In the Midst of Military Personnel Reform Pentagon Still Struggling How to Define Talent

April 12, 2016 10:26 AM
US Navy Photo
US Navy Photo

The senior official who led the Pentagon’s Force of the Future effort said the largest problem he faced wasn’t resistance to change from the top uniformed leadership in the department, but how to define “what talent means” in recruiting and retaining people.

Speaking Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, to explain why he put tight deadlines on studies and recommendations, Brad Carson quoted Gen. Edwin “Shy” Meyer, former Army chief of staff: “You have to overwhelm the bureaucracy” and then let it assimilate the reforms.

Using the expected changes coming in the Defense Officers Personnel Management Act over the next two-to-five years as an example of fostering change, he added, “A year ago that wasn’t even on the table.” While the combat arms probably would retain an “up-or-out” policy, it is a template that might not work efficiently in signal, cyber or space.

Cyber “is an obvious example where reform is needed” in recruiting, promoting and retaining in both the military and civilian side of the department. “In some ways, [the challenge] is greater with the civilians” not only over higher salaries offered in the private sector but because applicants being made to “wait 10 months as a barista for a clearance.”

Carson predicted more opportunities for lateral entry into cyber or other high demand fields such piloting unmanned aerial vehicles and cargo planes. He also expects greater integration of the active and reserve components in the future.

Realizing that one size does not fit all is “what we’re after.” He said that is an important difference that the private sector has seized upon.

At a February Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Carson was pressed often on not keeping members informed on the costs of changes and whether a civilian model and personnel practices were fitted for the military.

Carson, who served in a number of “acting” positions in the Army secretariat and the Defense Department as personnel chief, said, “I think the ideas stand” on issues such as extended child-care hours and freezing eggs for later childbearing, flexibility in assignments including opening the combat arms as ways to make military service more attractive to women and better equity in instituting a 401(k) retirement program for all members. “We will see more [change] to come” such as in changing policies and regulations covering transgender recruits and members.

“There was never a situation where someone said ‘over my dead body’,” he said

“[Secretary of Defense Ash] Carter has been a terrific supporter” of the changes and in supporting efforts inside the department and with Congress, he said, to make the military “a better fighting force that “is still consistent with operational needs.”

Carson said he viewed his role in the department as “a policy entrepreneur” and salesman taking the work of the past 30 years by think-tanks, war colleges and outside experts in reforming the personnel system in stages that could be taken immediately and examining longer-range changes that required congressional or administrative actions outside the Defense Department.

In dealing with experts outside the Pentagon, he said “we need to do this, give us your feedback . . . be a fellow traveler” to make those changes.

Carson, a former congressman and Iraq war veteran, said he is leaving the post after about a year because the “Vacancies Act was working its strange wizardry on me”—in which his title changed from “acting under secretary” eventually to “senior adviser” over time because his confirmation was not acted upon by the Senate.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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