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Research Questions

  1. What statutory, policy, cultural, and fiscal considerations constrain the military departments' ability to make further changes in the officer career management structure?
  2. What steps can be taken to mitigate these constraints?
  3. How do the services themselves see these potential changes?
  4. What are the most effective ways to implement reforms?

With military departments becoming increasingly interested in modernizing officer career management, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) requested a study concerning legislative, policy, fiscal, and financial limits on various reforms. These reforms fall into three broad categories: promotions, tenure, and other issues. Promotions involve such issues as alternatives for technical-track career paths, possibilities for different competitive categories to have different promotion rates and frequency, policies to ensure that officers who opt out of promotion consideration are not adversely affected at future statutory boards, the pros and cons of a return to permanent and temporary promotions, and guidance regarding deployability. Tenure issues concern stagnant officers, removal of age limits for accessions, and contractual arrangements for officers. Other issues include providing for a continuum of service among active and reserve personnel, the use of warrant officers and limited duty officers in all the services, and the selective use of "officers without rank." In all cases, another important consideration concerns limits on the scale and timing of reforms to ensure that desired outcomes, measures of effectiveness, and results of the changes can be clearly identified, documented, and leveraged over time. In general, the authors find that an incremental approach that scales the reforms to small populations (at least initially) and avoids implementation of more than one reform at a time could eventually add considerable flexibility to the officer career management structure.

Key Findings

The most-prevalent constraints on potential officer management modernization thrusts are cultural

  • OSD and the military services are wary of changes for which outcomes are uncertain. They therefore take a conservative approach to officer management.
  • Such conservatism is generally warranted, given the difficulties of determining the effect of changes made in peacetime on warfighting situations.

Historically, the U.S. military has pursued an incremental approach to officer management reform to ensure the continued predictability and stability of the existing officer management structure

  • An approach that scales reforms to small populations (at least initially) and avoids implementation of more than one reform at a time could eventually add considerable flexibility to the system.
  • At the same time, an incremental approach that largely preserves the existing system but allows for the accumulation of smaller changes and insights over time appears to be the most realistic way to eventually establish a new 21st-century system that breaks with many principles of officer management as they exist today.

Recommendations

  • For the four areas in which the services are open to new experimentation—requirements-based promotions for technical-track competitive categories, differentiating promotion rates and frequencies across competitive categories, opting out of promotion consideration, and additional enhancements for active/reserve permeability—the services could be encouraged to experiment with new flexibilities, always subject to the discretion of the service secretary regarding how far and fast to pursue them.
  • For the two areas in which new provisions seem warranted and sought after by the services—more-liberal provisions for stagnant officers and additional enhancements for active/reserve permeability—OSD and the services could begin or continue dialogue on legislative proposals to provide new flexibilities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    "Muddling Through": The Revolutionary Potential of Evolutionary Officer Management Reform

  • Chapter Three

    Promotions

  • Chapter Four

    Tenure

  • Chapter Five

    Other Issues

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Way Forward

This research was sponsored by the OSD and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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