Navy Readiness: Additional Efforts Are Needed to Manage Fatigue, Reduce Crewing Shortfalls, and Implement Training

GAO-21-366 Published: May 27, 2021. Publicly Released: May 27, 2021.
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Fast Facts

The Navy issued a policy in 2017 for managing fatigue after finding that it was a contributing factor in fatal ship collisions earlier that year. But the Navy has inconsistently implemented that policy and only 14% of officers are getting adequate sleep.

In addition, the Navy routinely assigns fewer crewmembers to ships than its workload studies have determined are needed to safely operate them.

We also found that the Navy has not accounted for the time that sailors will be expected to spend on modernized training when it is delivered, which may exacerbate sailor overwork and fatigue.

Our 8 recommendations address these and other related issues.

U.S. Navy crewmember standing watch at night, with a ship in the water in the distance.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Navy issued a fatigue management policy in 2017, but has inconsistently implemented it and sailors are not receiving adequate sleep. GAO conducted a survey in 2020 and estimates that 14 percent of officers received the then recommended 7 hours or more of sleep a day during their most recent deployment, while 67 percent received 5 hours or less. Navy data show that sailor effectiveness declines after prolonged periods without sleep, equating to impairment levels comparable to intoxication. The Navy updated its policy in December 2020—directing adherence to fatigue guidelines—and is taking steps to improve implementation, but is limited by a lack of quality information on sailor fatigue and the factors that cause lack of sleep. Without this information, the Navy cannot effectively manage fatigue to ensure crews operate ships safely.

The Navy routinely assigns fewer crewmembers to its ships than its workload studies have determined are needed to safely operate them. Until recently, the Navy tracked and internally reported its crewing against the number of funded positions rather than against required positions, a practice which understated crewing shortfalls (see fig.). As a result, the Navy did not accurately measure the full extent of shortfalls, which almost doubled on average from 8 percent in October 2016 to 15 percent in September 2020. Although the Navy began tracking required positions in February 2021, this practice is not reflected in guidance. The Navy also uses funded positions, rather than requirements, to project its future personnel needs. Therefore, it is not accurately communicating to internal decisionmakers the number of personnel it will need as the fleet grows, which may prevent it from effectively mitigating current crewing shortfalls.

Average Surface Fleet Enlisted Crew Positions Required, Funded, and Filled, Fiscal Years 2017 through 2020

Average Surface Fleet Enlisted Crew Positions Required, Funded, and Filled, Fiscal Years 2017 through 2020

The Ready Relevant Learning (RRL) initiative is intended to improve sailor performance, and the Navy has several ongoing and planned measures to assess its effectiveness. However, delivering modernized training will require significant upgrades to the Navy's information technology infrastructure, for which it has only recently begun planning. In addition, the Navy has not accounted for the time that sailors will be expected to spend on modernized training when it is fielded, which may exacerbate sailor overwork and fatigue.

Why GAO Did This Study

Following two Navy ship collisions in 2017, the Navy found that sailor overwork, fatigue, and training deficiencies contributed to the accidents, and has taken steps to address these issues.

House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, includes a provision for GAO to assess the Navy's management of surface ship sailor fatigue, crewing, and the RRL initiative. This report examines the extent to which the Navy has (1) implemented its fatigue management policy, (2) assigned sufficient crewmembers to its surface ships and tracked crew levels, (3) forecasted its personnel needs as the fleet size grows, and (4) implemented RRL training and measured its effectiveness.

GAO surveyed a generalizable sample of Navy officers on their experiences with the Navy's new fatigue management practices and analyzed ship crewing data for fiscal years 2017 through 2020. GAO also reviewed relevant Navy guidance, documentation, and interviewed relevant officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making eight recommendations to the Navy that, among other things, it revise its guidance and practices to measure sailor fatigue and address the factors causing fatigue, use required positions when reporting crew sizes and projecting personnel needs, and factor training time into sailor workload. DOD concurred with our recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet revise guidance to require systematic collection of quality and timely fatigue data from sailors that are accessible to operational commanders to support underway decision-making. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. The Navy has undertaken several actions to revise guidance, such as soliciting inputs for policy changes, convening a working group to chart a way forward, and piloting a risk management tool to aid with fatigue considerations. As of April 2022, the Navy expects these actions to be completed in late 2022.
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet use collected data on sailor fatigue to identify, monitor, and evaluate factors that contribute to fatigue and inadequate sleep such as the effects of crew shortfalls, work requirements, administrative requirements, and collateral duties. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of April 2022, the Navy is continuing its two primary efforts to 1) collect biometric sleep, activity, and health data to provide near real-time information, and 2) develop a system to leverage biometric data and assist with watchbill planning and management. The Navy expects to complete these efforts in 2024.
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet take actions to address the factors causing sailor fatigue and inadequate sleep. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. The Navy has an effort underway to directly measure and overcome barriers to quality sleep, and is currently studying potential improvements to sleeping quarters and other environmental factors such as lighting and noise. As of April 2022, the Navy expects to complete these efforts in 2023.
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet establish a process for identifying and assisting units that have not implemented its fatigue management policy. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. The Navy is pursuing means to collect fatigue information from existing systems and those in development, and to use this information for crew and leadership interventions. As of April 2022, the Navy expects to compete these actions in 2023.
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet revise guidance to institutionalize the practice of using crew requirements to track and report positions that are filled. (Recommendation 5)
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. The Navy is now using crew requirements in addition to funded positions to track and report positions that are filled, and issued a memo in December 2021 directing that this practice continue.
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet establish crewing targets that are based on analysis and assessment of risk. (Recommendation 6)
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. Navy officials described the evolutionary process by which crew targets were first established, and the Navy is additionally reviewing crew targets annually and adjusting them as appropriate based on assessments of risk. The Navy issued its latest crew targets in updated guidance in March 2022.
Department of the Navy
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of Chief of Naval Operations uses crew requirements to project future personnel needs. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. Navy officials said they generally use funded positions to project personnel needs and plan for annual accessions, but also have the capability to use crew requirements to project personnel needs. As of April 2022, the Navy expects to complete action on this recommendation in summer 2022.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations accounts for additional sailor workload resulting from the continued implementation of Ready Relevant Learning when determining crew requirements. (Recommendation 8)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. Navy officials affirmed that they have the ability to account for additional training workload that may result from further stages of Ready Relevant Learning (RRL) implementation. Navy manpower officials have already assessed the workload affects resulting from RRL's initial implementation, and stated that they will continue working with the Navy's training community to ensure that additional training workload is appropriately factored into crew requirements as RRL is further developed and fielded.

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