The Department of Defense (DoD) must address data reporting deficiencies to better prevent hazing and to improve response training.

From fiscal year (FY) 2017-2020, DoD reported 183 to 299 complaints, but a 2018 survey found that those numbers are understated by “tens of thousands” of hazing incidents. Further, DoD’s reports to Congress did not include information on informal hazing complaints and other materials.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), in a new report, is recommending that DoD should gather more complete reporting for better hazing prevention and response training.

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“Better data that accurately reports the number of hazing incidents, includes data on informal hazing complaints and complaints from National Guard personnel in Title 32 status, and complete data will better position DOD and Congress to make decisions on how to prevent and respond to hazing in the military,” wrote GAO in its report.

The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) hasn’t assessed servicemember harassment prevention and response training, and told GAO that they didn’t proactively review the services’ training plans because “DEOMI did not have the resources to execute this responsibility.”

Further, DoD certifies Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) professionals by training them to respond to complaints and as of 2021, approximately 76 percent of MEO professional billets in in DoD were filled with MEO professionals. However, the Army National Guard and Army Reserve have only filled 226 of 408 billets (55 percent) and 120 of 266 billets (45 percent), respectively.

“Army and Army Reserve officials said that vacant billets are a result of commanders not providing soldiers, or submitting the documentation needed, to staff their MEO programs,” wrote GAO. “Until commanders in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve provide soldiers for MEO professional positions, and the Army National Guard and Army Reserve plan to address shortfalls in MEO professionals, these organizations will be limited in their abilities to support commanders and respond to harassment complaints.”

GAO is making 12 recommendations to DoD, such as taking steps to improve data quality in its reports, assess, and reinforce servicemember training, and filling vacant MEO billets. DoD generally concurred with the recommendations. Additionally, GAO is making a matter for congressional consideration to require DoD continue reporting hazing data to Congress.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.