Military service academies: actions needed to better assess the organizational climate

What the GAO found

The United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, and United States Air Force Academy collect information about their organizational climate using a variety of tools. However, the DOD’s climate survey — the academies’ primary information-gathering tool — does not provide complete and reliable information. Specifically, the survey has methodological issues regarding security, response rates, and post-survey weighting that limit its usability. Further, although the academies monitor the number and basis of equal opportunity complaints, they do not fully capture information on alleged incidents of discrimination and harassment that are not submitted through the complaint handling system. complaints. The DOD is taking steps to address methodological issues in its investigation, but without addressing alleged incidents that are not submitted through the complaints system, the academies will continue to have an incomplete picture of their organizational climate. This will limit the ability of the academies to identify problems, implement actions and measure results.

Steps to Identify and Correct Organizational Climate Problems

Service academies have taken steps to improve the organizational climate by incorporating best practices for managing workforce diversity. Specifically, the academies have taken steps to demonstrate leadership commitment, utilize strategic planning, improve student engagement, and improve recruitment, among others. For example, between 2019 and 2021, all three academies developed diversity and inclusion strategic plans, and each academy created or restructured student leadership positions related to diversity and inclusion.

Each academy has plans to measure the effect of its actions to improve the climate. However, they are unable to assess the effectiveness of their actions because they have not fully developed or implemented performance measures, such as measures to review disciplinary action for bias. Without such measures, academies cannot hold accountable those responsible for actions.

Academy students expressed a range of perceptions regarding the academy’s organizational climate in 34 GAO-led focus groups. For example, while most groups organized by race and ethnicity agreed that the use of offensive terms or insults is rare, these groups differed in their view of how command officials work with people of diverse backgrounds. However, most focus groups agreed that they would recommend the academy to a friend or family member.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to the Department of Defense, creating an inclusive environment free from harassment and discrimination is a priority. As military service academies are a major source of officer commissions, accounting for approximately 18% of all officer commissions in fiscal year 2019, they play a key role in developing officers who will be tasked with lead a diverse army.

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 included a provision for the GAO to report on equal opportunity claims, climate investigations, and programs to address climate issues in military service academies. Specifically, this report discusses (1) the extent to which academies collect information to develop a comprehensive climate picture; (2) the extent to which academies have taken action to improve the climate; and (3) current student perceptions of climate.

GAO conducted 34 focus groups with current students at the three service academies, analyzed complaints data from fiscal years 2017 through 2021, reviewed documentation, and interviewed officials.

Aubrey L. Morgan