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Research Questions

  1. What is the total inventory of JQOs and the number of annual appointees? How do these numbers vary over time and by meaningful policy variables (e.g., service, grade, and occupation)?
  2. What are the trends and differences by service of the JQO qualifying parameters for joint education accomplishment (differences by joint educational institutions) and means for joint assignment completion (standard path versus experiential path)?
  3. What are the historical outcomes associated with the sequencing of joint education and assignments?
  4. How do such trends reflect past service policy intentions and what are the implications for future policy considerations and revisions?

The passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act in 1986 resulted in significant personnel reforms in defining and developing joint military officers. The fundamental elements for educating and managing joint officers are codified in law and implemented via Department of Defense policy. Over time, policies have been updated to reflect operational considerations and to provide additional enhancements and flexibilities. The overall objective of this report was to quantify and assess the production of joint qualified officers (JQOs) and thereby establish a baseline of joint officer management (JOM) and joint professional military education (JPME) outcomes against which to assess historical trends. The report provides such historical trends for field grade officers in the active component over a ten-year period. The authors analyzed JQO inventories and appointees on an annual basis, examining trends, addressing the sequencing of education and duty assignment; and conducting two case studies to examine the experiences of JQOs. To gain a historical context and to appreciate other factors that may have contributed to trend variances, the authors reviewed relevant laws, policies, and regulations and engaged in discussions with the JOM and JPME offices of the services and Joint Staff to better understand their perceptions on data validity, gain their historical recollections of policy and operational events, understand their thoughts on the report's findings, and identify potential practices that may be effective for others. The trends presented in the report serve as a baseline allowing policymakers to evaluate impact of both current and future policy changes.

Key Findings

  • Annual snapshots of JQO statistics provide no longitudinal basis to assess the magnitude or consistency of findings or make meaningful comparisons across services.
  • The trends over the last ten years show that all services have achieved considerable growth in absolute numbers for the inventory of JQOs. However, for FYs 2015–2017, these numbers stabilized and even declined in terms of annual appointees.
  • Joint education is primarily accomplished based on timing and availability of officers within their career progression vice in a manner that allows education to proceed joint assignment. This outcome is despite an increasing variety of venues to complete joint education requirements.
  • The services have taken diverse approaches to talent management and the timing associated with gaining joint experience. Some services value officers achieving joint experience earlier in their careers versus others attempting to delay officers' time away from key junctures in their service developmental process. Also, officers have differentially taken advantage of alternative joint experience paths by service.
  • JQO designation is trending toward higher grades. This outcome is a paradox as the preponderance of joint duty assignments are for more junior officers. Accordingly, many officers are relying on only their initial joint education as the sole instructional preparation for their joint duty assignment.
  • The services face evolving threats and the need for more advanced joint operational concepts. Jointness is progressing beyond interservice capability to include interagency, multinational, and coalition jointness for expanding mission areas (space and cyberwarfare). Existing JQOs constraints will remain, and even grow, in the continuing development and management of joint personnel.


  • Develop standards for authoritative data, common methodologies and definitions, and comparison baselines to assess the impacts of joint educational and officer management policies and to allow for comparisons across services.
  • Assess JQO production — both inventory and number of annual appointees — against demand requirements to determine if recent stable or declining trends are an issue. Such demands are an explicit component of the annual review of the joint duty assignment list.
  • Specify needed joint educational outcomes and essential joint prerequisites and expectations. These considerations should be special interest items for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Process for Accreditation of Joint Education. It is the perspective of and assessment by the joint community that is missing from this calculus. Explicit consideration should be made of (1) capabilities needed by joint educational graduates — given that there are multiple senior educational institutions that confer JPME status and that these programs vary by duration and areas of emphasis and (2) performance requirements needed across joint assignments — incorporating feedback from senior joint leadership regarding educational prerequisites needed to successfully perform the duties of joint assignments
  • Reinstitute the policy to report equity of promotion rates of joint officers versus officers assigned to service headquarters given the trend of JQO designations at higher grades contrasted to the preponderance of joint duty assignments being for more junior grades.

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Education and Training 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 U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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