GAO: Recruiters resort to strong-arm tactics, including harassment or criminal means such as falsifying documents.
WASHINGTON -- Military recruiters have increasingly resorted to overly aggressive tactics and even criminal activity to attract young soldiers to the battlefield, congressional investigators say.
Grueling combat conditions in Iraq, a decent commercial job market and tough monthly recruiting goals have made recruiters' jobs more difficult, the Government Accountability Office said Monday. This has probably prompted more recruiters to resort to strong-arm tactics, including harassment or criminal means such as falsifying documents, to satisfy demands, GAO states.
The report was done at the behest of lawmakers who were concerned not enough was being done to curb aggressive recruitment practices.
"Even one incident of recruiter wrongdoing can erode public confidence in the recruiting process," the GAO warned.
According to service data provided to the GAO, substantiated cases of wrongdoing jumped by more than half, from about 400 cases in 2004 to almost 630 in 2005. Meanwhile, criminal cases -- such as sexual harassment or falsifying medical records -- more than doubled in those years, jumping from 30 incidents to 70.
There are some 22,000 personnel working for the military's recruiting program, which cost more than $1.5 billion this year. On staff are some 14,000 "frontline" recruiters who must enlist two applicants per month.
"Given the large numbers of service members DOD must recruit every year, there is ample opportunity for recruiter irregularities to occur," the report said, using the acronym for the Department of Defense.
More than half the recruiting crimes reported in 2005 were by the Army, which is bearing the brunt of the war in Iraq. The Army announced last week it was on track to meet this year's recruiting goal of 80,000 applicants, pulling itself up from a severe shortfall last year.
GAO warned that reports of recruiter misconduct are likely too low because the services do not track such cases and many incidents likely go unreported. The Defense Department, GAO found, is not "in a sound position to assure the general public that it knows the full extent to which recruiter irregularities are occurring."
In a letter to the GAO included in the report, the Defense Department said it agreed the services must establish an internal system to track reports of wrongdoing.
"We certainly agree with the GAO statement that even one incident of recruiter wrongdoing can erode public confidence in DOD's recruiting process," wrote Michael Dominguez, principal deputy to the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "We also take this issue very seriously and believe that the oversight framework recommended by GAO will adequately address the issue."
GAO previously has suggested the military link incentives for recruiters more closely to an applicant's ability to complete basic training, rather than to their willingness to sign up. This would help ensure recruiters solicit more applicants who meet military standards, GAO contends.
According to GAO, the Pentagon concurred with that previous recommendation as well but has not mandated the services implement it.
Democrats on Monday seized on the report as evidence Pentagon leadership was failing to oversee one of the military's most important personnel programs.
"America deserves better than a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for military recruiting violations," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Dominguez said military recruiters have earned America's respect and that incidents of misconduct represent a small fraction of recruiting personnel.
"We will continue our robust oversight to ensure the level of integrity for this recruiting enterprise meets the high standard expected and deserved by the people of this country," Dominguez said.