U.S. Military Recruiters Charged with Violations

According to a new government report, allegations of wrongdoing by military recruiters rose from 4,400 cases in 2004 to 6,600 cases in 2005 — and numbers are likely worse than reported. Violations range from falsifying documents to telling a recruit not to reveal a legal or medical problem that could bar enlistment. The rise in recruiter problems could reflect pressure to meet wartime recruiting goals.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a pretty healthy job market have made military recruiters' jobs more difficult. The armed forces are still meeting all of their recruiting goals, but some standards have been relaxed. For instance, the Army is allowing more recruits in who score very low on its aptitude test.

And now comes word that some recruiters are cutting corners. A study just released by the Government Accountability Office found a 50 percent increase in wrongdoing among recruiters. That includes falsifying documents or telling a recruit not to reveal a legal or medical problem that could bar enlistment.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

The GAO report found that recruiters are more likely to commit wrongdoing at the end of the month, when there are just days left to meet their goals, and the numbers are striking. In 2004, there were 4,400 allegations of wrongdoing among military recruiters. By 2005, the number rose to 6,600. There was also a greater-than-50 percent increase in substantiated allegations: 400 in 2004, 630 in 2005.

Mr. DAVID SIEGEL(ph) (University of Maryland, College Park): It is not surprising that recruiting is having problems.

BOWMAN: David Siegel is a military sociologist at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mr. SIEGEL: There are tremendous pressures on recruiters, and when there are pressures on recruiters, you find recruiting violations.

BOWMAN: And the GAO indicated the numbers are likely worse than reported. The armed services don't keep a close eye on the behavior of their 20,000 recruiters. It's possible incidents go unreported. An internal Defense Department survey last year found that 20 percent of active duty recruiters believe irregularities occur frequently.

But Bill Carr, a top personnel official at the Pentagon, says the number of recruiter problems is higher because the Air Force has improved its ability to track wrongdoers.

Mr. BILL CARR (Personnel Official, Pentagon): The Air Force, at our urging, expanded the window in which it looks at the misbehavior. For example, in the past they used to look at from the time they came in contact with the applicant until they shipped off to basic training. In 2005 they changed that and included the full window of the period of their basic training. So, 2004 to 2005 is comparing an apple to an orange.

BOWMAN: Carr was asked about the Pentagon's internal survey, which showed that one-fifth of all active duty recruiters thought wrongdoing was frequent.

Mr. CARR: It would depend on the word wrongdoing, so I can't agree with that because I don't know what it refers to.

BOWMAN: Still, Carr says the Pentagon will do more to track problem recruiters and he expects such an effort to be up and running in three months. The government report parallels similar statistics about the overall quality of recruits.

The Army is bringing in more recruits without high school degrees and it is using more waivers to let in recruits with medical problems or past criminal records. The Army granted waivers for 10 percent of recruits in 2001, 15 percent in 2005. Again, David Siegel of the University of Maryland.

Mr. SIEGEL: Clearly, allowing more people in without high-school degrees, allowing more people in who require moral waivers, that affects the quality of the force. And similarly, when you have people violating the standards, that also affects the quality of the force.

BOWMAN: The government report reflects an ongoing debate between Congress and the Pentagon over the health of the military, which went from draft to volunteer in 1973. One of the congressmen who called for the GAO report, Democrat Victor Snyder of Arkansas, said the all-volunteer military depends on successfully recruiting quality people. Just last month, the Pentagon's head of personnel, David Chu, was asked if the military was accepting inferior recruits. Chu said, no, is the short answer.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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