Panetta Continues Pushing for Pentagon Recruiting Reforms

Defense Department file photo

President Trump’s efforts to build up the military’s weaponry would be for naught if the Defense Department is unable to attract qualified talent, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote in a Wednesday Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Co-authored by former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., the essay updated a March report Panetta helped write for the Bipartisan Policy Center, which offered 39 recommendations for addressing Defense shortfalls in cybersecurity, nuclear technology and foreign language proficiency, and for “making military service more attractive to a broader segment of American society.”

This week’s essay noted recent testimony from Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford saying “the Air Force has a shortfall of almost 1,500 pilots,” while the Army has been forced to offer more re-enlistment bonuses and “the Navy is straining to keep officers who operate its ships’ nuclear reactors.” All of the military branches have “struggled to build new cyber units,” according to the testimony.

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Panetta and Talent warned that a personnel system designed in 1947 to fight the Soviet Union cannot continue as a “one-size-fits-all system for recruiting, retaining and promoting troops” if it “treats nearly every service member as an interchangeable cog.”

The solution for making the all-volunteer system work in the 21st century, they argued, is a model that “would reward experience and performance without unduly burdening military families.”

The op-ed recommended that the Pentagon discard policies that prohibit experienced individuals from entering the military at higher ranks so that the military can entice talented recruits. The Pentagon also must make it easier for volunteers to make the transition from active duty to the reserve or National Guard, Panetta and Talent said.

“The military could encourage troops to continue serving by allowing them to compete for promotion,” they wrote. “Military promotions today are largely a seniority-based system governed by predetermined timelines.”

They suggested new career paths for those who want to devote their military service to a particular specialty instead of pursuing senior ranking command. “Allowing service members more say in their career aspirations would create a more skilled military while improving satisfaction and retention,” they wrote. “We recommend giving service members more influence over when and where they move. They should not have to make the untenable choice between serving their nation or their family’s best interests.”

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