Outgoing DoD personnel chief says reforms were inevitable, more to come

The Defense Department’s personnel reforms over the past year were inevitable and there are more changes to come in the future, said recently resigned DoD personnel chief Brad Carson.

Ultimately, Carson said, his Force of the Future ideas are going to prevail.

Carson came into DoD last year as a firebrand ready to pump new life into a department that was worried about losing top talent to more employee-friendly private companies.

“My goal with Force of the Future was to throw a bolt of electricity into the swirling vat of amino acids and seeing lifeforms emerge from the pool and that’s what’s happening,” Carson said during an April 11 speech. “Every day I see the Marines, the Army announcing new initiatives that are completely compatible with the vision [Defense Secretary Ash] Carter laid out.”

Carson’s last day in office was April 8.

While serving as the head of personnel and readiness in the department, though under a few different titles due to the Senate’s inability to confirm him, Carson overhauled DoD’s personnel system. Carson is responsible for extended maternity leave for military mothers, increased daycare hours on bases, allowing women to serve in combat roles and easing the transition between the private and public sector for employees.

That’s not all Carson wanted to accomplish though. The Force of the Future was rolled out in two tranches, the first being the permeability between the public and private workplaces, the second focused on making the department family friendly.

The third tranche will need congressional approval and will have to go on without Carson’s leadership. That revolves around the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, a decades-old law that defines the career trajectory of military officers.

“I think it needs to be opened up in some career fields or branches, if not everywhere,” Carson said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Up or out has to be more flexible.”

Current statute dictates that an officer is appraised to be a major at 12 years of service, lieutenant colonel at 16 years and so on. To reach the rank, an officer must meet all the training and education requirements as well.

“If you don’t, you’ll be passed over and to be passed over, of course, is to put your career in peril and to be passed over twice is to be forcibly removed,” Carson said. But he thinks that is too rigid.

“If you want to go out and get your M.B.A or your Ph.D. or take care of a sick family member or stay with your husband or wife because they’re getting their Ph.D. at Stanford and you need to make sure her career and yours are lined up, you can do that too,” Carson said. “You won’t miss out you’ll just get back in. For certain disciplines, your numbers, time in service would have to be made more flexible.”

Carson said the law doesn’t work for a 21st century workforce.

Carson also wants to see a greater integration between the active and reserve forces, something the Army has already begun implementing.

If Congress will actually play along to implement those changes is a matter of debate. Senate Republicans have been hostile to the Force of the Future plan, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.)

“Many of these Force of the Future proposals appear to be solutions in search of a problem.” McCain said during Carson’s Feb. 25 confirmation hearing. “I find it deeply disturbing that you are proposing to add expensive fringe benefits allegedly aimed at retention during a time when we are asking 3,000 excellent Army captains to leave the service who would have otherwise chosen to remain on active duty. From my perspective, this initiative has been an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints. It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient Defense organization.”

McCain wasn’t the only one to show his displeasure during the hearing.

Sen. Michael Lee (R-Utah) said he hears the soldiers say they are more worried about equipment and training than personnel issues.

“I’ve never once heard somebody say I was going to go into the military, but I’m not going to because DoD is not the world’s most progressive employer,” Lee said.

Then there is Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), whose de facto hold put the final kibosh on Carson’s nomination.

Inhofe didn’t have explicit concerns about the Force of the Future, but rather about the workplace under Carson.

“I was disappointed when complaints were brought to my attention and to the attention of other members of this committee about your leadership in the command environment,” Inhofe said, during a Feb. 25 hearing. “I’ve read reports and have been briefed, as other have, regarding a … hostile work environment that has been fostered under your leadership.”

Carson denied the allegations.

“I would strenuously object to this characterization. I’ve never heard that allegation and people have many means to make those allegations at the department,” Carson said.

Still, the politics were all part of the job.

“Yeah, it’s going to be controversial, but it should be. This work is extraordinarily important and if you propose anything and it’s worth the time of any of us, it should be something someone disagrees with me about,” Carson said.

He told his staff members he wanted to have “terrific arguments” about ideas.

“If we’re not arguing I don’t need to see it. If it’s that lack of controversial, it’s kind of banal. It should be decided at a much lower echelon,” Carson said. “My job is to take risks, make controversial decisions and to go forward.”

For now though, Carson is out of public life. He told Federal News Radio he is taking a few months off to relax.

Carson said despite there being six different people holding the office of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, there is no inherent problem. The job is tough and takes it out of those who take it on.

As for the Force of the Future, to a degree, the mechanisms are in place. Carter is still going to push for the next iteration and he continues to visit with Silicon Valley where top talent resides.

Carson said he’s confident Congress will eventually make the needed changes to department personnel issues.

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