Top DoD experts call for sweeping personnel changes

A year-long task force wants the Defense Department to change childcare, TRICARE and the "up or out" system.

Some of the top experts from the defense field are calling on the Defense Department to institute sweeping changes to the military personnel system.

A new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center urges the Pentagon to change its promotion model in the military, register women for selective service, institute a required national service and improve DoD-provided health care.

“The biggest mistake — indeed, the worst outcome for the Defense Department — would be to do nothing. Elected officials and Pentagon leadership should take meaningful action to advance personnel reform by the end of 2017,” the study, released March 20, stated.

One of the biggest recommendations suggests replacing the military’s “up or out system” with a “perform to stay” system. The new systems would allow the services to extend the careers of valuable service members who are not competitive for promotion.

That is a change from the system DoD currently uses to manage its talent. The up or out system forces service members to move on to the next rank or leave the military.

“Too often when service members are not selected for promotion, they are also forced to leave the military, even if they still have valuable skills to offer. The current system does not support nontraditional career paths that may be operationally important, but not rewarded by promotion boards,” the study stated.

Promotion boards are panels of service members who decide who gets to move up to the next rank.

But making that change is difficult. It requires a legislative change to the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA).

Congress isn’t ready just yet to budget on DOPMA either. House Armed Services Committee aides told Federal News Radio they feel the promotion board issue is more cultural.

The promotion boards are the ones deciding who stays in. Right now it seems boards are promoting those with operational experience.

But the data may not be there either. Only the Navy conducts exit interviews with those separated from the service.

While former Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted a smarter, more diverse force to deal with the issues of the future like cyber, Congress still wasn’t fully convinced on how he was doing it.

“Many of these Force of the Future proposals appear to be solutions in search of a problem,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said last year. “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.”

Committee aides said DOPMA is a broad law and DoD has plenty of room to work within it to retain and recruit the best.

One aide said it’s unlikely a DOPMA overhaul would receive much consideration until the services “do their homework.”

Jim Talent, a former senator and co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center Personnel Reform Task Force, said a huge overhaul isn’t needed all at once.

“We don’t have to try and do everything all at once. Let’s start with the specialties that are outside the traditional core combat competencies and let’s change the promotion system with regard to those. If we have to do it a step at a time, let’s do it a step at a time and get used to a new world,” Talent told Federal News Radio.

Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families and a task force co-chairwoman, agreed.

“Every system is perfectly defined to get the outcome that it gets and systems are also designed to resist changing. Legislation is not only necessary, but it’s also helpful to get the system to understand that it needs to change. Sometimes that impetus has to come from the outside,” Roth Douquet told Federal News Radio. “Right now promotion boards are not globally considering the needs of the Department of Defense and future warfighting. They are narrowly focused on what the particular [military occupational specialty] this person was trained for and compared to other people in the MOS, how prepared are they to do the mission of the next rank. That may or may not be what we want to use this particular person for in the future of DoD.”

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