Behavioral Science

By John Liang / October 15, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter's office has established a Defense Science Board task force to look into the best way to predict the kinds of violent behavior that led to recent shootings at Ft. Hood, TX, as well as multiple episodes of domestic violence and suicide among service members.

Defense Department personnel "are subject to a variety of practices to screen unwanted behavior," an Oct. 6 memo from Carter's office states. The missive breaks down that behavior into a pair of broad categories: "Formal periodic checks and informal checks/observations related to routine interaction with supervisors, peers and subordinates."

Both of those types of checks "miss a small number of individuals who engage in harmful behavior, either to themselves or to others in the workplace," the memo adds. Consequently, Carter's office wants the task force to look at existing screening process and examine other government and private-sector programs that seek to prevent such violent behavior from manifesting itself. Specifically, the task force should:

  • Examine and evaluate existing screening programs to include those used in other branches of government (e.g. the Navy's Threat Management Unit, the Postal Service's "Going Postal Program"), private industry, and academia (e.g. Stanford University's workplace violence program) for successful programs and best practices, including efficacy of screening criteria, decreasing time to conduct periodic checks, and the potential that advances in behavioral science and neurology could provide.
  • Assess the adequacy of suitability criteria conducted in periodic checks and those provided to co-workers and supervisors. If current criteria are inadequate, suggest possible alternatives that are more effective given the large number of people involved and the range of activities requiring suitability determinations.
  • Assess the impact of the Privacy Act of 1974 (PA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) which prevent or inhibit real or perceived access to the official personnel or medical records of DOD members.
  • Assess the network requirements and information flow which could be used to correlate information across disparate sources, organizations, time frames and geographic locations.
  • Assess an organizational construct within DOD to maximize effectiveness of current and future criminal and behavioral analysis and risk assessment capabilities and tools focused on an internal threat regardless of the target. Provide recommendations on best capabilities and tools for commanders/supervisors as the result of the assessment.
  • Assess existing training and education programs to better assist DOD personnel in identifying potential aberrant behavior of violent actors.

Carter's office wants an interim report submitted to the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and America's security affairs "within 90 days" of the task force's stand-up, and a final report with recommendations by June 30, 2011. "The final report will be published within 90 days following completion of the brief out," the memo states.

Carter's office as well as the Pentagon policy shop will act as co-sponsors of the study, according to the memo, with Ann Shalka and Larry Lynn serving as co-chairs.