Military Hazing: DOD Should Address Data Reporting Deficiencies, Training Limitations, and Personnel Shortfalls

GAO-22-104066 Published: Dec 15, 2021. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 2021.
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Fast Facts

The military services have a rich tradition of initiation ceremonies and rites of passage, but at times, they have included inappropriate or abusive behavior. According to DOD, hazing jeopardizes readiness and weakens trust within the ranks.

DOD reported 183 to 299 hazing complaints a year from FY 2017- 2020. However, a 2018 DOD survey suggests this understates the number of hazing incidents by tens of thousands. In addition, DOD's reports to Congress didn't include information on informal hazing complaints and other required material.

Our recommendations are for more complete reporting, better hazing prevention and response training, and more.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

From fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2020, the Department of Defense (DOD) was required to report information on hazing incidents to Congress. However, its reports did not contain complete information. Specifically;

  • DOD reported there were between 183 and 299 hazing complaints in a given year from fiscal years 2017- 2020. However, data from a 2018 DOD survey suggests this significantly understated the number of hazing incidents by potentially tens of thousands of incidents. Prevalence is important because decision makers can use it as a starting point to determine if efforts to prevent and respond to hazing are effective. In 2016, GAO recommended DOD evaluate the prevalence of hazing. DOD concurred, but has not yet implemented it and GAO still believes this recommendation is valid.
  • DOD's reports to Congress did not include information on informal hazing complaints or required information on complaints from National Guard personnel operating under the command of the Governor, but funded by the federal government. Its reports also did not have data required by DOD policies, and the congressional requirement that it submit reports has lapsed.

Better data that accurately reports the number of hazing incidents, includes data on informal hazing complaints and complaints from National Guard personnel in Title 32 status, and complete data will better position DOD and Congress to make decisions on how to prevent and respond to hazing in the military.

The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) has not assessed servicemember harassment prevention and response training. DEOMI officials told GAO that they did not proactively review the services' training plans because DEOMI did not have the resources to execute this responsibility. As of October 2021, a DOD official said funding had been approved, but did not provide information on how or when DEOMI would review the training plans. Additionally, the services may not be reinforcing this training frequently enough and officials said they have not assessed the effectiveness of this training. Until DOD ensures that servicemember training is reviewed for sufficiency, reinforced at a minimum frequency, and assessed for effectiveness, it will be limited in its ability to ensure that training achieves its objectives.

DOD certifies Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) professionals by training them to respond to harassment complaints, among other things. As of 2021, approximately 76 percent (1,459 of 1,924) of MEO professional billets in DOD were filled with MEO professionals. However, as of July 2021 the Army National Guard had filled 226 of 408 billets (55 percent) and the Army Reserve had filled 120 of 266 billets (45 percent). Army and Army Reserve officials said that vacant billets are a result of commanders not providing soldiers, or submitting the documentation needed, to staff their MEO programs. Additionally, neither component has developed a plan for filling their vacant MEO billets. Until commanders in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve provide soldiers for MEO professional positions, and the Army National Guard and Army Reserve plan to address shortfalls in MEO professionals, these organizations will be limited in their abilities to support commanders and respond to harassment complaints.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to DOD's Harassment Prevention Strategy, incidents of harassment—including hazing—jeopardize combat readiness and weaken trust within the ranks. DOD established a harassment prevention and response program that includes hazing to address these behaviors.

House Report 116-120 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's efforts to implement hazing prevention and response programs. This report addresses the extent to which DOD has: (1) visibility over hazing and reported complete hazing complaint data to Congress; (2) assessed servicemember harassment prevention and response training for compliance, sufficiency, and effectiveness and reinforced training; and (3) provided MEO professionals with required certification training. GAO evaluated the completeness of DOD's hazing reports to Congress, compared training data to billets, and conducted a generalizable survey of MEO professionals, among other things.

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Recommendations

GAO is making a matter for congressional consideration to require DOD to continue to report hazing complaint data to Congress, including more complete data on all complaints, to Congress. GAO is also making 12 recommendations to DOD, including that it take steps to improve data quality in its reports, assess and reinforce servicemember training, and fill vacant MEO professional billets. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Congress should consider requiring the Department of Defense to report hazing complaint data on an annual basis that would include information on formal and informal complaints, complaints from all military personnel to include National Guard personnel operating under Title 32 U.S. Code, and complete demographic information on complainants and alleged offenders. (Matter for Consideration 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chief, National Guard Bureau, in coordination with the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force and the Director, ODEI, establishes a policy that addresses procedures to receive, track, and report hazing complaints by National Guard servicemembers in a title 32 duty status. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should take actions to ensure that the Navy's MEO policy is updated to address hazing complaints using a standard process that details how hazing complaints should be received, processed, and tracked. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should take actions to ensure that the Navy's MEO complaint intake form is updated to include a response option for hazing complaints. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should take actions to ensure commanders, the Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the Army Inspector General track the information specified in DOD Instruction 1020.03 and ODEI's data template. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should take actions to ensure MEO professionals who receive hazing complaints track the information specified in DOD Instruction 1020.03 and ODEI's data template. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should take actions to ensure that DEOMI executes its proactive review of harassment prevention and response training for compliance with the instruction and sufficiency of content. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should take actions to ensure that the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Diversity Management Operations Center provide the military services with training measures that exhibit the characteristics specified in best practices that GAO identified for developing training programs and the attributes specified in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's report on harassment in the workplace. (Recommendation 7)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should take actions to ensure that the Director of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Commandant of DEOMI determines the minimum frequency with which hazing prevention and response training should be reinforced and direct the military services to provide such training at least at this minimum frequency. (Recommendation 8)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of Army, in consultation with the Chief, National Guard Bureau, should direct the Director, Army National Guard, to enforce Army Regulation 600-20's requirements that commanders provide soldiers for MEO professional billets and provide documentation to Headquarters, Army National Guard, demonstrating that these soldiers meet regulation requirements. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of Army should direct the Chief, Army Reserve enforce Army Regulation 600-20's requirements that commanders provide soldiers for MEO professional billets and provide documentation to Headquarters, Army Reserve demonstrating these soldiers meet regulation requirements. (Recommendation 10)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army, in consultation with that the Chief, National Guard Bureau, should take actions to ensure that the Director, Army National Guard, provides the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute with a plan for filling MEO professional billets that includes information on the timeframe within which the Army National Guard plans to fill all billets and the number of additional Army National Guard personnel that will need to be trained during that period of time. (Recommendation 11)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should take actions to ensure that the Chief, Army Reserve, provides DEOMI with a plan for filling MEO professional billets that includes information on the timeframe within which the Army Reserve plans to fill all billets and the number of additional Army Reserve personnel that will need to be trained during that period of time. (Recommendation 12)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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