Military Recuriting Irregularities (the GAO Report of August 2006)
Note: I know this isn’t as entertaining as most blog rants, but every now and then I like to keep my political blogging discipline by looking at the source materials. It never ceases to amaze me how often folks from both sides tend to cherry pick from reports like “Military Recruiting- DOD and Services Need Better Data to Enhance Visibility over Recruiter Irregularities” and since most of us never read them we get a very different impression of what’s in them. I believe it’s something that all political bloggers should force themselves to do from time to time.
Way back in 1812, the United States actually went to war with England at least partly because the British were waylaying American citizens, usually merchant sailors and forcing them into the Royal Navy. As reasons to go to war go, this may have been one of the better ones. Recently, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) weighed in on irregularities in military recruiting over the last two years. The problem isn’t enormous, roughly 409 substantiated cases (GAO report page 19) out of 4,388 in 2004, though more than 64% of the alleged cases are neither substantiated nor unsubstantiated. The problem though is clearly growing. In 2005 there were 629 substantiated cases of improper recruiting for the armed forces out of 6,602 and a 68% rate of unresolved cases.
Not surprisingly the GAO found fault with the fact that the various service branches had no central system of oversight. Each branch measures and defines the effectiveness of its recruiting system in a different manner. Nonetheless, the problem at this point remains well below 1% of the number of inductees.
Of course, if you happen to be the parent of one of the close to 5,000 young men and women (actually they raised the induction age this year so many aren’t all that young) who were brought into the armed forces under false pretenses or outside protocol, you might think it’s quite a big number. It might trouble you to find out that the number of criminal recruiting violations found in 2005 nearly doubled from 2004, though the number remains relatively low (68) one must consider this is still a system in which the particular branch evaluates its own conduct. I doubt, however, that any of the violations consisted of hitting someone over the head with a club and then dumping the “recruit” onto a plane headed for Baghdad, so there’s been considerable progress since 1812.
The really shocking item in the report is that the Department of Defense found that over half of Americans between ages 16-21 are ineligibile for military service because they can’t meet the DOD’s service entry standards (p. 23). This is largely due to medical or health issues (read large numbers of teenagers are simply too overweight or out of shape) or they lack a high school diploma or equivalent, fail the armed forces vocational aptitude test, or have criminal records or are deemed too anti-social (now we know the real reason Rush Limbaugh didn’t serve).
GAO identifies one simple fix. Three of the branches evaluate recruiters on the number of contracts they sign rather than the number of their recruits who actually make it through basic training. The Marines are the lone exception. The practice is something like evaluating a major league baseball scout on the number of players he or she signs instead of whether or not any get to the major leagues and help the team. (p. 24) This sounds vaguely like corporate accounting practices. GAO reports tend to emphasize oversight- this report is no exception. One of their themes is that there aren’t genuinely accurate ways within the armed forces to measure or correct the problem. They specifically cite the fact that recruiters are evaluated and promoted based on the sheer number of recruits they bring in with little oversight about the how or even the quality of the actual recruits.
Now this is the interesting thing, the Department of Defense was given the opportunity(p. 43) to respond to the GAO’s recommendations and findings (a regular practice with their reports). While the DOD agreed that an oversight framework was needed (how could they not?), the Department specifically rejected the notion of establishing a central processing command to track and report recruiting irregularities. What was their argument?
- They claimed that this would duplicate the measures already in place with the individual service branches- in case you forgot, GAO found significant problems with those measures.
- They insisted that GAO had found that the problem was not widespread- this despite the fact that the rate virtually doubled in a single year and GAO found that recruiting irregularities were more than likely underreported by the systems that the DOD claims don’t need to be duplicated and that GAO’s recommendation is “premature”.
- At the same time, DOD acknowledged that even one incident of recruiter wrongdoing can erode public confidence-Why does that number 621 confirmed violations from 2005 come to mind? Also two thirds of cases each year are classified as “unresolved”. It’s worth mentioning that GAO’s data came directly from the service branches themselves.
This may not be impressment, but I’m not impressed either. The DOD doesn’t seem terribly concerned that amidst all those numbers is someone’s son or daughter who might have been “coerced or tricked” into signing. Imagine, those unqualified recruits who may be slipping into the service, may be someone who’s protecting your own son or daughter’s flank somewhere outside the Green Zone.
Somehow, it doesn’t shock me that Secretary Rumsfeld’s people just don’t care that much to address the issue effectively or before June of 2007. After all, it’s not their children who are being lured by military recruiters who may or may not be regulated appropriately.
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