Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced new initiatives intended to improve the officer promotion system and enhance the civilian recruiting and retention program.

Speaking to an all-hands meeting at the Pentagon, Carter cited the security challenges and the demographic, economic, and social changes facing the U.S.  He said his job was “to make sure that amid all this change DoD continues to recruit, develop, and retain the most talented men and women America has to offer.”

Carter billed the new initiatives for the military promotion system as fixes to a rigid “one size fits all” system that works most of the time, but “most of the time isn’t good enough for the Force of the Future.”  Carter said the current “up-or-out” policy can be too rigid and “can limit the ability of our services to achieve the right force mix they need.”  Often the system inhibits officers from specializing or deviating from a career path even if such a move would benefit the service and the individual, he said.

Carter identified four changes to the Department Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) to improve the effectiveness of the force by bringing the 100-year old system into the 21st century.

To incentivize the best performers, the secretaries of the Military Departments could adjust the so-called lineal numbers (based on seniority) of officers that are selected for promotion in order to recognize superior performance.  Currently, when officers are selected for promotion, they are promoted in order of seniority based on when the officer was commissioned.  Carter called this change a “key part of good talent management.”

Under another proposal, the Military Departments could approve an officer’s request to “opt out” of the promotions cycle to pursue opportunities to broaden their experience without hurting chance of promotion.  This change would enhance retention objectives and bring new skills and ideas into the management pool, according to Carter.

To enhance the recruitment of experts in critical fields (e.g., cyber and scientific fields), civilians with such skills would be able to join at a mid-career level, as is the case for civilian doctors.  This authority would “fill critical gaps in our force” and “make us more effective,” Carter said.

In order to be able to respond to future needs in critical career fields, the Military Departments would be allowed (if approved by the Secretary of Defense) “to waive select DOPMA constraints to very quickly build up expertise in a critical career field.”  This authority will enable the services the flexibility to tailor their response to future capability needs within the current system, Carter said.

Carter also identified specific changes to civilian personnel management DoD is pursuing to “make sure our future civilian force is just as great as it is today.”

To improve the department’s ability to hire the “best and brightest” in colleges and universities, the department is requesting authority to directly hire students and recent college graduates into the DoD civilian workforce.  This non-competitive authority would allow candidates to circumvent the current processes and be given a tentative job offer “on-the-spot.”  Carter called this a “game changer” in civilian recruiting.

DoD would also establish a public-private talent exchange program.  Under this program, DoD and innovative private sector companies would temporarily exchange employees for a minimum of three months and a maximum of four years.  Carter said that this program could benefit both DoD and the private sector and will “help DoD stay on the cutting edge, and be more efficient and effective.”

To enhance employee retention, DoD is requesting the authority to provide six weeks of paid parental leave for civilian employees.  Currently, military personnel receive paid parental leave.  Cater said this authority would bring DoD’s parental leave policy for military and civilians in line and would be very effective in retaining experienced civilian employees.

Both the military and civilian personnel management initiatives require congressional approval of new legislative authorities.  Carter said he would continue working with the House and Senate Armed Services committees to complete this work.

These new initiatives are the latest in a series of proposals to reform the rules and regulations on how DoD recruits, develops, and retains personnel for the future.  Previous initiatives, or “Links” as Carter calls them, involved “building and expanding on-ramps and off-ramps for talent flow between DoD and the technology sector” and promoting retention by “expanding maternity and paternity leave, extending childcare hours on bases, and giving families some geographic flexibility;” In addition, Carter said DoD had opened all combat jobs to women, and was working with Congress to make joint duty requirements more flexible.