WASHINGTON — A senior Pentagon personnel official is spearheading a deep dive to overhaul how the military manages its personnel, as directed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Despite a "revolution" in civilian human resources, the military retains an antiquated personnel system, which Brad Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, called "a Polaroid in the time of digital cameras, once the cutting edge, but now superseded.
"It is my firm belief that the current personnel system, which has satisfactorily served us for, well, for 75 years now, has become outdated," Carson said. "What once worked for us has, in the 21st century, become unnecessarily inflexible and inefficient."
Despite 66 human resources computer systems for tracking pay, the military does a poor job of gauging skills required for jobs and finding people who have them. Carson said the networking site LinkedIn is a better way to learn about troops' career aspirations and skills than a standard officer record brief.
Carson said DoD reform efforts must confront an inefficient accessions process, high attrition rates among female officers, attrition among scholarship recipients, the decline in advanced civil schooling among general officers, and an "up or out promotions system" that ejects experienced troops if they do not advance.
"We insist upon your retirement, your exit from military service in your 40s or 50s, a time when most people in the private sector are reaching the very peak of their powers," Carson said.
Carson said it was likely the reforms would involve congressional action. Congress has been involved in a proposed overhaul of the military retirement system and Carter is expected to make a recommendation later this summer — and Carson said pay and benefits have to be part of the discussion about personnel systems reform.
In general, Carson was concerned with the high churn throughout the military and suggested that the military's system of frequent moves, which presses experienced people out of service, needs to be changed.
"We have to allow people to stay in duty stations longer than they do today," he said.
The military's need for knowledgeable workers is hindered two-fold: by high attrition rates among female officers and the Army's decentralized authority for human resources and education, spread across several commands. It's unclear why, but 50 percent of female Army officers leave after their initial commitment, a significant problem, Carson said, when women predominate in higher education.
"In most of the Army staff offices, most of the staff turns over every single year," he said. "In three years the whole organization is a new one."
Carson, who must report to Carter by Aug. 19, said the process is already in motion. An upcoming war game will be the first to involve personnel officials, and the Army is conducting a review of its accessions processes, as well as an initiative promoting advanced civil schooling.
"Even those who might be critical of some of the things I've said today would say we wouldn't do the same system we have today if we were inventing the US military all over again," Carson said. "There is a revolution going on in human resources today, and we are not taking part in it."
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.