Cover: Promotion Benchmarks for Senior Officers with Joint and Acquisition Service

Promotion Benchmarks for Senior Officers with Joint and Acquisition Service

Published Sep 14, 2016

by Albert A. Robbert, Tara L. Terry, Paul Emslie, Michael W. Robbins


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Research Questions

  1. Do post–promotion board reporting requirements continue to meet the objectives for which they were established?
  2. Are there impediments to effective reporting?
  3. Are changes needed?

Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) have established statutory and policy benchmarks to gauge the quality of officers selected for service on the Joint Staff or OSD staff or for designation as joint-qualified officers or Acquisition Corps members. Officers with service on the Joint Staff or OSD staff are expected to be promoted at a rate no less than that of officers with service on their service headquarters staff. Joint-qualified officers and Acquisition Corps members are expected to be promoted at a rate no less than that of line or equivalent officers in their services. This report examines alternative policies and practices to better align post–promotion board reporting with these objectives.

Key Findings

Post–Promotion Board Reporting Requirements Generally Meet the Objectives for Which They Were Established

  • Comparative promotion outcomes seem, on their face, to be valid barometers of the quality of officers in various categories. However, the validity is enhanced when the services do not adhere to the zone-of-consideration and have-served policies that inappropriately narrow the field of view represented in the data. Moreover, the persistence of some unfavorable comparisons after applying refined policies indicates that continued attention is required to the quality-sharing objectives in the Goldwater–Nichols Act, the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, and Office of the Secretary of Defense policy.

There Are Impediments to Effective Reporting

  • Ill-defined zones of promotion consideration and restrictive and apparently contradictory have-served policies have created a reporting framework that sometimes obscures relevant quality comparisons and virtually ensures inconsistent reporting practices across different services and within the same service for different boards.

Changes Are Needed

  • Changes in the reporting requirements are needed to simplify and clarify the counts of officers included in various reporting categories and to minimize unfavorable comparisons that are attributable to the random distribution of quality in small samples rather than to true quality differences in the larger populations from which they are drawn.


  • Eliminate zones of promotion consideration and include all eligibles and selections in reported data.
  • Modify the have-served policy to include all service in the current grade.
  • Base comparisons on five-year pooled data.
  • Base comparisons on confidence bounds that account for random distributions of quality in subsets of officers meeting individual boards.
  • Use service requirements as benchmarks for Acquisition Corps selections.

This research was sponsored by the director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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