The Biggest Change to Officer Promotions in Decades

The military needs to change how it retains its officer corps, and start encouraging experiences outside of the traditional military mission and while working to promote those best suited for a job instead of those who are the most senior. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in unveiling new initiatives for his Force of the Future project to modernize the military personnel system, proposed four changes to the Defense Officer Personnel Act. “Together, these stand to be the most consequential changes to our officer promotion system in over 30 years, if not more,” Carter said during a Pentagon speech on Thursday.

Carter proposed that the military services be able to adjust, based on performance, the “lineal numbers of their officer corps” to promote based on performance, not on seniority. The services should be able to defer when officers are considered for promotion, so an officer can put off promotion boards if they wish to pursue “less traditional career paths” and not be harmed for it. The Pentagon should be able to recruit a properly skilled civilian and place them into service at a rank commensurate with their experience, much like a medical doctor. While this wouldn’t work for certain jobs, such as aircraft wing commanders or infantry leaders, it would help to recruit the best cyber operators from civilian jobs into military service. Lastly, Carter said future defense secretaries need to have the flexibility to adjust officer promotions and retainment down the line. He called on Congress to grant this leeway, saying “there’s good news here because we know some on Capitol Hill already agree with us.”