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Research Questions

  1. What changes have been made to DoD and Service policies and processes for managing adverse and reportable information regarding general and flag officers since the 2010 RAND review?
  2. What are the policies and processes for managing adverse and reportable information regarding officers in pay grades O-6 and below?
  3. To what extent are there new or persisting issues regarding the interpretation or application of policies on adverse and reportable information?
  4. What can be done to address any misalignment between Senate, DoD, and Service expectations, policies, and processes?

Decisions about U.S. military officer appointments, promotions, and retirements weigh both favorable and unfavorable information. For its own decisionmaking, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) relies on the military departments to provide reliable and consistent information about military officers' performance and conduct. Additionally, DoD must include this information with its nominations for personnel actions that require Presidential approval or Senate confirmation. However, it is challenging to standardize the management of information that is complex, unique to each officer, and not always readily available.

In this report, the authors describe DoD and Service policies and self-reported processes for tracking and reporting adverse and other potentially unfavorable information about the conduct of military officers. The authors document progress made since 2010, when RAND researchers first evaluated these processes. The authors also outline new or persisting differences in how policies are interpreted or applied; describe processes that differ by Service that might be problematic; and identify opportunities to correct misalignment among Senate, DoD, and Service expectations, policies, and processes.

Key Findings

The revised policies offer more detail on definitions and reporting requirements, but some limitations remain

  • The DoD policy permits behaviors to be reported as adverse for some officers but not for others on the basis of the action their superiors took.
  • Whether an officer is considered under investigation when the complaint is in the "intake" phase is unclear.
  • Whether internet searches for information are expected is unstated.

The processes for gathering and reporting this information are labor-intensive and time-consuming and require coordination across many offices

  • The Services report that allocated resources are inadequate to manage the increased workload newly required by Congress.

There are significant database and personnel obstacles to accessing information

  • Some software limitations prevent efficient and effective searches.
  • The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database cannot be checked as required by DoD policy because authorization is for law enforcement purposes only.
  • The Service headquarters have differing levels of access to command-directed investigation and Military Equal Opportunity investigation information; as a result, that information is not consistently reported in officer personnel action packages, putting some officers at a disadvantage compared with their peers in other Services.

The Senate Armed Services Committee still has concerns about receiving all of the information it should, when it should

  • The Services and DoD will never review officer files with the exact same lens as the Senate.
  • Where to draw the line on what information to report is a source of ongoing concern.


  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) should further refine definitions and reporting requirements to address ambiguities in DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1320.04 and align DoD and Senate requirements.
  • OSD should remove the policy language stating that the level or type of a superior's disciplinary action in response to an officer's behavior should in part determine whether substantiated allegations should be reported.
  • OSD and the Services should sustain and extend the positive aspects of current processes.
  • OSD should detail in policy the reporting requirements and processes for officers seeking cross-Service and cross-component transfers.
  • OSD and the Services should invest in data systems and personnel to ensure that data checks are as complete and accurate as possible and that personnel action packages proceed in a timely manner.
  • OSD should require changes to remedy the lack of standardization among the Services regarding headquarters-level access to information from command-directed investigations and monitor for compliance.
  • OSD should update DoDI 1320.04 to remove the required check of the NCIC database, since such use is unauthorized, and indicate any replacement.
  • OSD should consider whether additional data sources should be checked.
  • The Services should prepare a user-friendly officer's guide on adverse and reportable information.
  • General and Flag Officer Matters should discuss with the DoD and Service inspector general offices options to address concerns about requirements to include unredacted investigation files in personnel action packages for the Senate.
  • OSD and the Services should provide training on how to prepare adverse and reportable information summaries that meet Senate expectations.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Personnel Policy) and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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