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Friday, May 24, 2024

Workload and Uncomfortable Mattresses Persist as Reasons Behind Sailors’ Fatigue, GAO Says

GAO conducted a performance audit from May 2023 to October 2023 and found that the Navy has addressed the recommendations to ensure adequate crew sleep "to varying degrees."

The Government Accountability Office said that the U.S. Navy has made progress in ensuring that sailors are rested enough to prevent potentially deadly mistakes but says more work must be done to address causes of crewmembers’ fatigue.

The Navy has reported to Congress a surface force-wide average of 6.26 hours available for crew members to sleep each day and 5.25 hours of actual sleep. “These averages fall below the surface fleet standard of sailors having at least 7.5 hours available to sleep per day, placing sailor health and ship safety and readiness at risk,” GAO said in a report to congressional committees. “…Navy data show that sailor effectiveness declines after prolonged periods without sleep, equating to impairment levels comparable to intoxication.”

Fatigue was determined to be a contributing factor in fatal ship collisions in 2017, damaging two destroyers and killing 17 sailors and prompting the Navy to issue policy on managing fatigue.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 required the Navy to implement each of GAO’s recommendations from its May 2021 report on fatigue issues and for GAO to assess the Navy’s actions.

In that 2021 report, GAO found that just 14 percent of officers were getting adequate sleep and 85 percent of the required number of crewmembers to safely operate a ship were assigned on average across the fleet in September 2020. GAO said there was inconsistent policy implementation and inaccurate baselines for calculating future personnel needs, and made eight recommendations with which the Navy concurred.

GAO conducted a performance audit from May 2023 to October 2023 and found that the Navy has addressed the recommendations “to varying degrees.”

Four recommendations are considered implemented and closed: “revise guidance to require systematic collection of quality and timely fatigue data from sailors,” “revise guidance to institutionalize the practice of using crew requirements to track and report positions that are filled,” “establish crewing targets that are based on analysis and assessment of risk,” and “use crew requirements to project future personnel needs.”

Three of the recommendations are considered “partly implemented” by GAO: “use collected data on sailor fatigue to identify, monitor, and evaluate factors that contribute to fatigue and inadequate sleep,” “establish a process for identifying and assisting units that have not implemented its fatigue management policy,” and “account for additional sailor workload resulting from the continued implementation of Ready Relevant Learning.”

GAO says the Navy has “not implemented” the recommendation to “take actions to address the factors causing sailor fatigue and inadequate sleep.”

The Navy’s fiscal year 2022 survey pinpointed two leading factors for sailors’ inadequate sleep and fatigue: workload and uncomfortable mattresses.

“In our May 2021 report, we found that the Navy routinely assigned fewer crewmembers to its ships than its workload studies determined are needed to safely operate them,” GAO wrote. “According to Navy officials, while this condition persists, the Navy is developing a 15-year plan to reverse enduring personnel shortfalls and to fully crew the fleet. However, until the Navy takes action to fill required positions with qualified sailors, personnel shortfalls will likely continue to be a leading factor causing inadequate sleep and sailor fatigue. We are conducting other ongoing work to further examine, among other things, current crewing issues.”

On the issue of uncomfortable mattresses, “Navy officials told us that this problem does not have a Navy resource sponsor willing to examine it further and fund mattress improvements across the fleet and so it remains unaddressed,” GAO said. “Officials added that they have received approval to replace mattresses every 3 years instead of every 5 years to help improve conditions, but that the discomfort issue remains. We will keep this recommendation open as we continue to monitor Navy actions to correct crewing and mattress issues.”

GAO notes that the Navy “has taken significant actions to monitor and address the extent and causes of fatigue in the surface fleet,” but three primary concerns remain: a lack of funding for expanding collection of actionable data to manage sailor fatigue, failure to address the mattress problems, and shortfalls in the number and skill level of ship crew members — that root cause “will likely persist until the Navy commits to fully crewing required positions with qualified sailors,” GAO said.

GAO said that the Navy’s “efforts to develop and incorporate fatigue and endurance management training in multiple levels of leadership support efforts to reduce negative effects of fatigue that we identified in our 2021 report.”

“Officials said that this training is expected to shift the culture within the Navy from viewing fatigue as an unfortunate yet inevitable condition to a problem that should and can be proactively managed,” the report added.

author avatar
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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