Military Personnel:

DOD and the Services Need to Take Additional Steps to Improve Mobilization Data for the Reserve Components

GAO-06-1068: Published: Sep 20, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 2006.

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GAO has previously reported on the Department of Defense's (DOD) ability to track reservists deployed to the theater of operations and made recommendations. Reliable mobilization and deployment data are critical for making decisions about reserve force availability and medical surveillance. Because of broad congressional interest, GAO initiated a review under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative to determine (1) what DOD data indicate are the number of reservists mobilized and deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and the selected demographic and deployment characteristics of those deployed and (2) whether DOD's reserve deployment and mobilization data and analyses are reliable. GAO analyzed data and data analyses from DOD's Contingency Tracking System (CTS) and interviewed agency officials.

GAO's analysis of DOD data indicates that more than 531,000 reservists have been mobilized in support of GWOT as of June 30, 2006, and more than 378,000 reservists, or 71 percent of the number mobilized, have been deployed. The number of reservists deployed increased through fiscal year 2003 and remained stable through fiscal year 2005. The majority of reservists have been deployed once. GAO's analysis further indicates that of the more than 378,000 reservists who have deployed in support of GWOT, 81 percent have spent a year or less deployed and 17 percent of reservists have spent more than 1 year but less than 2 years deployed. Of those who deployed, almost 98 percent were U.S. citizens. Since GWOT began, about 78 percent of reservists who were deployed were White, about 14 percent were Black or African American, and almost 90 percent identified themselves as non-Hispanic and 8 percent as Hispanic. Of those who were deployed, 89 percent were male and 11 percent were female. There were three variables--volunteer status, location deployed, and unit deployed--required by DOD policy for which the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) could not provide data because the data either did not exist or were not reliable enough for the purposes of GAO's report. GAO found the deployment and mobilization data used to be reliable for providing descriptive information. However, the mobilization data, some deployment data fields, and DMDC's processes for data analyses need improvement. DMDC and the services have recently taken steps to improve the reliability of mobilization data; however, additional steps are needed to make mobilization data more reliable. DMDC and the services have undertaken a large-scale, challenging effort to replace all previous service-provided mobilization data in DMDC's CTS database with new data from the services, referred to as "rebaselining." To date, the Air Force has certified that it has rebaselined its data and Navy officials say they have validated their personnel files and established a common baseline of data with DMDC. The Army, which has mobilized the largest number of reservists, has not completed its rebaselining effort and has not set a deadline for completion. Also, DOD has not fully addressed other data issues that could affect the accuracy and completeness of the data, such as standardizing the use of key terms and ensuring that the services address data issues identified by DMDC as well as provide data for all required data fields, such as location, to DMDC. Also, because the data analyses DMDC provided had numerous errors, GAO questions the effectiveness of its verification procedures and other supporting procedures, all of which DMDC has not documented. Until DOD addresses data issues and DMDC documents the internal control procedures it uses to analyze data and verify its analyses of the data, the information provided to decision makers within Congress and DOD may be unreliable and decision makers will not be in the best position to make informed decisions about reserve force availability and reservists' exposure to health hazards.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the service secretaries to establish the needed protocols to have the services report data consistent with the previous recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. After numerous follow-up attempts, DMDC did not provide documentation that would allow GAO to determine whether the needed protocols have been established.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the service secretaries to (1) take the steps necessary to provide all required data to DMDC, such as volunteer status and location deployed, and (2) have the services address data inconsistencies identified by DMDC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. Circa August 2007, DOD indicated that all of the components with the exception of the Navy and Coast Guard Reserve have submitted the volunteer status code and that all service components are providing the location deployed. With respect to data inconsistencies, DOD stated that four components (Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Navy Reserve) have submitted certifications that their historical reconciliations are complete. The rest of the components (Army National Guard and Army Reserve) have completed their reconciliations but have not submitted certifications as they are still reviewing their data quality review processes. DOD issued a revised DODI 7730.54 on 3/25/08 that identifies the formal reporting requirement for Reserve and Guard activations. According to the DODIG, although the Army Reserve has incorporated an error reconciliation process prior to submitting their data to DMDC, DMDC has continuing concerns about the quality of the Army National Guard data. This has resulted in OSD Personnel and Readiness issuing a memo to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) asking for a plan to improve the quality of their mobilization data submissions and a primary action officer who will work with DMDC to implement this data quality improvement. As of September 2010, no further actions have been taken or are planned to provide all required data to DMDC and address data inconsistencies identified by DMDC.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, to provide guidance to the services to better define and standardize the use of key terms, like activation, mobilization, and deployment, to promote the completeness, accuracy, and consistency of the data within CTS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. DOD stated that Joint Publication 1-02 defines these terms and all participants of the Reserve Component Mobilization Policy Forum (which met in January 2006) concurred with the published terms and definitions currently in use. DOD said that the standardization of terms has already been addressed and considers this recommendation closed. However, as of September 2010, no further actions have been taken or are planned to better define and standardize the use of key terms.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, to require DMDC to document its internal procedures and processes, including the assumptions it uses in data analyses. In doing this, the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, should collaborate on the reasonableness of the assumptions established and used by DMDC in its data analyses with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and the Joint Staff.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur with this recommendation. DOD stated that DMDC is a support organization that generates reports for a multitude of organizations and that each organization that requests reports provides the assumptions that DMDC uses to develop the reports. DOD stated that it considers this recommendation closed. GAO audit work since then shows that DMDC has established and uses some basic assumptions in analyzing data but that DMDC may not always discuss these assumptions with DOD offices requesting analyses. In April 2010, DMDC issued a revision to its DRS (Data Request System) Request Checklist that consists of guidelines to be followed when releasing data to DMDC customers. A DRS Request Review documents approval before the data are sent from DMDC to the requesting customer. The Review includes identifying the data sources that will be examined and the Statistical Analysis Systems software procedures or functions that are going to be employed to fulfill the request. In addition, the Review requires that data requests from entities, such as the DOD Inspector General and GAO, are coordinated through the DMDC Data Analysis and Programs Division. Once the data are approved, the data are sent back to the aforementioned Division to be transmitted to the proper agency representative. We believe the institution of such reviews and corresponding documentation of such reviews meet the intent of the recommendation.

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