CARTER’S ‘FORCE OF THE FUTURE’ TALLIES ONLY MODEST CHANGES
Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled the “first tranche” of his Force of the Future initiatives Wednesday. They included none of the costly or controversial ideas that his personnel chief, Brad Carson, had brainstormed with Pentagon and private sector personnel experts since last April.
No end to the up-or-out promotion system.
No dramatic “on-ramps” to military service at mid grade.
No structural changes to the military pay chart.
No expansion of parental leave for military or civilian employees.
No new “technical career” path for high-demand skills.
No new diversity tools like requiring that 25 percent of service members on selection and promotion boards be women or minorities.
No two-year test of a race-and-gender-blind promotion process, removing names, photos and pronouns from promotion packets.
No “mother” rooms on every base to ensure comfort while nursing.
No changes aimed broadly at enhancing quality of life for families.
The initiatives instead are no-cost or low-cost commitments that the Defense Department will work smarter and try more modern ideas for attracting, nurturing and assigning its military and civilian work forces. The theme is more aggressive talent management.
It will use social media, data analytics and exit surveys to better identify talent or to learn why good people leave. It will encourage more frequent interactions with industry, softening the perception of a bureaucracy resistant to change. It will double the number of internships with industry and allow more sabbaticals from service life – what Navy calls its career intermission program – so members can start families, seek degrees or care for an ill parent as civilians – before resuming long-term career goals.
“While the military cannot and should not replicate all aspects of the private sector, we can and should borrow best practices, technologies and personnel management techniques in commonsense ways that work for us,” Carter said.
His package of initiatives, at least so far, falls far short of being “the most far-reaching personnel reforms…since the all-volunteer force,” as one senior defense official tried to spin it Wednesday. After all, only one new initiative – more career sabbaticals -- would require legislation.
The Force-of-the-Future actions are but a ripple of change compared to the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 or the Defense Officer Management Act of 1980. Indeed Congress and federal courts continue to drive the most critical personnel policy changes.
Two years ago Congress created the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission and used its findings this year to reform military retirement for future generations. Defense officials only must implement the sweeping changes therein by January 2018. And next year congressional leaders promise to reform the military health system.
Against such shifts, Carter’s plans appear pale and scattershot.
“I was disappointed that there weren’t more things related to the current military, especially families,” said Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, after key advocacy groups were briefed on the plans. “The only thing mentioned really family related was [more members] choosing their own reason to take a sabbatical. In terms of the currently-serving force, there wasn’t a whole lot.”
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