Research Brief

The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (G-N) directed a broad range of organizational and functional changes to improve the ability of the military Services to carry out successful joint operations. However, from the act's initial implementation, there have been concerns about its broad-brush approach for determining who should be included on the Joint Duty Assignment List (JDAL). For example, 100 percent of the positions in some organizations (like the Joint Staff) were included, whereas those in the defense agencies were limited to 50 percent. The act also prohibited in-Service positions from receiving joint credit. In addition, DoD policy limits joint duty consideration to grade of O-4 and above.

Beyond concerns about who should go on the list, the Services were also concerned about supporting it. For example, the Services felt it difficult to qualify a sufficient number of officers to meet the act's provision that at least half the positions above the grade of O-3 be filled by Joint Specialty Officers (JSOs) or officers nominated as JSOs and that not fewer than 1000 joint duty assignment positions be critical billets. They also found it hard to manage their "quality" officers to ensure that sufficient numbers served in joint positions while adequately staffing positions in their own Services.

Our research focused on these "demand-side" and "supply-side" concerns. The demand-side goal was to develop a recommended procedure for measuring the joint content of a position and to determine the implications of applying that procedure for the current G-N implementation and for DoD policy and law; the supply-side goal was to determine how many of the positions with joint content the Services could support.

Which Positions Should Be Joint?

The demand-side analysis determined a preferred method for creating a JDAL. The method used what were assessed to be the two most important criteria for measuring a billet's joint content: Joint Time—the proportion of an officer's time spent on matters involving other Services or other nations, and Joint Function—what people do in their jobs, including the areas they work in and the duties they perform, when working on joint matters. When these two criteria were combined and applied against the results of 12,000 surveys from an identified population of 15,000 candidate billets, the resulting algorithm proved most effective at measuring and rank-ordering a position's joint content. Adding additional criteria did not materially change the resulting rank order of the positions.

Having a preferred algorithm, however, does not tell us where to "cut" the list, or what minimum score identifies a "significant joint experience" and, therefore, results in a position that should receive joint duty credit. Cluster-analysis techniques enabled us to break the list in two places to analyze changes in positions on the JDAL. These breaks generated lists of 5900 and 9300, based on the 15,000 surveys.

How does this analysis affect current G-N implementation procedures? For the new JDAL that is about the same size as the current list (9300 positions), the 100-percent organizations all lose positions, and many defense agencies and some other current 50-percent organizations gain positions. For the smaller list (5300 positions), all organizations lose positions, with the current 100-percent ones feeling the largest impact.

The analysis also implies that changes in the law and DoD policy may be warranted. Current law restricts in-Service billets from receiving joint credit, but certain of those billets have significant joint content. Allowing them would increase the larger list by 800 and the smaller one by 350. Current DoD policy restricts O-3 billets from being on the JDAL, although, again, some of the positions have significant joint content. Including them would increase the larger list by 1300 and the smaller one by 850.

How Many Can Be Joint?

The demand-side analysis indicates that most positions surveyed have some joint content. The real issue is, how large a JDAL can the Services support? Answering this question entails determining which factors, if any, limit the size of a supportable list. The supply-side analysis showed that while current law, Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) quotas, and Service assignment policy all constrain the size of a supportable list, none render the Services incapable of supporting a list as large as 9300. In fact, within these constraints, the Services could support a JDAL of about 10,000 positions.

The analysis assumed the constraints imposed by current law—that at least 50 percent of the positions above the grade of O-3 be filled by JSOs or JSO nominees, that only 25 percent of that 50 percent (or 12.5 percent) could be critical occupational specialty exceptions, and that 1000 positions be filled by JSOs. Analysis showed that the Services could provide sufficient future numbers of JSOs for 1000 critical billets even if only 20 percent of JSOs serve in critical billets at any one time. (Moreover, using a systematic approach to identifying critical billets results in potentially fewer than the 1000 stated in G-N.)

The number of JPME graduates and the Service assignment policy of those JPME graduates to joint assignments also constrain the size of the list. In 1994, quotas for the Services in the curricula that satisfy the JPME requirement—at the Armed Forces Staff College, the National War College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces—totaled 1089. Given the Services' own need for JPME graduates, a 100-percent assignment policy that uses all 1089 seats is unreasonable; thus, we adopted 50 percent from the senior schools and 95 percent from the Armed Forces Staff College as a realistic assignment policy for JPME graduates after education—a policy to which the Services are currently adhering.

Thus, assuming no changes in current law or policy (especially this assignment policy), the Services could support a JDAL of about 10,000. Moreover, the maximum supportable size could be increased even more (to about 10,600) if Armed Forces Staff College throughput were not currently constrained. A larger JDAL would increase the personnel management burden associated with G-N promotion objectives, which our research shows do indeed make it more difficult for the Services to support the current JDAL.

However, making promotion comparisons more accurately reflect the intent of G-N would resolve many of the current problems. That could be done by changing the categories used, reporting moving averages in addition to annual board data, and simplifying the comparisons by limiting comparisons to promotion to O-5 and O-6 and combining promotion zones.


Based on these findings, we recommend the following:

  • Use joint content, as measured by the Joint Time/Joint Function algorithm, to determine a new JDAL;
  • Use a specific methodology to identify critical billets;
  • Change promotion comparisons to make them more valid and simpler;
  • Change DoD policy to allow O-3s to receive joint credit;
  • If O-3s receive joint credit, exclude them from promotion comparisons;
  • Request changes to allow joint credit for appropriate in-Service billets for grades O-4 to O-6.

How Many More Could Be Joint?

Our research showed that almost all billets have some joint content, and that changing the law in various ways (e.g., altering the percentage of critical occupational specialty exceptions, decreasing the percentages of JSOs and JSO nominees required, or granting joint credit to alternative military educational institutions) can increase the JDAL to as high as 15,000. Unless future legislation or policies specify the amount of joint content required in a joint billet, there are reasons one might want a larger list. It eases the problem of implementation. Also, during our interviews, we often heard about the morale problems that can exist in "split organizations" where some, but not all, the positions are on the JDAL. Thus, granting joint credit to all officers at joint organizations would greatly simplify implementation procedures while increasing overall morale.

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