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Military Readiness: Improvements Still Needed in Assessing Military Readiness (Testimony, 03/11/97, GAO/T-NSIAD-97-107)

GAO discussed the military readiness assessment process, focusing on
what: (1) disconnects are associated with readiness reporting and why
they exist; (2) corrective actions have been proposed and taken to
measure readiness; and (3) further actions are needed.
GAO noted that: (1) formal readiness reports provided by the Joint
Chiefs of Staff's Status of Resources and Training System (SORTS) have
sometimes indicated a higher state of readiness than appears warranted
based on other information coming from military personnel in the field;
(2) the implications are that the formal reporting system is overly
optimistic in its readiness assessments, and questions can be
legitimately raised about its credibility; (3) as GAO and others have
reported, there are many shortcomings in SORTS that need to be
addressed, including the: (a) lack of emphasis on readiness on a
long-term basis, contrasted with the snapshot in time currently
provided; (b) use of insufficient indicators to ensure a comprehensive
assessment of readiness; and (c) inability to measure integrated
readiness of joint operating forces; and (4) GAO's recommendations have
been targeted toward helping the Department of Defense identify
indicators most relevant to developing a more comprehensive readiness
assessment and ensuring that comparable data are maintained by all
services to allow the development of trends on the selected indicators.
--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------
     TITLE:  Military Readiness: Improvements Still Needed in Assessing 
             Military Readiness
      DATE:  03/11/97
   SUBJECT:  Combat readiness
             Defense contingency planning
             Defense capabilities
             Military personnel
             Defense operations
             Management information systems
             Military training
             Military materiel
IDENTIFIER:  JCS Status of Resources and Training System
             Army Readiness Management System
             JCS Joint Readiness System
             JCS National Military Strategy
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================================================================ COVER
Before the Subcommittee on Military Readiness, Committee on National
Security, House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at
10:00 a.m., EDT
March 11, 1997
Statement of Mark E.  Gebicke, Director, Military Operations and
Capabilities Issues, National Security and International Affairs
=============================================================== ABBREV
  ARMS - Army Readiness Management System
  CINC - Commander in Chief
  DOD - Department of Defense
  JCS - Joint Chiefs of Staff
  OSD - Office of the Secretary of Defense
  OPTEMPO - operating tempo
  PERSTEMPO - personnel away from home
  SORTS - Status of Resources and Training System
============================================================ Chapter 0
Mr.  Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 
Today's American military forces have earned the reputation of being
among the best, if not the best, trained forces in the world.  That
reputation stands in stark contrast to the so-called "hollow forces"
of the 1970s.  Yet, as we have proceeded through nearly a decade of
military downsizing, periodic concerns or questions have surfaced
about the potential for a new "hollowing" of our forces.  Concerns
voiced by military personnel to congressional staff during field
visits are quite different from official unit readiness assessment
reports forwarded through service headquarters to the Joint Chiefs of
Staff (JCS), and to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). 
This difference has resulted in questions in recent years about the
true measure of readiness of our military forces. 
Today, I would like to provide a broad overview of the readiness
assessment process and frame my comments around three questions. 
  -- What disconnects are associated with readiness reporting, and
     why do they exist? 
  -- What corrective actions have been proposed and taken to measure
  -- What further actions are needed? 
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:1
Historically, readiness of U.S.  military forces at the unit level
has been measured using the Status of Resources and Training System
(SORTS), under the sponsorship of the JCS.  Under SORTS, units report
their overall readiness status as well as the status of four resource
areas (personnel, equipment and supplies on hand, equipment
condition, and training).  The readiness status of a unit is reported
by assigning capability, or "C," ratings as follows: 
C-1--Unit can undertake the full wartime missions for which it is
organized or designed. 
C-2--Unit can undertake the bulk of its wartime missions. 
C-3--Unit can undertake major portions of its wartime missions. 
C-4--Unit requires additional resources and/or training to undertake
its wartime missions, but if the situation dictates, it may be
required to undertake portions of the missions with resources on
C-5--Unit is undergoing a service-directed resource change and is not
prepared to undertake its wartime missions. 
While SORTS still provides the basic underpinning to readiness
assessments, both OSD and JCS have established senior oversight
groups in recent years to focus on readiness issues at a higher level
and provide a more comprehensive assessment of readiness. 
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2
Formal readiness reports provided by SORTS have sometimes indicated a
higher state of readiness than appears warranted based on other
information coming from military personnel in the field.  The
implications are that the formal reporting system is overly
optimistic in its readiness assessments, and questions can be
legitimately raised about its credibility.  As we and others have
reported, there are many shortcomings in SORTS that need to be
addressed, including the
  -- lack of emphasis on readiness on a long-term basis, contrasted
     with the snapshot in time currently provided;
  -- use of insufficient indicators to ensure a comprehensive
     assessment of readiness; and
  -- inability to measure integrated readiness of joint operating
Our recommendations have been targeted toward helping DOD identify
indicators most relevant to developing a more comprehensive readiness
assessment and ensuring that comparable data are maintained by all
services to allow the development of trends on the selected
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:3
Several types of disconnects have historically existed between SORTS
formal readiness reports and other information obtained from military
personnel in the field, and those disconnects exist for various
reasons.  In recent years, either in reports or testimony before the
Congress, we discussed the Department of Defense's (DOD) system for
measuring readiness and reported on the need for improvements.\1 We
previously reported instances where, during fieldwork on our
assignments, SORTS data appeared to paint a rosier picture of
readiness than did various military officials, who expressed concerns
about readiness in their discussions with us, or even in
correspondence with higher headquarters.  These concerns were
centered on high operating tempo (OPTEMPO), frequent deployments of
personnel away from home (known as PERSTEMPO), personnel shortfalls
and turnovers, and the shifting of funds from key readiness accounts
to meet other needs, each of which could degrade readiness.  Many of
these concerns addressed current conditions and, more importantly,
the future if existing conditions persisted. 
We have continued to report on these issues in conjunction with more
recent work.  Our April 1996 report on PERSTEMPO issues noted that
DOD could not precisely measure the increase in deployments because
until 1994 only the Navy had systems to track PERSTEMPO.  Still
missing were clear and consistent definitions and data collection on
a consistent basis across the services.  Further, during our visits
to high-deploying units, military personnel at major commands
expressed grave concerns about the adverse effects on readiness
resulting from high operating tempo and frequent deployments away
from home.  However, SORTS C-ratings examined in conjunction with
these assignments have continued to show a fairly stable level of
overall unit readiness.  Less than one-third of the high-deploying
units we reviewed dropped below planned readiness levels due to
deployments.  During our most recent examination of this issue in
conjunction with Special Operations Forces, we found that a negative
impact on readiness due to increased OPTEMPO was not readily apparent
in the SORTS reports. 
In 1995 we reported that participation in peace operations could
enhance or reduce a unit's combat capability, depending on the type
of unit, skills used or not used, length of participation, and
in-theater training opportunities.  We noted that the ground combat
forces, mechanized infantry, armored units, and units that are
heavily dependent on equipment (such as artillery) face the greatest
combat skill erosion when they deploy for peace operations without
their equipment.  Also, while they are deployed, they may do tasks
that are significantly different from the combat tasks for which they
normally train. 
Senior defense officials have stated that it is difficult to estimate
the amount of time required to restore a unit's combat effectiveness
for all its missions after a unit participates in a peace operation;
however, Army commanders generally estimate a range of 3 to 6 months. 
Yet when examining SORTS reports, we have seen little to indicate
significant reductions in C-ratings for units participating in
peacekeeping operations.  While I cannot say conclusively that
downgraded readiness should have been reported, I will note that a
special study entitled The Effects of Peace Operations on Unit
Readiness, published in February 1996 by the Army's Center for Army
Lessons Learned, recommended that the Department of the Army consider
having units report "C-5" on their unit status reports for a period
of 4 months after return from peace operations. 
Our 1996 report on chemical and biological defense pointed out that
many of the types of problems encountered during the Gulf War remain
uncorrected, and U.S.  forces continue to experience serious
training-related weaknesses in their chemical and biological
proficiency.  At the same time, we found that the effectiveness of
SORTS for evaluating units' chemical and biological readiness was
limited.  This was the case despite a DOD requirement imposed in 1993
for all the services to assess their equipment and training status
for operations in a contaminated environment and to report this data
as a distinct part of SORTS.  DOD's requirement also allows
commanders to subjectively upgrade their overall SORTS status,
regardless of their chemical and biological status.  For example, one
early deploying active Army division was rated as C-1--the highest
SORTS category--despite rating itself C-4 for chemical and biological
equipment readiness. 
I also want to touch on the effect that manning levels have on
readiness, which we reported on in 1995.  This continues to be an
important issue.  Existing SORTS data often reflects a high readiness
level for manning because in the aggregate, through substitution,
units may numerically have most of their assigned personnel. 
However, aggregating data can mask underlying personnel problems that
can be detrimental to readiness, such as shortages by skill level and
rank or grade.  Compounding these problems can be high levels of
personnel turnover.  When considered collectively, these factors
create situations where commanders may have difficulty developing and
maintaining unit cohesion and accomplishing training objectives. 
Judging by our recent review of selected commanders' comments
submitted with their SORTS reports, and other available data, the
problems I have just noted are real, although not well reflected in
the overall C-ratings. 
Several factors play a part in the apparent disconnects I have noted
here today.  We have noted that formal readiness assessments in SORTS
contain both objective and subjective elements.  Gunnery scores, for
example, can be more objectively measured than can the broad impact
of personnel shortfalls and turnovers.  The C-rating for training is
based on a commander's subjective assessment of how well a unit is
trained based on his personal observation and various internal and
external evaluations.  A commander may subjectively change his unit's
overall C-rating, based on experience, to reflect a broader
perspective of the unit's ability to perform its wartime missions. 
Thus, concerns about degradation in readiness in one area may
diminish in relation to the commander's confidence about the overall
state of readiness. 
It may be that a commander's informal statements of concern over
readiness, apart from SORTS, are a signal of an impending change that
may eventually show up in SORTS reports.  However, we have been told
by a variety of military leaders that some commanders may view the
SORTS reports they prepare as scorecards on their capabilities and
performance with the potential to affect their promotion potential. 
Thus, they are reluctant to report degraded readiness.  We have also
been told that the reluctance to cite degraded readiness is
indicative of a "can do" spirit of optimism.  Whatever the cause, the
fact is that significant differences can and do exist between
official SORTS reports, other data, and professional military
\1 A list of relevant GAO reports and testimonies is included at the
end of this statement. 
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:4
In 1994 we reported that C-ratings represent a snapshot in time; they
are not predictive and do not address long-term readiness or signal
impending changes in the status of resources.  Neither do they assess
joint readiness, that is, the preparedness of unified commands and
joint task forces to effectively integrate individual service combat
and support units into a joint operating force. 
We identified and reported on a number of indicators that (1) service
officials told us were either critical or important to a more
comprehensive assessment of readiness and (2) had some predictive
value.  These indicators included projected personnel trends, crew
manning, recruiting shortfalls, personnel stability, PERSTEMPO,
borrowed manpower, morale, operating tempo, funding, accidents, and
unit readiness and proficiency.  At that time, we recommended that
the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness be
directed to
  -- review the indicators we had identified as being critical to
     predicting readiness and select the specific indicators most
     relevant to a more comprehensive readiness assessment,
  -- develop criteria to evaluate the selected indicators and
     prescribe how often the indicators should be reported to
     supplement SORTS data, and
  -- ensure that comparable data is maintained by all services to
     allow the development of trends on the selected indicators. 
In the 1994 time frame and later, OSD and JCS began a number of
initiatives that have heightened the emphasis on readiness within
their respective offices, including some initial emphasis on joint
readiness.  Additionally, some of the services have initiated actions
to strengthen their assessments of readiness. 
In the fall of 1993, OSD created a Senior Readiness Oversight Council
comprised of high-level military and civilian officials and
co-chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Vice Chairman
of JCS.  The Council meets monthly to review the status of readiness
based on briefings given by each service chief of staff and an
overall assessment by the Vice Chairman.  Also, results of the JCS
joint reviews are briefed to the Council.  The Council focuses on
topical readiness issues too, such as various aspects of combat
support, both on a short- and long-term basis.  The Council is also
responsible for providing quarterly readiness reports to the
Congress.\2 The most recent unclassified quarterly readiness report
submitted to the Congress for the period October to December 1996
stated that "first to fight" forces were at a high level of
readiness, while overall unit readiness was stable at historic
levels.  At the same time, it noted that careful management was
required for some segments of the force that were critical to current
operations and to major regional contingencies. 
OSD is in the beginning stages of attempting to develop a readiness
baseline, which when completed will contain additional indicators
with information on personnel, equipment, training, and joint
readiness that is not available from existing DOD databases.  This
baseline is now more oriented to examining functional issues such as
accessions, retention, manning levels, and training on an aggregate
basis than it is to developing a more comprehensive readiness
assessment system from a unit perspective.  Over time, as system
development continues, the baseline is expected to facilitate
assessments of joint readiness, provide a basis for resource
allocation, and support DOD's budgeting process.  OSD's efforts over
the past 3 years have focused on identifying indicators that would be
useful to this system.  OSD officials told us they hope to have
baseline data available to assist in joint readiness assessments
within 3 or 4 years but that a comprehensive system with predictive
capabilities will evolve over several years. 
To direct more attention to readiness, JCS established the Chairman's
Readiness System, which became operational in December 1994.  A major
component of this system is the Joint Monthly Readiness Review
process, which provides an assessment of readiness to execute the
National Military Strategy through current assessments of unit and
joint readiness at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. 
The process requires each commander in chief (CINC), service, and
combat support agency to assess and report on the current and
projected readiness status of major combat and critical strategic
forces, given specific scenarios.  A foundation for these assessments
is provided by SORTS, supplemented by other data available to the
CINCs.  JCS staff told us that the joint reviews generally focus on
relatively near-term readiness issues (current time to 2 years),
often dealing with combat support in such functional areas as lift,
intelligence, logistics, and sustainment.  These reviews help to
identify readiness deficiencies that can be prioritized for possible
remedy or workarounds. 
Also, JCS is attempting to develop the capability to combine multiple
DOD databases to assess readiness at tactical, operational, and
strategic levels.  In doing so, JCS recognized that the SORTS system
is oriented more to assessing readiness at the tactical or unit
level.  This capability could be used to automate and expedite
analyses now completed as part of the JCS joint reviews.  A JCS
official told us that funding has just been approved to implement
this project.  It is important to note that as JCS develops the
planned software programs, the system would still incorporate SORTS,
with its problems, as well as multiple other data systems to provide
a broader assessment of readiness issues at multiple levels. 
At the service level, only the Army has taken significant actions on
its own to identify and collect data to provide a more comprehensive
assessment of readiness.  The Army Readiness Management System
(ARMS), which began during the past year, is a 4-year effort to
combine SORTS data with Army installation status reports and the
Training and Doctrine Command's training status report to develop a
comprehensive assessment of unit, operational, and training
readiness.\3 The Army's focus in developing ARMS has been on
improving or enhancing information provided by SORTS reports.  As
part of this effort, unit commanders are now required to report data
in a number of additional categories.  While this supplemental data
is not used by reporting units to set C-ratings, the data is used by
the Army to do supplemental analyses and make some projections of
future impacts on readiness.  For example, data now collected
pertains to crew proficiency, the percentage of specialty training
completed, and PERSTEMPO.  Moreover, the software program used in
ARMS allows Army officials at all levels to quickly develop and
portray current, historical, trend, and near-term predictive
readiness information. 
The Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force continue to rely on SORTS to
provide readiness information and have not required commanders to
provide information on additional indicators since our 1994 report. 
The Navy has started analyzing existing SORTS data in more finite
ways to enhance its usefulness.  This effort includes analyses by
fleet, type of ship, type of aircraft, and deployed status.  Within
the next year, Navy officials hope to include information outside of
SORTS, for example, maintenance data and equipment cannibalization
data, as part of its analyses in an effort to develop some short-term
readiness forecast capability.  The Marine Corps has continued to
collect and report only those indicators required by JCS regulation
as a part of SORTS, and officials told us they have no plans to
systematically obtain other readiness information. 
Air Force officials told us they see no need to use readiness
indicators other than those provided by SORTS.  Instead, they believe
that SORTS reporting needs to be improved, and they are exploring
ways to make the SORTS data more sensitive to readiness changes by
narrowing the percentage range for reporting at a certain C-rating. 
However, Air Force officials told us that changes to SORTS reporting
would not be proposed for at least a year. 
\2 Section 361 of the 1996 defense authorization act added a new
section to chapter 22 of 10 U.S.C., section 452, requiring the
Secretary of Defense to submit quarterly reports on military
readiness to the Congress. 
\3 An installation status report provides an assessment of mission
support, strategic mobility, housing, community, utility, and
environmental infrastructure assets on an Army installation.  The
training status report provides an assessment of the Training and
Doctrine Command's current and future capability to provide skilled
soldiers, training and equipment criteria, and sound doctrine for
Army units. 
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5
We continue to have concerns that not enough attention is being
devoted to ensuring the accuracy and completeness of SORTS--the
beginning point for higher-level assessments at the operational and
strategic levels.  Continuing shortcomings in SORTS, both in terms of
its inherent limitations and seeming disconnects, need to be
addressed if DOD is to have a credible foundation upon which a more
comprehensive readiness reporting system can be built.  In addressing
these deficiencies, DOD should develop additional readiness
indicators, and ensure that they are integrated into assessments of
readiness on a unit-level basis within each of the services. 
We commend JCS and OSD efforts to develop broader capabilities for
measuring readiness.  However, some of those efforts involve making
use of existing databases, apart from SORTS, to develop a more
comprehensive assessment of readiness.  We believe that efforts will
be required to ensure the accuracy and completeness of those
databases.  For example, while the potential for PERSTEMPO to
adversely affect retention raises concerns, OSD's primary database
dealing with reasons for separating from military service has
historically captured limited information on why separations occur. 
An OSD official expressed hope that as data systems used in OSD's
baseline project come into increased use, senior leaders will exert
pressure to enhance the quality of these data systems.  We believe
that actions to identify database requirements, limitations, and
needed improvements should occur concurrent with the baseline
-------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:5.1
This concludes my prepared statement.  I would be happy to respond to
any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee may have. 
=========================================================== Appendix I
Army Ranger Training:  Safety Improvements Need to Be
Institutionalized (GAO/NSIAD-97-29, Jan.  2, 1997). 
Military Readiness:  Data and Trends for April 1995 to March 1996
(GAO/NSIAD-96-194, Aug.  2, 1996). 
Operation and Maintenance Funding:  Trends in Army and Air Force Use
of Funds for Combat Forces and Infrastructure (GAO/NSIAD-96-141, June
4, 1996). 
Chemical and Biological Defense:  Emphasis Remains Insufficient to
Resolve Continuing Problems (GAO/T-NSIAD-96-154, May 1, 1996). 
Civilian Downsizing:  Unit Readiness Not Adversely Affected, but
Future Reductions a Concern (GAO/NSIAD-96-143BR, Apr.  22, 1996). 
Military Readiness:  A Clear Policy Is Needed to Guide Management of
Frequently Deployed Units (GAO/NSIAD-96-105, Apr.  8, 1996). 
Chemical and Biological Defense:  Emphasis Remains Insufficient to
Resolve Continuing Problems (GAO/NSIAD-96-103, Mar.  29, 1996). 
DOD Reserve Components:  Issues Pertaining to Readiness
(GAO/T-NSIAD-96-130, Mar.  21, 1996). 
Military Readiness:  Data and Trends for January 1990 to March 1995
(GAO/NSIAD-96-111BR, Mar.  4, 1996). 
Peace Operations:  Effect of Training, Equipment, and Other Factors
on Unit Capability (GAO/NSIAD-96-14, Oct.  18, 1995). 
Military Personnel:  High Aggregate Personnel Levels Maintained
Throughout Drawdown (GAO/NSIAD-95-97, June 2, 1995). 
Military Readiness:  Improved Assessment Measures Are Evolving
(GAO/T-NSIAD-95-117, Mar.  16, 1995). 
Military Readiness:  DOD Needs to Develop a More Comprehensive
Measurement System (GAO/NSIAD-95-29, Oct.  27, 1994). 
Military Readiness:  Current Indicators Need to Be Expanded for a
More Comprehensive Assessment (GAO/T-NSIAD-94-160, Apr.  21, 1994). 
*** End of document. ***

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