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DoD Seeking 'Demonstration Authority' for Changes to Officer Management

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2005 – Defense officials are requesting that Congress give the department permission to experiment with some changes to officer personnel management.

Officials have requested "demonstration authority" to test changes in compensation, promotions and retention in four limited categories of military officers: Army foreign area officers, Navy engineering and aviation engineering duty officers, and Navy acquisition officers, explained Bill Carr, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy.

Carr explained that the war on terrorism has brought to light limitations to officer personnel management that officials just hadn't contemplated. Yet, military leaders and congressional oversight committees are wary of implementing sweeping changes without proof that the changes would work.

"One way to ... see if you can test some transformational ideas before you go online full time is to try a demonstration authority," he said during a media roundtable in his Pentagon office earlier this month.

The Office of Management and Budget has approved the demonstration plan, and the Defense Department's request for this authority now lies with Congress.

The military faces unique personnel challenges because the manpower pool is "bottom-fed," Carr said. "We grow from the bottom. We recruit at year one and then (personnel) grow up," he said.

This is different from government and private-sector civilian organizations in that they allow lateral entry at any point up or down the scale.

"If we did that, it would open up a whole range of options that we don't have. The reason we don't do it is as much cultural as it is pragmatic," Carr said. "To earn the right to supervise soldiers, one must have grown up as a soldier, and that's held ... as a part of the military ethos."

Officials have had demonstration authority to experiment with federal-civilian personnel policies for several years. Civilian demonstration programs are generally limited to a fairly small group of individuals, but the authority to do so for such programs "pretty much says you may waive law as it relates to promotion and pay and other major variables, and you can determine whether or not a new approach would be more effective," Carr said.

Defense officials are simply requesting the same flexibility to test changes to policies governing military officers, he said.

"Nobody is more interested in holding down manpower costs than is the Defense Department, and nobody is more interested in readiness than is the Defense Department," Carr said. "We're saying, 'Empower us so that we can experiment with good ideas and offer you provably good ideas.'"

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