The Defense Department is slowly overcoming “organizational resistance” to a series of military personnel system reforms, as it prepares for a force that will look drastically different in the coming decades.
But the path to reform hasn’t been easy.
“We have that fundamental disconnect of being a conservative institution,” said Anthony Kurta, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, during the Dec. 1 Human Capital Management for Government Training series in Washington. “We don’t participate in revolutionary concepts and ideas all that often. We’re more evolutionary.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter rolled out the first round of initiatives under the Force of the Future program last month. The first series of reforms largely dealt with new flexibilities to let uniformed and civilian employees transition in and out of the private sector during their careers. Questions that address more controversial issues, such as military promotion and retention, will come later.
“Some of them are seen, typically by the outside, as more evolutionary than revolutionary,” Kurta said. “There has been some bureaucratic resistance. We change the things we know so well. That’s inherent in the nature of our bureaucracy. DoD, as well developed as a bureaucracy as it is, always [has] institutional resistance to change.”
For those who insist Carter’s plan details softer changes rather than bolder reform, Kurta said, “It’s only act one.”
Carter had a vision for a few of these reforms before he took office, said Kurta, who described Carter as “a man in a hurry” to enact a new human capital plan in the short time he has left before an administration change.
Kurta said he does not exactly know when the department will release the second round of reforms, but an announcement will come sooner rather than later.
“We’re not talking several months,” he told Federal News Radio. “I would think that we might hear something in the December or January time frame as the second charge comes out.”
Though many of the human resources challenges DoD encounters are similar to those of any agency, the department is dealing with a few that are unique, Kurta said.
Nearly 70 percent of DoD’s potential active duty workforce — men and women ages 18-23 — are ineligible to enlist in the military, and the department expects that pool to continue to decline over time, he said. And the propensity for those who might join an active duty force is dwindling as well.
Developing a common human capital plan for all four services — each with its own distinct workforce, culture and history — is another challenge for the Pentagon.
“Because of the size of the Department of Defense and the individual services they’re in and have such unique needs to themselves, that any overarching concept is more or less applicable to those individual services,” Kurta said. “Getting something that is broadly applicable is very hard.”
The Navy, for example, has started work on many of the same initiatives Carter proposed in his “Force of the Future” plan. But Scott Lutterloh, acting assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, said the service will soon put a heavier focus on some of these existing programs.
“Every year, we’re training master’s degrees out of postgraduate school in the areas that the military needs them trained,” he said. “But we’re going to expand the use of civilian institutions, premier civilian institutions, across the country. It provides diversity of thought, but it also introduces the Navy to places where it might not be understood clearly by the entire population.
The career intermission program has been a priority for the service already. The Navy currently lets up to 40 sailors take an extended sabbatical at one time, Lutterloh said. Starting next year, the service will remove the limit and allow as many as 400 sailors to take a few years off.
For Navy Secretary Ray Maybus, permeability — or allowing sailors to spend time working in industry throughout at certain points of their career — has been a priority. The Navy is also expanding its tours with industry initiative, and it will soon add 30 sailors to the program, Lutterloh said.
As personnel costs rose nearly 17 percent over the past decade, Lutterloh said, the Navy acknowledges these initiatives will continue to consume a significant amount of time and money.
“We’re looking to invest more, because we think it’s in people where the security of the nation and the world remains,” he said.