Recruiting and the CBO Report

Recruiting for the US Armed Forces is getting more difficult. Under pressure from difficult deployments, lost confidence in leadership, and competition from the private sector, we've seen the standards of the bellwether of recruiting, the US Army, slide over the past couple of years.

Jeff Danziger 11/2106 cartoon

A recent CBO report looked into recruiting. The purpose of the CBO report was to project "potential levels of personnel for all of the active, national guard, and reserve military components through 2010 and examines the components' ability to overcome any adverse trends in recruiting or retention through the use of incentives and other tools." From the outset, the report acknowledges real problems:

The U.S. military's ability to maintain the force levels required for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan rests on recruiting and retaining service members. Several of the military components did not achieve their recruiting goals during fiscal year 2005. In particular, all of the Army components missed their recruiting goals at the same time that the overall Army was attempting to increase its personnel levels and its number of combat brigades. In 2006, some military components have had a turnaround, approaching or meeting their quantity goals, but in some cases have done so at the expense of their goals for recruits' qualifications.

So, what does the CBO have to say about the state of recruiting that isn't caught by the media? (all information below is for the US Army unless otherwise specified)

  • Despite authority to maintain a force level greater than 482,400 through normal annual budget mechanisms, the Army has chosen to rely on supplemental appropriations for FY2006 and FY2007. The CBO report does not explain why the Army chose to take this position despite authorization for 512,400 through annual budget and 534,400 through supplementals.
  • Lowered standards for enlistees harms both force quality and future re-enlistments. The soldiers involved in the Haditha incident may be an indication of both.  
  • Despite a DOD goal of 90% of recruits having a high school diploma, 2005 actual was 87% (down from 92% in 2004).
  • Quality is partially indicated by Armed Forces Qualifications Test (AFQT). In 2005, only 67% scored above the 50th percentile (compared to 72% in 2004).
  • As of the CBO, through Aug 2006 the percentage with high school diplomas dropped further to 82% and AFQT above 50th percentile dropped to 61%.
  • Recruiting pool expanded January 2006 when the upper age limit was changed from 35 to 40 and then increased it again in June 2006 to 42.
  • More special waivers that grant entry to enlistees that would otherwise be prohibited from serving, including accepting more tatted up soldiers (while at the same time the Chinese Army tightened the same rules).
  • Re-enlistment bonuses for 2005 were more than 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 combined @ $505.6 million. 2006 was on track to exceed $650m.
  • Until November 2003, stop loss orders were applied to occupational specialties. In 2003, this was expanded to cover entire units.
    • A stop loss order retains personnel beyond their obligation for a period beginning 90 days before deployment, during the deployment and for 90 days after the deployment.
    • Termed "involuntarily retained", almost all IR leave the Army after the stop-loss ends
    • At any point during FY2005, there were 7,000 IR. For part of FY2006, this increased to a monthly average of 7,900.
  • For a 10% increase in advertising, bonuses, and educational benefits, a 1% increase in enlistment occurs.
  • For a 10% increase in recruiters, a 4-6% increase in enlistments occurs, however recruiters take 18 months to ramp up to full effectiveness.
  • CBO estimates that a 1% increase in the US unemployment rate, from 4.7% to 5.7%, will result in 8,000 recruits.
  • Why do we care? We care because limits on public forces creates increased reliance on private forces.

    Of the many arguments given for privatizing is "surge capacity", or the ability of the private sector to quickly provide forces without long-term retention of idle public forces. I don't think dispelling this argument requires too much creative analysis when considering the nature of the "Long War" and the length of time that has already progressed. However, if we look at recruiting limitations we may see a deeper requirement to rely on private forces. But why is this? Because the Army and Congress fail to focus on creating a larger standing force? Because the tooth-to-tail ratio continues to grow (e.g. mini-Americas in theater that go beyond providing creature comforts)? Or because institutionally or politically it is simply too hard to upsize the Army for the mission, meaning higher pay and benefits for what is hopefully a temporarily upsized force?

    We must consider the reality that lowering the quality of forces in a counter-insurgency and irregular warfare situations is self-limiting and destructive. Again looking at Haditha, there is a requirement for mature and competent soldiers.

    See related posting from Feb 2006 and April 2006.