February 8, 2016
Most U.S. military service members would be unwilling to voluntarily extend overseas tours of duty, but some might agree to do so if offered financial incentives, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
The study found that nearly 60 percent of those surveyed were unwilling to voluntarily extend their tours because they believed doing so may adversely impact quality of life, morale and possibly job performance. A remainder of those surveyed reported interest in longer overseas tours under some circumstances, including if financial incentives or other inducements were offered.
The results suggest it should be possible for the military to achieve savings in deployment costs by extending tours without adversely affecting quality of life or morale in the case of these service members, according to researchers.
“We found that individuals who were separated from their families and serving shorter tours were less likely to volunteer to extend,” said Craig Bond, one of the lead authors of the study and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
While there were some preferences based on country locations, it was otherwise difficult to identify which service members would be amenable to extending tours without directly asking them, Bond said.
The Department of Defense moves about one-third of all its service members each year, at a cost of about $4.4 billion per year, including about $1.5 billion for transoceanic moves. Reducing the frequency of moves would result in cost savings in the long run, but would be highly variable in the near term.
U.S. defense officials asked RAND to outline a plan to increase the length of military tours, particularly overseas tours, along with an analysis of the effects on families, quality of life, job performance and potential cost savings.
The RAND study recommends that the best approach would be to offer voluntary extensions via a carefully designed auction-based incentive program in which service members can indicate the price at which they would be willing to extend their tour. This would enable achievement of some savings, while providing more stability for those service members willing to voluntarily extend their tours.
The study also recommends the Defense Department more fully evaluate existing incentive programs, both financial and in-kind, and continue to provide itself the flexibility to balance between personnel management goals and the goal of achieving savings.
The study, “Tour Lengths, Permanent Changes of Station, and Alternatives for Savings and Improved Stability,” can be found at www.rand.org. Other authors of the study are Jennifer Lamping Lewis, Henry Leonard, Julia Pollak, Christopher Guo and Bernard Rostker.
Research for the study was sponsored by the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense intelligence community.