The Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980

A Retrospective Assessment

by Bernard D. Rostker, Harry J. Thie, James L. Lacy, Jennifer H. Kawata, Susanna W. Purnell

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Abstract

The Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA), enacted in 1980, replaced an existing patchwork of rules and regulations governing the management of military officers, and updated numerical constraints on the number of field grade officers (0-4 through 0-6) that each service might have. While breaking new ground (permanent grade tables, single promotion system, augmentation of reserve officers into regular status), DOPMA was basically evolutionary, extending the existing paradigm (grade controls, promotion opportunity and timing objectives, up-or-out, and uniformity across the services) that was established after World War II. The authors found that DOPMA was a better static description of the desired officer structure than dynamic management tool. In retrospect, DOPMA could neither handily control the growth in the officer corps in the early part of the 1980s nor flexibly manage the reduction-in-force in the latter part of the decade. In the current dynamic environment, DOPMA cannot meet all its stated objectives. Congress has provided some flexibility in officer management, but in so doing, major tenets of DOPMA have been voided. DOPMA forces choice between grade table violations (law) or diminution of proffered tenure (law) and proffered promotion opportunity/timing (policy, promise) in a period of reductions. Moreover, the implicit assumption that the officer management system should be able to adjust instantaneously (as seen in the way the grade table is implemented) points to the need for further flexibility to meet short-term needs. The authors recommend flexibility through a longer adjustment period for the services to accommodate reductions mandated by the DOPMA grade table.

Table of Contents

  • Section One

    Introduction: Setting the Stage

  • Section Two

    The DOPMA Officer Management System

  • Section Three

    DOPMA During Growth and Decline: Its First Decade

  • Section Four

    DOPMA and the Post-Cold War Draw-Down: The Second Decade

  • Section Five

    DOPMA as a Personnel Management Tool

  • Section Six

    Providing a More Flexible Grade Table

  • Section Seven

    Conclusion

  • Appendix A

    A Short History of Officer Personnel Management

  • Appendix B

    Service Drawdown Plans

  • Appendix C

    Officer Inventory Projections, FY 1991-2008

  • Appendix D

    Promotion History, FY 1979-1990

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management and Personnel). The research was conducted in the National Defense Research Institute, RAND’s federally funded research and development center supported by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff, Contract.

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