Military Personnel:

DOD Needs Data to Determine if Active Duty Service Has an Impact on the Ability of Guard and Reservists to Maintain Their Civilian Professional Licenses or Certificates

GAO-08-790R: Published: May 27, 2008. Publicly Released: May 27, 2008.

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Since 2001, the Department of Defense (DOD) has relied on more than 600,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve components to support various operations abroad and at home. In particular, from September 2001 to July 2007, the department deployed more than 434,000 reservists to support operations in DOD's Central Command area of responsibility that includes Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, DOD has modified its mobilization policy, which had previously limited the cumulative amount of time that reservists could be involuntarily called to active duty for the Global War on Terrorism. Under DOD's new policy, which went into effect in January 2007, involuntary mobilizations for reserve component service members are generally limited to no more than 12 months, and there are no cumulative limits on these involuntary mobilizations. While on active duty, reservists may be unable to take the required professional development courses or periodic tests needed to retain their professional currency in fields such as accounting or software engineering. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects rights of qualifying National Guard members, reservists, and certain other members of the uniformed services returning to their civilian employment after being absent due to military service. The act, however, does not explicitly address issues related to licenses and certifications. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Congress mandated that we examine the number and type of professional or other licensure or certification requirements that may be adversely affected by extended periods of active duty, and identify options that would help provide relief. Specifically for this report, our objectives were to examine (1) DOD's efforts to identify the extent to which active duty service has had an impact on the ability of reservists to maintain professional licenses or certifications in their civilian careers, and (2) current relief options for addressing these issues if needed.

The degree to which reservists serving on active duty have had difficulty maintaining professional licenses or certifications in their civilian careers is unclear, because neither DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs nor the reserve components collect the necessary data to track and monitor the issue. While all members of the Ready Reserve are required to provide their civilian employment information upon joining the reserves and to review and update that information each year, the required information includes employment status, the employer's name, the employer's mailing address, the civilian's job title, and the total number of years in the current occupation, but does not include information on the impact active duty service potentially has on maintaining licenses and certifications. Officials at DMDC, which administers DOD's departmentwide Status of Forces Survey, confirmed that surveys of reservists conducted to date have not inquired about the impact of active duty service on a reservist's ability to maintain civilian professional licenses and certifications. Without any initial information on the scope of the issue, DOD is unable to identify the extent, if any, of the impact of active duty on the ability of reservists to maintain professional licenses or certifications in their civilian careers. DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs has not established relief policies and practices specifically designed to assist reservists in maintaining their civilian credentials. However, relief mechanisms do exist that may be applicable or serve as a model if DOD determines that a need exists to address the issue of expired professional licenses and certification. Some states, for example, have enacted provisions to provide relief to reservists in certain circumstances. In addition, different entities within DOD have developed programs and initiatives to assist servicemembers in obtaining licenses and certification. Further, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness administers a program for military spouses who have experienced similar challenges maintaining civilian professional licenses and certifications because of their partner's active duty obligations. Although the focus of that program is on providing assistance to military spouses to acquire new licenses and certifications, military spouses who need to renew their credentials upon relocating, such as nurses, are also eligible. DOD reviewed a draft of this report but did not provide formal agency comments. DOD did provide technical comments and we made changes to the report where appropriate.

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