Measuring ReadinessSTATEMENT OF
MR. MARK E. GEBICKE,
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
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
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
-- What corrective actions have been proposed and taken to measure readiness?
-- What further actions are needed?
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 hand.
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.
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 indicators.
WHAT DISCONNECTS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH READINESS REPORTING, AND WHY DO
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. 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
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
WHAT CORRECTIVE ACTIONS HAVE BEEN PROPOSED AND TAKEN TO MEASURE READINESS?
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
-- 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
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.
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. 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
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
WHAT FURTHER ACTIONS ARE NEEDED?
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 development.
- - - - - - - - -
This concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy to respond
to any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee may have.
RECENT GAO REPORTS AND TESTIMONIES DEALING WITH READINESS
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,
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).