WASHINGTON, March 17, 2016 – Force of the Future reforms are aligning military and civilian personnel rules with the 21st century, one of the program’s architects said in a recent interview, noting that some revolutionary changes already are moving into place.
Brad R. Carson, senior advisor to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told DoD News that one of the new family-friendly rules — extended maternity leave – will be effective almost immediately and another, egg freezing, will be covered by TRICARE starting Oct. 1.
Such changes in the personnel systems account for similar employee benefit developments in the private sector and for changing expectations of the millennial generation.
The secretary so far has announced two groups of reforms, Carson said. These are reforming practices to recruit and retain service members, and making changes to appeal more to service members and their families.
“Both [groups] have been wildly popular, we’ve found, [with] great support from the force, from senior leaders, and whole Facebook page is devoted to … how this is going to revolutionize the experience of service members,” Carson said.
The first group of reforms included blended retirement, the establishment of a Defense Digital Service, designating a chief recruiting officer and establishing an Office of People Analytics.
On blended retirement, Carson said today’s retirement system works only for those who have served for 20 years — a number that includes only 10 to 17 percent of service members.
“We’ve tried to modernize the retirement system so that you take away something no matter how long you’ve served,” he said.
Service members will have a 401K plan that they can invest in immediately on entering the service, and after the third year the department will contribute to those plans.
On the Defense Digital Service, Carson said this is an arm of the U.S. Digital Service. The USDS is made up of software engineers and other experts from across the country who came in at the last minute in December 2013 to shore up the administration’s overburdened healthcare.gov website.
At the Defense Department, Carson said, such experts will come in and work for six months or two years and have a high impact.
“That’s really our vision for Force of the Future — we want to have this kind of permeability between the private and public sectors, he added.
Recruiting and Analysis
On the chief recruiting officer and office of people analytics, Carson said the department is moving forward on both reforms.
The department hasn’t yet found the right person to serve as chief recruiting officer, he said. But there’s a need to recruit executives from the private sector to “come in for a few years to help us,” he added.
The office of people analytics will help the department learn more about its service members and civilians and help the services and the Pentagon retain them, Carson said.
“Why do they leave? When do they really join? What do they want over the course of their careers? And what are trends that can be identified?” he said.
“The office of people analytics [will have] three or four PhDs in data science [who will] look at these kinds of trends,” Carson said.
In the second tranche of family reforms, he said the department is moving rapidly on extending maternity leave, which it already has the authority to do, and asking Congress to help the department extend paternity leave.
Another initiative within the second group of reforms seeks to allow a service member, in exchange for an extra service obligation, to stay on a post longer than usual to stabilize their family or accommodate a spouse’s career.
“We’re not forcing the services to do this, we’re giving them the tools [so that] if they want to use this as an incentive they really can,” Carson said.
Another piece, flexible family planning, will make egg-freezing part of the TRICARE program, increase the number of lactation rooms in DoD facilities, and keep every military childcare center open for at least 14 hours a day, he said.
“We hope that we can at least start the implementation of most of these reforms over just the next few months,” he added.
“So for example maternity leave will be almost immediate. Egg freezing will be on Oct. 1. … It may take a few months or even a couple of years to fully implement, but we can start immediately and get the ball rolling,” Carson said.
The Next Reforms
Carson said the next big group of reforms, which are currently under review by the defense secretary, will include making the up-or-out system governing officer promotions more flexible, allowing lateral entry into the military, establishing technical tracks, and encouraging military departments to send more of their officers and senior enlisted to advanced civil schooling.
After that, he said, the department will announce reforms to the 700,000-employee civilian personnel system.
“The challenges are that the personnel system has been around for a very long time, and so there are a lot of rules and regulations that have been built up. Expectations and careers have been built around these rules,” Carson said.
“You have to measure twice and cut once when you think about changing the personnel system,” he added, “but we think we’re making some real progress by looking at what the needs of the force are — what families need.”