Cover: Air Force Personnel Research

Air Force Personnel Research

Recommendations for Improved Alignment

Published Sep 15, 2014

by Carra S. Sims, Chaitra M. Hardison, Kirsten M. Keller, Abby Robyn

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Research Questions

  1. How does personnel research within the U.S. Air Force support organizational policy decisions?
  2. What is the history of personnel research in the Air Force and the present personnel research efforts and the organizations that house them?
  3. What are some challenges in the current situation and the components that need to be included in the Air Force's solution?

This document discusses how personnel research within the U.S. Air Force supports organizational policy decisions. It discusses the history of personnel research in the Air Force and the present personnel research efforts and the organizations that house them. Though the Air Force has undergone a reorganization that affects some of the organizational units we discuss herein, to the extent that these units undertake the same independent personnel research-related activities, the findings still pertain. The authors highlight some challenges in the situation and the components that need to be included in the Air Force's solution. The report focuses on three objectives: (1) describe the Air Force organizations collecting personnel-related data and conducting personnel-related research, identifying the type of data collected, type of research and studies conducted, and how these initiatives fit into the organization's mission; (2) examine how much these organizations communicate and coordinate their efforts, share data, potentially overlap in their current work, and have the necessary resource capacity and expertise; and (3) identify potential gaps in the structure of personnel research efforts and recommend strategies for eliminating those gaps.

Key Findings

The 1991 Disestablishment of the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory Has Left a Void in Air Force Personnel Research and Development

  • Historically, the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory (AFHRL) was tasked with responsibility for personnel research and development. With AFHRL and its heirs gone, no organization has had that same level of responsibility for research and the broad, strategic research and development focus for many years. Although some research and the collection of a variety of personnel data have continued, there is no single resource for consumers of personnel research.
  • Air Force personnel research efforts are currently decentralized, with several different organizations involved in collecting personnel-related data and conducting personnel-related research.
  • Although many of the key elements of a smoothly working personnel research system exist in the Air Force or can be brought to bear with help from outside contractors, the system is not optimal. Specifically, this report identifies some critical issues that inhibit the quality and efficiency of personnel research efforts, including narrow organizational missions, inconsistent data-collection coordination and data sharing, a lack of internal personnel research expertise, limited resources, reliance on contractors, and potential duplication of effort.


  • An organizational structure is needed that has clear oversight responsibility over all the personnel research efforts ongoing in the Air Force.
  • This structure must have sufficient authority to coordinate the disparate elements of the Air Force's existing personnel research system.
  • This organizational element must include institutional knowledge to help determine true gaps in knowledge and the collection of the most-ideal data to fill these gaps.
  • Quality control would ensure that ongoing and one-off research efforts meet minimum standards for quality and utility.
  • Additional personnel research expertise, and resources would enable the Air Force to optimize its personnel system and operate as efficiently as possible without overburdening existing or new organizational structures.
  • Data should be shared more efficiently without upsetting other vital priorities and missions.
  • Increased visibility of the structure to the wider Air Force would enable it to serve as a clearinghouse.
  • The authors recommend inclusion of a strategic research and development component.
  • The oversight structure could be leanly composed of a few key personnel. This course maximizes speed and economics over quality.
  • The various personnel research organizations could be reorganized under a single oversight organization. This course of action maximizes quality and would likely not be either economical or fast.
  • A hybrid approach could also make sense: a new directorate with a division focused on job analysis-type data collection and a second directorate incorporating the other, more-disparate elements of personnel research activities. This course does not explicitly optimize or sacrifice cost, speed, or quality.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force Directorate of Force Management Policy (AF/A1P) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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