Military Personnel:

Additional Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Reserve Employment Issues

GAO-07-259: Published: Feb 8, 2007. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 2007.

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Since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DOD) has mobilized more than 500,000 reservists. As reservists demobilize, concerns exist about difficulties with their civilian employment. Public Law 109-163 required GAO to report on reservists' civilian employer data and employment matters. GAO assessed (1) the status of DOD's efforts to capture reservists' employer data; (2) DOD, Labor, Justice, and Office of Special Counsel processes to track and address reservists' Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) complaints; and (3) the four federal agencies' efforts to track reservists' USERRA complaints related to disabilities incurred while on active duty. GAO reviewed policies and procedures for reporting and tracking complaints; DOD's civilian employer database for reservists and reservists' USERRA complaints; and data reliability and quality checks.

DOD has made progress in capturing employment information on reservists, but challenges remain. The percent of reservists reporting employer information increased from about 60 percent in August 2005 to about 77 percent as of August 2006. However, only one of seven reserve components has met DOD's employment reporting goal of 95 percent for the Selected Reserve--the largest category of reservists. DOD does not have specific time frames for reserve components to achieve the reporting goals. In addition, some employment information reported may not be current because the services have not established a formal mechanism to remind reservists to update their reported employment information. Finally, DOD's verification process is not adequate to verify civilian employer data for 24 percent of reservists that reported employer information. The four federal agencies responsible for assisting reservists with USERRA complaints--DOD, the departments of Labor and Justice, and the Office of Special Counsel--track and address these complaints. Between fiscal years 2004 and 2006, the four agencies addressed approximately 16,000 informal and formal complaints. However, no one agency has total visibility over all the complaints, and only a small percentage of complaints are reported to Congress. For example, DOD has visibility over all complaints in its system, but its visibility over complaints in Labor's system is limited to those originally filed with DOD and then later refiled with Labor. The Department of Labor does not make aggregate complaint data available to DOD. Furthermore, Labor's annual report to Congress on reservists' complaints for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 did not include almost 10,000 informal complaints filed with DOD, or 80 percent of the total informal and formal complaints addressed by the four agencies during this period. Labor is required to report formal complaints addressed by the three agencies, but not DOD. Consequently, Congress does not have the comprehensive information necessary to allow for complete oversight of reservists' employment and reemployment problems. Finally, the information GAO obtained on the approximately 16,000 reservists' complaints filed between fiscal years 2004 and 2006 showed that the nature of those complaints has not been uniformly categorized to completely reveal trends in the kinds of problems some returning reservists experience because the agencies use different complaint categories to characterize the complaints. Agencies responsible for assisting reservists with USERRA issues can not systematically record and track disability-related employment complaints because they do not use consistent and compatible complaint categories or have a mechanism in place for distinguishing disability-related complaints from others. Without the ability to track disabled reservists' USERRA complaints, DOD may be unaware of the effect disabilities incurred while on active duty have on reservists' employment and what additional assistance may be needed to help transition this population back into the workforce.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress amended the reporting requirement section of Title 38 with the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008 requiring DOD's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve complaint data to be included in the Department of Labor's annual Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) report. With this reporting change, Congress will have more comprehensive information on the number and nature of USERRA issues that reservists face following deployment to assist it in oversight of reserve employment matters.

    Matter: To gain a full perspective of the number and nature of USERRA complaints filed by reservists in gaining reemployment upon returning from active duty, Congress may wish to consider amending 38 U.S.C. 4332 to require the Department of Labor to include data from DOD's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in its annual report to Congress.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2007, DOD's Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve and the Department of Labor (DOL) developed a Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) Issue Crosswalk between the employer support for the guard and reserve problem codes and DOL's USERRA Information Management System issue codes. According to agencies representatives, this crosswalk will allow both agencies to match the common issues without revision of its current issue identification codes. According to DOD documentation, the cross walked problem codes are compatible for conducting trend analyses between the agencies. As of November 2007, DOL had the capability to receive DOD's employer support for the guard and reserve problem codes and perform the cross-walk, which would allow them to include aggregate complaint data in its annual USERRA report to Congress. The Department of Labor's annual USERRA report to Congress now includes this crosswalk and related complaints.

    Recommendation: To allow for complete analysis of trends in reporting reservist USERRA complaints, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Labor should adopt uniform complaint categories in the future that will allow aggregate trend analysis to be performed across the databases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2007, DOD's Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve and the Department of Labor (DOL) developed a Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) Issue Crosswalk between the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve problem codes and DOL's USERRA Information Management System issue codes. According to agencies representatives, this crosswalk will allow both agencies to match the common issues without revision of its current issue identification codes. According to DOD documentation, the cross walked problem codes are compatible for conducting trend analyses between the agencies. As of November 2007, DOL had the capability to receive DOD's employer support for the guard and reserve problem codes and perform the cross-walk, which would allow them to include aggregate complaint data in its annual USERRA report to Congress. The Department of Labor's annual USERRA report to Congress now includes this crosswalk and related complaints.

    Recommendation: To allow for complete analysis of trends in reporting reservist USERRA complaints, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Labor should adopt uniform complaint categories in the future that will allow aggregate trend analysis to be performed across the databases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Department of Labor (DOL) documentation, DOL provided DOD's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) organization with read only access to its Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) information management system in October 2007. This action allows ESGR to view and download aggregate USERRA information, create a standard report and manipulate the data in such fields as open date, closed date, employer, issue, and whether the claimant is a reservist. According to DOD, since being granted access, ESGR personnel have already made use of this information for reporting purposes. As a result, DOD should be able to determine the full extent of USERRA issues that its reservists are facing and be better prepared to perform its responsibilities for overseeing implementation of USERRA.

    Recommendation: To provide DOD with increased visibility over reserve USERRA complaints, the Secretary of Labor should provide aggregate USERRA complaint data to DOD's Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD Instruction 7730.54, Reserve Components Common Personnel Data System, was updated and published on March 31, 2008. It includes a requirement for reservists to update their civilian employment information annually. As a result, DOD should be in a better position to conduct employer outreach and make decisions regarding reserve member activations.

    Recommendation: To encourage reservists to provide DOD with current employer data, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of Assistant Secretary for Reserve Affairs to update DODI 7730.54, Enclosure 10 on civilian employment-related information reporting to instruct all military departments to establish a formal review mechanism that would require all reservists to review and update at least annually their reported employment-related information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD Instruction 7730.54, Reserve Components Common Personnel Data System, was updated and published on March 31, 2008. It includes a requirement for reservists at a minimum to update their civilian employment information annually. Additionally, the Department issued a July 22, 2008 memorandum to the services asking for them to update their service instructions, procedures, and implementation plans to track and report civilian employment information at least annually or when the member has a change in employment status. It called for each reserve component to develop, document and implement a formal review mechanism to track and identify members who have not properly updated their civilian employment information. Lastly, the memo established September 30, 2009 as the date for the reserve components to achieve reporting compliance. According to DOD documentation, OASD Reserve Affairs has also made Civilian Employment Information compliance a subject of discussion in many forums with senior leaders of the services. Reserve Affairs in cooperation with Defense Finance and Accounting Service developed pop-up window applications within MY Pay that reminds service members to update their employer information if the data is incomplete or more than one year old. The service member's social security number is checked against the data base for compliance or dated information. From September 10, 2007, to October 31, 2007, over 200,000 pop-up windows have been offered to service members to remind them to update their employer information. As a result of these actions, DOD should have better employer information to manage activities such as conducting outreach to help employers understand their Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) responsibilities or know if its decisions are adversely affecting communities by activating a large number of its first responders or healthcare professionals, or disproportionately impacting small business employers.

    Recommendation: To improve the reporting of reserve employment information and to enable the components to meet the reporting compliance rate of 95 percent for the Selected Reserve and 75 percent for the Individual Ready Reserve and Inactive National Guard, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs to establish specific time frames for reservists to report their employment data, set specific time frames for reserve components to achieve the established compliance reporting goals, and direct the service components to take action to assure reporting compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to October 2007 Department of Labor documentation, its USERRA Information Management System identifies USERRA disability claims, including reasonable accommodation for disabled veterans and since October, 2006, its Solicitor's office, DOD's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Special Counsel all have been granted access to its system. Furthermore, in February 2007, in conjunction with DOD's Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, the Department of Labor developed a USERRA Issue Crosswalk between the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve problem codes and Labor's USERRA Information Management System issue codes. According to agency representatives, the crosswalk allows agencies to match common issues so they can be consistently and systematically tracked without revision of its current issue identification codes. The crosswalk included disability-related complaints under the reemployment/reinstatement section. As a result, Congress and DOD will be better informed about the actual number of disability-related reemployment complaints and the effect that disabilities incurred by reservists while on active duty have on their reemployment and what additional assistance may be needed to help transition this population back into the workforce.

    Recommendation: To provide the agencies responsible for addressing USERRA complaints with better information about disability-related employment complaints, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Veterans' Employment and Training Service to develop a system for recording and tracking disability-related USERRA complaints reported by reserves, such as establishing consistent and compatible complaint categories and distinguishing disability-related complaints from other types of complaints. The Veterans' Employment and Training Service should then share this system with the other agencies responsible for addressing USERRA complaints.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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