Cover: Improving Oversight and Coordination of Department of Defense Programs That Address Problematic Behaviors Among Military Personnel

Improving Oversight and Coordination of Department of Defense Programs That Address Problematic Behaviors Among Military Personnel

Published Jan 25, 2017

by Jefferson P. Marquis, Coreen Farris, Kimberly Curry Hall, Kristy N. Kamarck, Nelson Lim, Douglas Shontz, Paul S. Steinberg, Robert Stewart, Thomas E. Trail, Jennie W. Wenger, et al.


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Research Questions

  1. What risk factors are associated with problematic behaviors?
  2. What methods can prevent problematic behaviors?
  3. How are these factors and methods similar and different?
  4. What Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) organizations address problematic behaviors, and how are they structured?
  5. What coordination and oversight mechanisms do OSD organizations use?
  6. How well managed are OSD organizations to address problematic behavior?
  7. What alternatives exist to OSD's current organizational structures that suggest ways in which OSD might improve its oversight and coordination of programs to address problematic behavior?
  8. To what extent should behavior programs be integrated, and how should that occur?

Pressures inside and outside the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to reduce the incidence of problematic behaviors within the military are inducing the Office of the Secretary of Defense to rethink how it is organized to oversee and coordinate DoD's varied behavior-mitigation efforts. This report provides the results of a RAND study that examined the integration of programs for addressing a specified set of problematic behaviors: sexual harassment, sexual assault, unlawful discrimination, substance abuse, suicide, and hazing. The report combines the results of the two major lines of research: the first related to the development of a typology of common problematic behavior risk and protective factors and prevention methods based on a review of the behavioral science literature, and the second related to the organization, coordination, oversight, and managerial practices of programs to address problematic behavior based on document analysis and policy discussions with DoD and service headquarters officials. Following a discussion of findings from the two lines of research, the report lays out a series of recommendations for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to improve its understanding of the interrelationships among problematic behaviors and its oversight and coordination of programs to address those behaviors.

Key Findings

The Behavioral Analysis Presents Evidence About Risk Factors That Multiple Behaviors Share

  • The common risk factors are attitudes about problematic behaviors, an organizational climate that fosters or discourages the problematic behavior, and access to the means to engage in the problematic behavior.
  • These factors are linked, and targeted, multidimensional prevention strategies could address them.
  • Attitudes seem to predict problematic behavior best when organizational context also supports the behavior. Limiting access to the means of performing a problematic behavior can reduce the likelihood of the behavior occurring.
  • Combined prevention strategies could be developed for multiple problematic behaviors.

OSD Should Consider Changes in How It Oversees and Coordinates Efforts to Prevent Problematic Behavior

  • Some of the practices that OSD employs to address certain problematic behaviors do not conform to basic managerial principles.
  • Structures focused on products or services that contain all the functional elements needed to perform their tasks are better suited to achieving oversight and coordination objectives than structures that are organized along functional lines are.
  • OSD needs better tracking and accountability mechanisms for problematic behaviors.
  • Personnel and funds for some efforts to address problematic behavior are being stretched to the point that mandated tasks cannot be done or cannot be done well within specified time periods.
  • OSD has limited resources to devote to overseeing departmental efforts aimed at addressing problematic behaviors, and these resources are distributed widely and unevenly.


  • Review existing assessment systems that monitor the role of cultural and climate factors in promoting or inhibiting problematic behaviors, and modify these systems where there are coverage gaps or methodological problems.
  • Review the effects that prevention and response strategies that DoD is currently using to cope with individual problematic behaviors can have on other (nontarget) behaviors.
  • Review departmental staffing levels for the oversight of problematic behaviors, especially hazing and sexual harassment; in strategic plans, prioritize tasks to address problematic behavior, and ensure that policy mandates can be implemented within resource limitations and timelines.
  • Ensure the development of strategic plans for sexual harassment, and complete the substance-misuse strategic plan.
  • Consider streamlining OSD management of certain problematic behaviors, either by establishing self-contained programs or by developing a matrix structure with functionally integrated programs whose personnel report to both senior functional and program managers.
  • The authors make additional recommendations, but these five are the highest priority.

This research was sponsored by the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO) and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NDRI), 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.

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