Pentagon officials pledge to overhaul personnel policies

Pentagon officials are working on a plan to overhaul World War II-era personnel policies for military employees, David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said Wednesday. By next spring, when the Defense Department submits its budget request for 2003, the department hopes to have the framework for a strategic human resources plan that could dramatically change the nature of career military service, for both uniformed and civilian employees, Chu told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. Since taking office in January, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of personnel policies that require people to change jobs every two to three years and force people to retire in their 40s and 50s, sometimes just as they're coming into their professional prime. "The Secretary is asking 'Do we have the right model for the 21st century?'" Chu said. The answer seems to be no. The high turnover of military personnel in key positions, inflexible up-or-out promotion policies, low morale and poor retention rates among some grades and positions have cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of the current personnel management system, he said. The current promotion system was established following World War II to prevent stagnation in the middle ranks. At the beginning of the war, it became apparent that the senior levels of the services were clogged with over-the-hill generals and admirals long past their prime. The solution was to create a system in which the ranks would be continuously refreshed with new talent. It is unlikely the Defense Department will jettison up-or-out entirely, Chu said, but the system clearly needs to be adjusted to reflect the realities of military service today. "To use the language of the [1993] Government Performance and Results Act, what outcome do we want to have? That's what we're asking." It may be that the department creates a winnowing point, say at the rank of captain, after which promotion rates actually increase and top performers can stay on as long as their contributions are needed--much as in a corporate executive development program, said Chu. It is not unusual for a career military officer to move 15 to 20 times over the course of a 30-year career, a situation that is tremendously disruptive to families and causes many people to leave service before they have to. "No major corporation would manage their talent this way," Chu said. Chu stressed that major changes are unlikely to occur quickly, saying "As you look back at historical changes in the U.S. military, rarely do these things happen all at once." But that does not mean such changes won't happen eventually. "We're very serious," he said.
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