As the military faces an alarming uptick in plane crashes and other aviation-related mishaps, some fatal, the Government Accountability Office took the Army, Navy and Air Force to task for not tracking aviation mishap data in the same way.
For example, GAO said in a report Wednesday to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the Army uses its own processes to define types of aviation mishaps. And when mishap data isn’t standardized across services, they don’t speak a “common language,” GAO said. This makes it harder to accurately measure trends of how mishaps are changing, analyze what risks exist that could lead to mishaps, and effectively share lessons learned with one another.
The Naval Safety Center only collects standardized data on 11 of the 35 data elements on aviation mishaps, GAO said, and the Army Combat Readiness Center has standardized data on 14 mishap data elements. The Air Force Safety Center did better with 17 standardized aviation mishap data elements, GAO said, but even that was not even half of what the Air Force is supposed to be tracking.
The service safety centers and the Office of the Secretary of Defense also don’t agree on what OSD should do to analyze mishaps to find their causes, GAO said. As a result, the safety centers don’t report all the data elements about mishaps — including what may have caused the incidents — to the Pentagon. This particularly has become a problem because no safety centers are submitting information on human factors — such as performance-based errors, physical problems and mental awareness — which the Pentagon says is most often the cause of mishaps.
While studies have recently shown that problems with training could be contributing to the rise in aviation mishaps, GAO said the Pentagon isn’t consistently collecting training data.
The Pentagon and services need to make sure the safety centers collect standardized aviation mishap data, according to the government watchdog. The military also needs to make clear what the OSD’s responsibility is for analyzing mishaps, the report said, and that office should have access to services' information on the human factors behind those mishaps. The Pentagon and military services should also find which training-related data is relevant to tracking aviation mishaps and start collecting it, GAO said.
The Defense Department agreed with GAO’s recommendations and is taking steps to put them into place.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.