The Defense Officer Personnel Management Act faces scrutiny in 2018

January 26, 2018

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Subcommittee on Personnel, held a hearing this week to consider potential changes to the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA). DOPMA was signed into law in December 1980 and has been the guideline for officer personnel management for the services ever since.

The SASC panel, led by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), heard testimony regarding DOPMA from experts - including two former Undersecretaries of Defense for Personnel and Readiness - as well as the current personnel chiefs of each service.

In the late 1970s, congressional leadership passed the legislation that brought DOPMA into existence to help modernize management practices and to correct problems and challenges with officer management that emerged in the post-World War II era.

Over DOPMA's 38 years of existence, Congress has achieved most of its stated goals: creating uniform promotion rates, standardizing career lengths across the services, and regulating the number of senior officers as a proportion of the force. DOPMA also created reasonable and predictable expectations regarding when an officer would be eligible for promotion. 

However, DOPMA has been criticized for creating a system that has resulted in high turnover rates, frequent moves, and relatively shorter military careers. As the law currently is written, DOPMA does not allow new officers to immediately enter career fields (that aren't related to medical or legal specialties), and it greatly restricts certain types of compensation such as retention bonuses for the officer corps. Such bonuses are prevalent in the enlisted career fields and the private sector.

In view of future personnel needs and requirements, including some stated most recently in DoD's 2018 national defense strategy, Congress is considering making some adjustments to DOPMA over the course of the next year.

Changes and adjustments to DOPMA will not come without challenges; they will require Congress to make some tough choices. But as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stated upon the release of the new national defense strategy, “Adapting to face tomorrow's challenges doesn't come without tough choices.” 

 

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