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Military Personnel System Update Long Overdue

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

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Washington, D.C. – The U.S. military personnel system today is still largely designed to combat Cold War-era threats. This outdated structure hinders the Defense Department from finding and holding onto the skills needed to defeat new and evolving national security threats, according to a newly released Bipartisan Policy Center paper.

The paper, Defense Personnel Systems: The Hidden Threat to a High-Performance Force, explores how the current system that manages military personnel is no longer adequate for keeping pace with the changing needs of the Defense Department. The staff paper is part of a series looking at military personnel issues leading up to a final report with recommendations by BPC’s Task Force on Defense Personnel that is expected to be released in March.

The one-size-fits-all approach is no longer fitting for the modern military.

The paper highlights a promotion system that is steeped with the expectation that officers will progress toward commanding increasingly larger units during their military careers. One result is that service members who are highly proficient in very technical yet critical fields, such as cybersecurity and acquisitions, must eventually leave their area of expertise or leave the military.

“Military personnel systems have changed before to meet evolving national security needs, and personnel policies and practices must change again to confront current and future challenges,” Blaise Misztal, national security director at BPC, said. “The one-size-fits-all approach is no longer fitting for the modern military.”

“The military excels at attracting talent that leaders know they will need a decade in advance, but the system is poorly suited to quickly meet urgent and unexpected demands for specialized skills,” Steve Bell, a BPC fellow, said.