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Military Readiness: Comprehensive Approach Needed to Address Service Member Fatigue and Manage Related Efforts

GAO-24-105917 Published: Mar 26, 2024. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2024.
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Fast Facts

When service members don't get enough sleep, it can affect their performance. Fatigue has led to fatal accidents and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to ships, vehicles, and aircraft.

For over a decade, Department of Defense surveys have found that the majority of service members report sleeping less than 6 hours a night—despite DOD recommending 7 or more.

DOD has developed guidance on managing fatigue, but it hasn't identified an office or individual to oversee it or assigned leadership to oversee service-level efforts. Doing so will make its efforts more accountable DOD-wide. Our recommendations address this and other issues.

A group of military servicemembers in uniform sleeping on the ground.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Many service members are not getting the Department of Defense (DOD) recommended 7 or more hours of sleep each day. The department's overarching fatigue-related guidance emphasizes service members obtain at least 7 hours of sleep for optimal performance and readiness. For over a decade, DOD surveys have found that the majority of service members report sleeping 6 or fewer hours per night. Respondents to GAO's nongeneralizable survey cited similar issues. For example, many respondents are sleeping too little, and roughly half of respondents have poor sleep quality regardless of quantity. Survey respondents provided examples of how sleep deprivation has affected their work, from nearly colliding with another aircraft to falling asleep on the job.

Service Members on How Sleep Deprivation Has Affected Their Work

Service Members on How Sleep Deprivation Has Affected Their Work

DOD and the services have taken steps to address fatigue-related issues, such as developing guidance on fatigue management, but DOD faces oversight and enterprise-wide collaboration challenges in managing fatigue.

  • Oversight structure limitations. DOD has not identified and delegated sufficient oversight authority at the department level, and the military services have not assigned leadership to oversee service-level efforts. Without an assessment of DOD's oversight structure and assigning DOD and service-level leadership, DOD will be hindered in its efforts to limit and manage fatigue across the department.
  • Fragmented fatigue-related research. GAO identified nearly 130 fatigue-related research projects the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force conducted from 2017 to 2023. Forty-eight of these projects studied the use of wearable devices to track sleep data among other uses, with many of them using the same type of technology or even the same model. Establishing a list of all fatigue-related research will help DOD gain visibility and reduce any fragmentation that may exist, potentially leading to cost savings.

Wearable Device Use Across Services for Fatigue-Related Research, 2017—2023

Service Members on How Sleep Deprivation Has Affected Their Work

Why GAO Did This Study

Fatigue caused by inadequate sleep can negatively affect a service member's performance and has contributed to accidents resulting in deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to ships, vehicles, and aircraft. DOD recognizes that impairment from fatigue can be equivalent to the effects of alcohol intoxication and significantly increases the risk of physical injury.

House Report 117-118, which accompanied a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, includes a provision for GAO to review DOD's efforts to limit sleep deprivation and manage fatigue across the military services. Among other things, this report assesses the extent to which (1) service members are getting adequate sleep and (2) DOD has addressed and managed service member fatigue.

GAO analyzed fatigue-related policies and guidance; interviewed cognizant officials; and surveyed service members from selected occupations, including pilots, aviation maintenance personnel, missileers, and motor vehicle operators.

Recommendations

GAO is making nine recommendations, including that DOD conducts an assessment of its fatigue-related oversight structure, assigns DOD leadership, and creates and maintains a list of all fatigue-related research projects, and that the military services assign fatigue-related leadership. DOD generally concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness conducts an assessment of DOD's oversight structure for fatigue-related efforts. This assessment should identify and delegate authority to an office with sufficient authority, sufficient staffing and resources, and committed leadership to act as a focal point for and oversee all DOD-wide fatigue-related efforts. (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 Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should assign leadership responsible for DOD component head responsibilities related to fatigue listed in DOD Instruction 1010.10. (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 Army The Secretary of the Army should assign leadership responsible for DOD component head responsibilities related to fatigue listed in DOD Instruction 1010.10. (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 Navy The Secretary of the Navy should assign Navy leadership responsible for DOD component head responsibilities related to fatigue listed in DOD Instruction 1010.10. (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 Navy The Secretary of the Navy should assign Marine Corps leadership responsible for DOD component head responsibilities related to fatigue listed in DOD Instruction 1010.10. (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 ensure the office identified above to oversee DOD-wide fatigue-related efforts creates and maintains a comprehensive list of all fatigue-related research projects. (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 ensure the office identified above to oversee DOD-wide fatigue-related efforts uses the comprehensive list of all fatigue-related research projects to compare fatigue-related research to reduce fragmentation among the initiatives. (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 ensure the office identified above to oversee DOD-wide fatigue-related efforts establishes a cross-domain working group dedicated to sharing and communicating fatigue research and related information department-wide. (Recommendation 8)
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 ensure the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (1) establishes well-defined time frames for conducting follow-on actions, coordinating with all stakeholders, and identifying key officials responsible for implementing the recommendations of the 2021 DOD study on sleep deprivation and readiness; or (2) documents the reasons that implementing the study's recommendations is not appropriate. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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