When Uniform Isn't Uniform

August 14, 2015

The Pentagon is leading a review of the military personnel system that could result in big changes to career tracks and promotion opportunities for troops.

The details of Defense Secretary Ash Carter's Force of the Future initiative are due to lawmakers at the end of August. Expected in the report are big changes to pay tables, bonus systems, promotion tracks, and professional development opportunities.

Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson said the intent is to create a system attractive for millennials and, as the Military Times puts it, “promotes talent rather than seniority.”

For military officers, this could mean big changes to the “up or out” promotion system to which they are accustomed. 

One of the proposals the report is expected to include is dual-track opportunities where troops can remain in specialized fields or take on more leadership roles.

The study will recommend giving defense planners more flexibility in terms of promotions. Qualified candidates may become eligible for promotion ahead of time-in-grade requirements, while satisfactorily performing troops may be given leeway to stay in their current assignments.

“A more flexible compensation system is essential to 21st-century talent management,” said Carson.

Any changes to personnel requirements will likely require amending two important pieces of legislation: Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) and the Goldwater-Nichols Act. DOPMA helped establish uniform structure and requirements across the services and set ceilings on the number of field grade officers for each service. The Goldwater-Nichols Act requires military leaders to take joint command assignments to qualify for promotion. 

“There could be merit in some of these proposals,” said MOAA's Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col Mike Barron, USA (Ret). “But all of these recommendations will need to take unit cohesion into account.”

The Force of the Future recommendations will likely be part of next year's defense budget request. 

With the limited time DoD senior leadership will have to review the proposals, coupled with what's shaping up to be a contentious election year, the likelihood of any sweeping reforms remains to be seen.

MOAA will continue to update its membership as this story develops.