Cover: Air Force Institutional Requirements

Air Force Institutional Requirements

Opportunities for Improving the Efficiency of Sourcing, Managing, and Manning Corporate Requirements

Published Jul 10, 2017

by Lisa M. Harrington, Kathleen Reedy, Paul Emslie, Darrell D. Jones, Tara L. Terry


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Research Questions

  1. How are institutional requirements currently filled in the Air Force, and which career fields are most affected by these requirements?
  2. What challenges arise in filling institutional requirements?
  3. How could the Air Force fill institutional requirements in a way that reduces the current impact on the career fields that supply these personnel and the organizations that require them?

In an era of force reductions and shrinking military budgets, the U.S. Air Force has found it increasingly difficult to fill manpower authorizations — not only operational and staff positions that support mission demands but also additional requirements for particular career fields. One source of these additional requirements is institutional requirements, or manpower requirements that do not align with a traditional, functional career field but are needed to support the Air Force institution. Examples include recruiter, instructor, generalist staff officer, and operational support positions. The challenge for career field managers is that institutional requirements compete for the same pool of personnel. These assignments may also affect the career development of individual officers. Through discussions with key stakeholders in the Air Force and the other services, consultations with industry experts, and a review of data on the current and historical use of institutional requirements and associated processes in the Air Force, this report documents how the Air Force could reduce the impact of filling these positions on traditional career fields while ensuring that the organizations that depend on institutional requirements are staffed with the qualified personnel they need. To achieve this goal, the Air Force will need to pursue multiple strategies, such as a periodic review and elimination of positions that are persistently vacant or no longer valid requirements, steps to make more personnel available to fill these positions, converting some types of institutional requirements to their own career fields, or changing how institutional requirements are managed.

Key Findings

The Institutional Requirements Process Compounds Undermanning Throughout the Air Force

  • Undermanning and insufficient funding affect career fields and institutional requirements throughout the Air Force. There is not enough funding or personnel to fill all the jobs that the service has identified.
  • Institutional requirements are generally not taken into account in restructuring and force management decisions or manpower analyses, but doing so would address and help alleviate chronic undermanning.
  • There is little formal documentation or justification for filling institutional requirements with active-duty officers. Detailed information on these requirements could indicate whether some positions could be filled by other types of personnel, such as reservists or civilians.

Institutional Requirements Pose a Challenge to Career Fields and Individual Officers' Career Paths

  • Career fields must share personnel to fill institutional requirements, and this can lead to undermanning in these fields and a reluctance among career field managers to make personnel available to fill these positions.
  • Unlike core career fields, institutional requirements have no centralized management structure. Without a career field manager, the organizations that depend on these requirements to meet their staffing needs may be saddled with personnel who are not qualified to fill the positions.
  • Some institutional requirements are more difficult to fill than others. For example, academic positions have strict qualifications and may represent a significant diversion from an officer's chosen career path.
  • The Air Force's current system for filling institutional requirements may prevent officers who wish to extend their time in these positions from doing so.


  • The Air Force should conduct a comprehensive review of its manpower authorizations for career fields and institutional requirements. It should also ensure that institutional requirements are incorporated into sustainment and accession planning and analyses to clarify the effects of these requirements on the career fields that supply these personnel and the organizations that depend on them.
  • The Air Force should expand the pool of personnel eligible to fill institutional requirements beyond active-duty officers. Some types of positions could be filled by guard, reserve, retired military, or civilian personnel, reducing the number of positions that must be filled by active-duty officers pulled from traditional career fields.
  • The Air Force should pursue multiple strategies and solutions that are tailored to particular types of institutional requirements. For example, all authorizations should be subject to periodic review to validate requirements, as well as to identify persistent vacancies and career fields that consistently fill the same positions.
  • The Air Force should establish a career field manager--equivalent for institutional requirements across the service. These positions are necessary and important to the Air Force mission, and centralized management could help ensure that they are filled with the most qualified personnel to meet mission requirements.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the offices of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations (AF/A3), and the Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower, Personnel and Services (AF/A1), and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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