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New Act Seeks Flexibility in Military Personnel Decisions

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2003 – If there's a single word that describes the Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act, it is "flexibility," said David Chu, defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness.

Coalition forces in Iraq have demonstrated what flexibility can bring to the battlefield. U.S. forces involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom were more agile and better able to respond to the unexpected than any force in history.

The Defense Department wants to get the same advantages from flexibility in personnel systems, Chu said during an interview. "The system needs to be able to respond to new and unexpected circumstances," Chu said. "That's really at the heart of what we're proposing here."

The act would give the department new means of shaping the military and civilian workforce. The act's effect on military personnel could be wide-ranging.

One big change is with senior officers. "It is the precept that we are going to be more purposeful in how long an officer spends in a particular position," Chu said.

Now, senior officers tend to change jobs every 18 months to two years. "If it's an operational job running a division, running a corps that's perfectly reasonable," he said. "In fact, after two years, you probably need a rest after a job like that."

But if the job entails changing an institution, or reshaping processes, the chief needs to spend more than two years in the job. "That's what experience and common sense tell us," Chu said. For certain jobs, senior military leaders may spend four to six years to see change through successfully.

Chu said the legislation will help change the culture of the organization. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said on many occasions that senior leaders must be in a job long enough to see how the changes they have instituted are working in the organization. "The expectation is that if you are successful, you will stay there from three, four or five years," Chu said.

Another aspect of the legislation will allow senior talent to stay around longer. "The secretary asks why do we throw away our four-star talent after just one such assignment," Chu said. "Shouldn't they be invited to consider another assignment?"

He said Marine Gen. James Jones is a case in point. After serving as the commandant of the Marine Corps, Jones "was invited to become our military commander in Europe."

Upper age limit for officers is 62. To continue to serve they may need to stay until age 65 or 66.

By itself, this initiative would slow promotions at the senior level. But part and parcel with this initiative is legislation to allow any officer of one-star rank or above to retire with full benefits without serving the full three years required by law today.

This would allow promotion to flag rank to stay about where it is now, Chu said.

Chu said these changes will not mean a big shift for enlisted personnel now, but he anticipates some changes especially for those in higher ranks in the future.

If Congress accepts these changes, it will mean significant changes for reserve component members. "We need to change our paradigm of how we view the reserves," Chu said. "As the current mobilization illustrates, the reserves are an equally critical volunteer force for the United States. We need to be able to use reservists properly going forward. And one of the problems the department has is we have a mindset that reservists serve 39 days a year and that's it."

The 39 days comes from a reservist serving a weekend a month plus a two-week active-duty period. "That paradigm comes out of a different era, and it's not consistent with current realities," he said.

The new view is that reservists are people interested in serving their country, but on a less than full-time basis. "We need to 'advantage' them," he said. "We need to make it possible for them to serve in the best way, given our needs and their inclinations."

So, 39 days may not be the right number of days per year, he said. Given the skill, the number may be less or more. Given the needs of the country, the number may be less or more. "Take linguists for example," Chu said. "We may not need to see you 39 days a year in most years. But that year we need you, we may see you a lot more."

Chu said the legislation will create "a continuum of service in that it is not just 39 days versus 365 there may be some number in between."

Shifting back and forth between the active and reserve components would become easier. An active duty service member may find that for personal reasons he or she cannot serve full time. That person could step out of that active service into a reserve status with the prospect that he or she can go back on active status at a later time.

"By serving in the reserves, they keep their skills up, they keep their connections up, they know how to do their job," Chu said. "We have a lot of people who would be interested in that option, given the realities of family life in America today."

It would also serve to strengthen reserve units, and would certainly save money. "We've already paid for these people's training," Chu said. "If they go off into civilian life and we never hear from them again, that's a great loss for the United States."

The legislation would allow DoD to transfer about 320,000 military positions in the active force to civilian status either civil servant or contractor. The United States needs military personnel to perform military missions. "There are other new military missions people would like to use the active duty end strength for," Chu said.

Chu gave some examples of the types of jobs that could be transferred. "One of my favorite stories is if you go to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and you go to the lovely visiting officers quarters they have, you often find behind the desk checking you in a Navy yeoman," he said. "That person is there because of our personnel practices, but that is not a job that requires a military person to perform.

He said a broader example involves the DoD research community. A significant number of researchers are military. "Now you obviously need some military personnel in those jobs, but do we have to have as many as we do now?" he asked. "Is that the right way to staff these institutions, keeping in mind what we need military personnel for is to operate and man military units."

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