uniforms change, out-of-pocket costs to servicemembers can result. These vary by service, gender, and rank.
During the past 10 years, Navy and Marine Corps female officers were most affected by uniform changes.
We made recommendations to address any cost inequities and more.
Enlisted servicemembers line up with their clothing bags to receive uniforms.
What GAO Found
While the military services—Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force—provide an annual clothing allowance to replace uniform items initially issued to enlisted service members, GAO found that some items are excluded from the allowance. This can result in out-of-pocket costs for both female and male enlisted service members. Moreover, DOD's uniform allowance policy does not provide the services with consistent criteria for designating which items are considered uniquely military and included in the allowance, and which items are not and are excluded from the allowance. For example, the Air Force and Marine Corps provide an allowance for an all-weather coat, but the Army does not.
We found these differences in replacement allowances can also contribute to differences in out-of-pocket costs by service and gender for enlisted service members (see figure). Developing consistent criteria for uniquely military items and periodically reviewing uniform replacement allowances could strengthen DOD's ability to identify and address any out-of-pocket cost differences across the services as well as between female and male enlisted service members.
Number and Total Value of Fiscal Year 2020 Enlisted Service Member Clothing Items Included in the Initial Clothing Issue but Excluded from the Services' Calculations for Standard Cash Clothing Replacement Allowances, by Service and Gender
The military services made numerous uniform changes over the past 10 years and the changed uniform items were generally more expensive. GAO found that Navy and Marine Corps female enlisted service members and officers were most affected by uniform changes. In addition, GAO found that uniform changes could result in higher costs for officers who generally pay out-of-pocket for uniform costs. While the services have the authority to determine what uniforms are required for enlisted service members and officers, uniform changes have the potential to drive out-of-pocket costs for both. With equity as an underlying principle for compensation, a review of the services' uniform changes and resulting costs could help minimize out-of-pocket cost differences across the department and between genders.
Why GAO Did This Study
The total value of military uniform items for a newly enlisted service member ranges from about $1,600 to $2,400, depending on the military service. Over the course of their careers, service members must replace and maintain their uniforms.
The conference report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to study service members' out-of-pocket costs for uniforms. Among other objectives, this report 1) assesses the extent to which differences exist in out-of-pocket costs for enlisted service member uniforms, by military service and by gender; and 2) examines the extent to which the military services have changed uniforms over the past 10 years, and how the costs of these changes have varied by service, enlisted or officer status, and gender. GAO reviewed DOD policies and service data on uniform allowances, enlisted and officer required uniform items and their costs, and changes made to uniforms since 2010. GAO also interviewed relevant DOD officials and service organization representatives.
GAO is making four recommendations to improve DOD's understanding of out-of-pocket costs and to address any cost differences, including that it develop consistent criteria for excluding items from replacement allowances and review planned uniform changes. DOD concurred with all four recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in conjunction with the Secretaries of the military departments, develops consistent criteria for determining which uniform or clothing items are considered uniquely military across the services, in part to reduce differences in out-of-pocket costs incurred by enlisted service members across the services and by gender within a service. (Recommendation 1)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in conjunction with the Secretaries of the military departments, periodically reviews the items included in the services' calculation of standard cash clothing replacement allowances for enlisted service members to ensure consistency and address out-of-pocket cost differences, as appropriate, across the services and by gender within a service. (Recommendation 2)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the military services submit their respective plans for changing uniform items, including the estimated costs associated with the change, to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for review. (Recommendation 3)|
|Department of Defense||The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness reviews military service plans for changing uniform items to determine any potential out-of-pocket cost differences among the services or among genders within a service that may result, and to recommend any adjustments to ensure equity, as appropriate. (Recommendation 4)|