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Service record screw-ups: Report blames a broken system for widespread errors, inaccuracies

Jun. 24, 2013 - 04:38PM   |  
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You've probably noticed inaccuracies in your service record, but a recent report shows the problems are so severe the Navy is operating at 'high risk,' potentially compromising advancement and retention.

You've probably noticed inaccuracies in your service record, but a recent report shows the problems are so severe the Navy is operating at 'high risk,' potentially compromising advancement and retention.

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You’ve probably noticed inaccuracies in your service record, but a recent report shows the problems are so severe the Navy is operating at “high risk,” potentially compromising advancement and retention.

The 2012 probe examined records of 750 sailors from 39 different active and reserve commands, spread across the spectrum of warfare communities, and found problems in every single record reviewed, sources tell Navy Times.

“It appears that the Navy is relying on inaccurate or incomplete information to advance, retain and assign its sailors,” said one senior official familiar with the findings, who spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity.

The report was conducted by a team under the chief of naval personnel tasked with evaluating online personnel systems. The findings were presented in a PowerPoint obtained by Navy Times. A CNP spokeswoman was unable to provide the actual report as of press time, but the PowerPoint presentation alone draws some stark conclusions.

“The absence of standardized processes, confusing and conflicting policy, and a system-wide lack of training all but guarantee that a majority of personnel records are inaccurate and/or incomplete,” the presentation states.

The review concentrated on several systems that read like alphabet soup:

Official Military Personnel File, or OMPF. This record contains images of every document that used to be in the paper field service record.

■ Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System, or NSIPS. This is used to perform some, but not all, Navy pay and personnel transactions.Commands have access to the system to view all of their sailors’ records.

■ Electronic Service Record, or ESR. This is the sailor’s individual display of his or her personnel data that’s entered in NSIPS.

■ Transaction Online Processing System, or TOPS. This also is used for pay and personnel transactions and to securely transfer those transactions.

Researchers found multiple factors are to blame for the system breakdown, ranging from user error to poorly trained officials and an unnecessarily complicated system.

“Performance of Navy personnel systems as a whole is unsatisfactory, and there is a high level of risk associated with the system’s current level of performance,” the report found.

Despite these findings, Navy officials say they are making improvements, and they should be seen by sailors as early as this summer, but definitely by October.

“I was not surprised [by the report’s findings],” said Rear Adm. Cindy Covell, commander of Navy Personnel Command, in a June 20 interview. “My reaction was an acknowledgment that there’s still issues out there that we need to improve on.”

But the senior official told Navy Times there is no sense of urgency.

“Everybody knows there’s a problem here,” he said. “But no one is talking about it. There’s been no open acknowledgment from leadership that they are hearing the complaints and focusing on fixes. This just doesn’t seem to be getting any traction.”

Awareness is a big issue on the deck plates, as well. Of those sailors surveyed in the Navy report, many didn’t even realize their service records were wrong, in part because the Navy never properly taught them what to look for.

Those who did try to correct mistakes, including trained personnel specialists and administrative officers, spent weeks, months and even years to get their records fixed with little or no success. Many gave up.

The senior official admitted his own record is wrong and he, too, gave up trying to get it fixed.

“Today’s personnel system is confusing and demoralizing for our sailors trying to navigate it,” he said.

'It's a mess'

The records study was completed in June 2012 and was presented to personnel leaders in September. Problems ranged from missing documents and information as well as difficult and confusing procedures that prevent them from fixing those problems.

“It’s a mess, a real hodgepodge of systems that look like they were created to address different issues. But where’s the unified plan?” said one unnamed personnel support detachment department head who was interviewed by investigators.

The frustration was further evident in the words of a personnel specialist first class up for chief : “If I can’t manage to get my records updated, how can anyone else? I’m afraid the board will look at me and decide I’m incompetent.”

Here are some of the main problems as outlined by the report:

■ No standardized processes or clearly defined duties and responsibilities exist for anyone involved in the records process. That includes sailors and admin professionals. This often results in sailors getting the “runaround” and requiring multiple visits to their personnel support detachment to fix a single problem.

■ Inadequate and hard-to-maintain information technology systems that are often unavailable and unreliable.

■ Lack of training that prevents anyone from fully taking advantage of the capabilities of the system.

■ Outdated, inaccurate, inconsistent and conflicting policy documents, user guides, user aids and websites that confuse users. Not to mention “inconsistent” help-desk support that often results in sailors getting the wrong advice.

■Access is difficult. Sailors, especially those afloat, often have limited access to computers and the Internet while on the job, and security concerns limit access from home. Also, most are often too busy while at sea to even access their records, officials said.

When sailors do try to access the system, they encounter up to seven different databases holding separate pieces of their records. Sites have separate logins, and checking each one is time-consuming.

“There are just too many online sites with information on each and every sailor,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class (AW/SW) Brian Collins.

The Oceana,Va.-based sailor said his OMPF is “confusing, hard to use and nearly impossible to get it accurate and updated,” and he feels the Navy needs to consolidate these databases.

“Leadership needs to decide on one website and go from there,” said an East Coast-based naval aircrewman who asked not to be identified. “It’s very tiresome to figure out who doesn’t have what in which system.”

The sailor then pointed out that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert demanded in May that personnel officials overhaul the Perform to Serve re-enlistment process because it was too bureaucratic and difficult for sailors to understand.

“I don’t think there’s a sailor out there that isn’t applauding CNO for making that stand,” he said. “But I’d argue the problems with [personnel support detachments] and electronic records, including the fact there’s so many online systems, is even more bureaucratic and confusing than PTS ever was.”

Fixes outlined

In addition to problems, the study also provided detailed steps that officials need to take to fix them.

The No. 1 action, which the presentation described as the “foundation for all others” is “establish standardized processes for all major personnel transactions.”

The Navy would thereby improve, for example, how awards are entered into the OMPF, or how warfare qualifications get entered in the ESR.

Each process, the presentation said, needed to be laid out “step-by-step” using illustrations that describe what’s expected of the sailor, as well as those providing the customer service. It would give all involved the ability to “to monitor [and] verify transfer of information within and between all personnel systems.”

The presentation said this should be completed as soon as possible, and set a January 2013 deadline to get it done.

Covell didn’t comment on the January deadline, but said her team at NPC is working toward another deadline — that of taking over the personnel support detachments in October from Navy Installations Command.

Why is this good for sailors?

PSDs process all pay and personnel actions and transactions from individual commands, and too often, they operate independently and inconsistently.

NPC hopes to empower them with a website that unites all of these systems while creating uniform procedures. The personnel detachments could begin using the website this summer.

The presentation also outlined other “required actions,” including:

■ Conduct a fleetwide stand-down to inventory individual officer and enlisted personnel records and document discrepancies.

■ Develop training that ensures both officer and enlisted personnel, their commands and personnel support representatives all know how to access, view, verify, manage and maintain personnel records.

This training could be delivered initially at recruit and officer basic training as well as through annual general military training; chief and petty officer indoctrination courses; and even career development boards, as well as ensuring that training can be easily and quickly updated when policy, processes or systems change.

Covell said her crew is working on better training for personnel professionals and individual sailors.

■ Direct Navy Personnel Command to identify all current records policies with an eye on resolving conflicts, eliminating redundancies and reducing the number of required documents.

■ Develop alternate rules for when standard policies cannot be implemented — for example, when access to the Internet isn’t available, such as at sea or in remote locations.

The presentation didn’t mention consolidating all of the various databases into a single system, although that’s something numerous sailors tell Navy Times they want. Officials say this would take a lot of time and money to accomplish.

In May, when the new Career Navigator system was announced, officials promised to have a new online “Sailor Portal.”

While initially it will focus on career-move decisions, such as re-enlistments, the long-range goal is to put all of a sailor’s career data there, with a single login and record.

Though this won’t solve all of the Navy’s service record problems, it will make it easier by creating one place for sailors to manage their online records.

“That’s the CNO vision, to have in the future that one-stop-shop access for sailors into all career management IT systems,” Covell said, though she added that would take time and money.

She said that such a system is possible in the next few years.

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