Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel chiefs jointly testified in January before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel on the need to make targeted reforms to the 1980 Defense Officer Personnel Management Act to provide greater flexibility to recruit and retain the officers they need.
Reforms unveiled last week by the full committee, in its version of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill, might be viewed by service leaders as having gone beyond what's needed to modernize officer management.
One provision likely viewed as radical would mandate that the services end the practice of defining promotion zones based on officer "year groups" - the date officers were commissioned or gained current rank - to rely instead on competitive categories that group officers by similar specialties, occupations or ratings.
Current law grants the services broad authority to establish competitive categories for officer promotion. The Navy has chosen to use 20 categories, but the Marine Corps groups all officers into two. The committee favors Navy's approach.
Another reform provision would prohibit the practice of requiring service secretaries to provide consistent promotion timing or promotion opportunity across competitive categories of officers in each service.
Other provisions would give the military optional promotion guidelines. But even a few of these "will be controversial," said retired Army Col. Michael Barron, director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America.
One such provision would expand use of "constructive credit" to infuse commissioned ranks with more civilian expertise, for example to strengthen cyberwarfare capabilities or take account of private sector training. It would allow direct commission of civilians up to the rank of colonel or Navy captain.
"That's one of the most controversial topics," Barron predicted.
The House version of the defense authorization bill contains no provisions to reform. If the Senate package survives floor debate this summer and clears the full Senate, a House-Senate conference committee will negotiate differences in the separate defense bills.
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