WASHINGTON – The military's system of tracking and sharing wrongdoing by recruiters is flawed and lacks appropriate oversight,according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
The report,released Jan. 28,analyzed 346 cases of substantiated recruiter misconduct in 2008 from all military branches. It also examined policies for reporting and dealing with these offenses and the oversight of the Office of the Secretary of Defense,which receives all reports of recruiter misconduct.
The study was conducted because “the service components rely on their recruiters to act with the utmost integrity because even a single incident of wrongdoing on a part of a recruiter – a recruiter irregularity – can adversely affect the service components' ability to recruit qualified individuals,” the report says.
Inappropriate acts committed by military recruiters range from lies – such as an Army recruiter who falsified the results of physical fitness tests for two recruits – to larger ethical issues,including a Marine Corps recruiter who impregnated a 17-year-old high school girl he was supposed to be recruiting.
Although it varies by branch,concealment and falsification of documents by recruiters was the most pervasive irregularity,though sexual misconduct and unauthorized relationships with applicants also ranked high on the list.
Other offenses listed in the report include a Navy recruiter who purchased illegal drugs with recruits,an Air Force recruiter who drank alcohol and had inappropriate sexual conduct with a recruit and an Army recruiter who sexually harassed high school students,influenced a recruit to lie to investigators and endangered applicants while driving in a government vehicle.
“Recruiter misconduct of any kind harms the young people involved,erodes moral and ethical standards of the armed forces,and damages public support for military operations and recruiting by undermining the trust and high esteem that the American people place in their military forces,” said Rep. Ike Skelton,D-Mo.,chairman of the House Armed Services Committee,in a statement.
He said that,while the military has taken strides to improve the conduct of its recruiters,the recommendations in the report will help the military keep the trust of the American people.
Substantiated cases of recruiter misconduct compared to the overall number those who joined the military are quite small – an average of 0.22 percent from all branches from 2006 to 2008. It is an improvement from previous years when figures were higher and the military was rocked by recruiting scandals.
In 2005,there were 629 substantiated cases of recruiter misconduct,according to a 2006 GAO report. That estimate might have been low,as “the services do not track all allegations of recruiter wrongdoing. Accordingly,service data likely underestimate the true number of recruiter irregularities,” that report said.
The number of substantiated recruiter misconduct cases dropped from 616 in 2006,to 525 in 2007 and to 451 in 2008. Because some cases involved more than one recruiter,and for other reasons,the new report analyzed 346 cases.
According to a 2006 investigation by the Associated Press,one of every 200 frontline recruiters was disciplined for sexual misconduct in 2005,along with at least 35 Army recruiters,18 from the Marine Corps and 12 from the Air Force disciplined for sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior.
Problems of tracking these misdeeds still exist. Each military branch has been interpreting regulations differently and reporting transgressions to the OSD in its own fashion,making it difficult to have complete oversight and spot troubled areas,according to the report.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense said the department would clarify reporting guidelines and work with each branch to improve methods of sharing data.
The new GAO report revealed a lack of understanding and communication among command levels. As a result,commanders don't have the chance to learn from mistakes. The Air Force is the only branch that shares recruiter irregularity data with all command levels.
Christa D'Andrea,chair of public affairs for the Air Force Recruiting Service,said the service is pleased that the report recognizes its effective system of handling recruiter misconduct and is proud of the performance of its personnel. The Air Force has discharged only two recruiters in 2009,she said.
Marine Corps recruiters are carefully chosen and receive ethics training before and during their service,said Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin. The corps has a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct and any recruiters found guilty are punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,she said.
The Navy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The report outlined basic punishments used throughout the military,but did not tie all of them to specific incidents.
The Army,which had no comment on the report,most commonly reprimanded recruiters with adverse administrative action,such as placing a letter of reprimand in the recruiter's permanent file. Marine Corps recruiters were usually removed from their recruiting duties,and the Navy and Air Force most commonly imposed non-adverse administrative action,such as counseling.
For the most serious offenses,recruiters were removed from the service,court-martialed or demoted and docked pay. One of the harshest examples of punishment listed in the report was that of an Army recruiter who provided answers to a recruit for a recruitment test. The recruiter was “court-martialed,reduced in rank,and discharged with an ‘other than honorable discharge,'” the report says.
Actions taken against recruiters were commonly approached on a case-by-case basis and varied widely by state,especially in the Army National Guard,according to report. Punishments for acts of sexual misconduct ranged from non-adverse administrative action to removal from service,and a Marine Corps Recruiting Command official interviewed for the report said commanders “take into account how a particular action will affect a recruiter's family before deciding on the appropriate level of action.”
The tough economy and a high unemployment rate have made a career in the military more appealing,but only three of every 10 Americans ages 17 to 24 are qualified to join the military,according to the GAO report. To snag the healthy non-criminals who are fit to serve,the military employs nearly 30,000 recruiters.
Each branch faces yearly quotas. The Army needs to enlist up to 80,000 people annually. In 2008 and 2009,all branches met or exceeded their quotas,and during 2006 and 2007,the military averaged 99 percent of its goal. In 2009,the armed forces added 296,505 recruits.
Recruiters have had an advantage in the past eight years due to the No Child Left Behind Act,which requires that all public secondary schools provide military recruiters the same access to facilities as they do to institutions of higher education,in addition to making contact information for every student available.