What GAO Found
Military commanders are entrusted with a variety of responsibilities that can involve understanding, interpreting, or complying with legal requirements. Thus, the military services provide legal training to commanders throughout their careers. GAO found that commanders receive dedicated legal training; other training that includes blocks of legal content; and informal legal training, such as informal briefings or conversations with military legal staff.
While legal training is provided, the services’ ability to account for the completion of training varies, as the services’ systems of record do not document all legal training that commanders complete. Specifically, for four courses in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, training completion data in the service databases were different from the records maintained by the training providers. For example, GAO found that 26 of 56 fiscal year 2019 Army commanders had taken a required course according to the system of record, while training records outside the system showed that 47 of 56 commanders had taken the course. In addition, for four training courses in the Navy and the Air Force, training completion was tracked using a different system than the training system of record. Tracking all training completion in the official systems of record could help the services ensure that commanders complete their required legal training.
GAO also found, through analyses of the legal training offered and from discussion groups and interviews with commanders and legal support staff, that perspectives varied on the general preparedness of commanders to address legal issues. In addition, GAO found that the timing, amount, and mix of legal training provided to commanders may not be meeting their needs. For example:
• Dedicated legal training is generally for mid-level commanders, who may hold multiple command positions before attending the training. Commanders from all four services indicated that they would have benefited from dedicated legal training earlier in their careers.
• Commanders of similar grades and legal responsibilities may not receive similar levels of legal training. For example, GAO found that, although course materials for the Army pre-command course for junior commanders were centrally developed, the time spent covering designated legal topics varied substantially by the location where the instruction took place.
• Some commanders and legal support staff expressed the view that commanders would benefit from additional legal training.
The Navy has begun taking steps to improve its legal training by expanding its training requirements and curriculum, but it has not formalized these efforts through policies and procedures. The Marine Corps is also taking steps to update its legal training materials, but has not taken actions to require that a comprehensive mix of legal training be provided to commanders throughout their careers. Similarly, the Army and the Air Force conduct surveys and reviews of individual courses, but do not know if the current timing, amount, and mix of legal training is meeting the needs of commanders. Both services would benefit from undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the entire continuum of legal training provided to commanders to determine whether they are being sufficiently prepared to carry out their legal responsibilities.
According to page 90, under the heading Army Training with Blocks of Legal Content for General Officers, "Army officers selected for promotion to the grade of O-7 are required to attend the Army Strategic Education Program – Basic. This 10-day course includes a full day of instruction on legal issues, and includes a presentation by The Judge Advocate General of the Army. Officers from The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School then present on a variety of legal topics, as shown in figure 4 above. [It's actually Figure 5.] The course ends with a panel discussion featuring three senior Army judge advocates." [Footnote omitted.] Figure 5 indicates that general officer training includes one hour on the commander's UCMJ role and 30 minutes on unlawful command influence.
The comparable paragraph for the Navy appears on p. 93:
Navy officers selected for promotion to the grade of O-7 attend the New Flag and Senior Executive Training Symposium, which is a mandatory 1-week in-residence course at The Bolger Center in Potomac, Maryland. For the iteration of the course that we reviewed, the course contained a 1-hour legal block covering ethics. Course officials said that the Navy was considering adding an additional block of military law training, to include military justice and aspects of administrative and personnel law. In June 2020, the Navy directed the Office of Chief of Naval Operations Flag Officer Management and Distribution to partner with the Office of the Judge Advocate General to review and deliver legal training requirements for new flag officers and to review the New Flag and Senior Executive Training Symposium legal training curriculum at least annually. See figure 20 for fiscal year 2019 commander completion rates for the New Flag and Senior Executive Training Symposium program. [Footnotes omitted.]
See also pp. 95 (Marine Corps), 97 (Air Force).