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Research Question

  1. Could any human resource management flexibilities affect officer accessions, promotions, or other related force management outcomes?

The Air Force faces both internal and external challenges to move toward greater flexibility in managing its active-duty military workforce. The research underlying this report assessed the impact that proposed military human resource management flexibilities could have on Air Force officer accessions, promotions, separations, and other force management outcomes. The assessments identified flexibilities that would benefit the Air Force and characterized subsets of the military workforce to which they could be advantageously applied. Research included interviews with Air Force career field managers and developing and exercising optimization models to estimate the impacts of new flexibilities. The research examined policies, such as moving away from up-or-out separations following promotion nonselection, extending maximum career lengths from 30 to 40 years, and increasing the midcareer entries to the active officer force from either civilian or reserve status. The authors also estimated declines in promotion opportunity or, alternatively, additional grade ceilings required to avoid these impacts.

Key Findings

Few Proposals Had Unanimous Support of Career Field Managers

  • Only the cyber career field manager (CFM) favored the proposal to add technical tracks for promotion.
  • CFMs were generally wary of proposals to replace up-or-out provisions.
  • Several CFMs pointed to problems establishing milestones that would make their officers' paths to promotion longer or more difficult than the paths faced by officers in other career fields.
  • Interest in increasing the use of lateral entry was limited to CFMs who currently have difficulty filling requirements for experienced, technically proficient personnel, for which there are qualified pools of candidates in the private or nonmilitary public sectors.
  • All of the functional managers we interviewed saw benefits in increasing reserve component entry.
  • CFMs would support the opportunity to retain experience longer by extending career limits to 40 years from the current 30 if the promotion impacts were very limited.
  • Adoption of a more deliberate approach to matching individuals to billets got mixed reviews from CFMs, who raised concerns over both cost and loss of functional manager influence.

Proposals Had Modest Impacts on the Studied Outcomes

  • The proposals would modestly reduce promotion opportunity.
  • Lost promotion opportunity could be restored for those in the traditional track with modest grade increases.


  • The alternatives are selectively attractive to at least some CFMs. The net cost of implementing all of them on the scale we modeled is affordable, so selective implementation of some of them for selected career fields would also be affordable. The Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense could pursue statutory changes or exceptions that would, in some cases, enable and, in other cases, enhance their implementation.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Director of Military Force Management Policy, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, U.S. Air Force, and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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