Using the Person-Event Data Environment for Military Personnel Research in the Department of Defense

An Evaluation of Capability and Potential Uses

by David Knapp, Beth J. Asch, Christine DeMartini, Teague Ruder, Janet M. Hanley

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Research Questions

  1. Can RAND's FFRDCs effectively and efficiently use the PDE to support research studies for DoD?
  2. How does using the PDE compare with the traditional method of accessing manpower and personnel data for RAND's FFRDCs?
  3. What improvements to the PDE would be necessary for it to be used by RAND's FFRDCs for personnel research?

The objectives of the study described in this report are to determine whether the RAND Corporation's federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) can effectively and efficiently use the Person-Event Data Environment (PDE) to support manpower and personnel research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), to assess how using the PDE compares with existing approaches to accessing defense manpower data, and to identify what improvements to the PDE would be necessary for it to be used by RAND's FFRDCs for personnel research. The researchers' approach for assessing the PDE was to (1) identify the data collection and analytical requirements from three in-progress or completed RAND studies typical of manpower and personnel studies conducted in RAND's DoD FFRDCs and (2) replicate the data collection and analysis using the PDE.

The researchers conclude that a nonintegrated analytical environment, such as the PDE, impedes the efficient operation of a RAND FFRDC study relative to existing arrangements by eliminating the alignment of incentives between researcher and analytical environment. Furthermore, a single centralized analytical environment for research processes within DoD has the potential to reduce analytical capacity and discourage researchers from accumulating database-specific knowledge. However, the addition of the PDE as an alternative environment (i.e., a complement) instead of as a substitute strengthens DoD's analytical capacity. In addition, it represents a potential opportunity for DoD research sponsors to engage academic researchers outside of existing research support organizations with recurring DoD sponsor relationships by providing them a secure analytical environment for analysis.

Key Findings

A nonintegrated analytical environment, such as the PDE, impedes the efficient operation of a RAND FFRDC study relative to existing arrangements by eliminating the alignment of incentives between researcher and analytical environment.

  • The additional burdens imposed by the PDE process require delays and regulatory burden that do not improve the final research product. These additional costs could be outweighed by benefits from efficiencies or data safeguarding; however, the authors find limited evidence of realized efficiencies in the research process or improvements in data safeguarding relative to existing, required RAND FFRDC processes.

The PDE could serve as an alternative analytical environment for studies and analyses instead of as a single centralized environment.

  • A single centralized analytical environment for research processes within DoD has the potential to reduce analytical capacity and discourage researchers from accumulating database-specific knowledge.
  • The PDE represents a potential opportunity for DoD to engage academic researchers outside of existing research support organizations with recurring DoD sponsor relationships.
  • The addition of the PDE as an alternative environment (i.e., a complement) instead of as a substitute strengthens DoD's analytical capacity.

Recommendations

  • Ideally, future DoD efforts would focus on establishing clear requirements and a set of environments that satisfy the diverse range of analytical needs of DoD sponsors, provide quick-turn capabilities and the accumulation of DoD institutional expertise among subject-matter experts, and can be consistently and routinely monitored to ensure compliance with DoD data safeguarding and privacy policies.
  • Once requirements are clearly established and the set of analytical environments are known, sponsors of DoD research can choose the combination of research expertise and analytical environment that produces the quality research they require in an efficient, timely, and secure manner.
  • To improve processes, the PDE should significantly reduce response times, provide consistent and easy access to the PDE for qualified users, send proactive communication about planned or unplanned outages, and provide more user-controlled processes.
  • To improve user-friendliness, the PDE should (1) build the ability to execute programs from a command prompt so that projects can be run in the background without having to retain a connection to the PDE and (2) provide tutorials and example code for accessing the PDE from Windows or Macintosh computers and for accessing data through Oracle.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Conceptual Framework for a Study

  • Chapter Three

    General Requirements and Steps of a RAND FFRDC Study

  • Chapter Four

    Comparison of Study Steps Across Environments

  • Chapter Five

    Summary and Conclusions

  • Appendix

    Recommended Changes to the PDE

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted jointly by the Forces and Resources Policy Center within the RAND National Defense Research Institute and Personnel, Training, and Health Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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