Senators Blast Pentagon Nominee over Proposed Personnel Changes

Undersecretary of the Army Brad Carson visits with Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, N.C., July 15, 2014. (Army photo/Sgt. William Reinier, 82nd Airborne Division)
Undersecretary of the Army Brad Carson visits with Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, N.C., July 15, 2014. (Army photo/Sgt. William Reinier, 82nd Airborne Division)

U.S. senators blasted the proposed nominee to oversee Pentagon personnel policy for failing to properly notify them and military officials of sweeping changes proposed for the force in recent months.

Brad Carson, the Obama administration's nominee to become undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, faced sustained criticism on Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona and chairman of the panel, wasted little time in berating Carson for not briefing lawmakers on the Pentagon's proposals to reform personnel policy as part of the so-called "Force of the Future" initiative before they were announced last year. The effort is designed in part to update pay and benefits to better attract top talent into the military.

"You've briefed the media, federal labor unions, think tanks and foreign governments on your Force of the Future initiatives, but you've never briefed this committee. Why?" McCain asked.

Carson replied, "Sir, there's never been any single request for me to brief this committee I have turned down."

McCain later asked, "Formally, you have requested to brief this committee?"

Carson replied, "I have been -- my name has been volunteered to come over here."

McCain said, "It's not how it works Mr. Carson and you know it and I know it. The way it works is if you have something that you think the committee should know about then you ask to come over and brief the committee and members of Congress and we have no record of you doing that."

The Force of the Future effort is designed in part to take a page from the corporate world by adopting best practices for workforce management. The Pentagon is slated to include a total of 2.1 million employees in the next fiscal year, including nearly 1.3 million active-duty troops, and about 800,000 reservists and 764,000 civilians.

In November, the department announced a dozen new personnel proposals as part of the program.

They included improving college internship programs, establishing a digital service to solve IT problems, launching an entrepreneur-in-residence program, expanding corporate fellows and career intermission programs, refining the new blended retirement system, piloting a new online talent management system, establishing a people analytics office, conducing troop exit surveys, studying poor recruit outcomes and implementing diversity briefings to senior leaders.

In January, it followed up with eight more targeting women and families.

They included setting maternity leave at 12 weeks for all the services and boosting paternity leave from 10 days to 14 days, expanding adoption leave for military couples, extending hours for childcare centers, creating some 3,600 nursing rooms, studying ways to enhance childcare options, letting troops stay at a base of choice and launching a pilot program to offer cryopreservation services so injured service members can freeze their sperm and eggs.

In a separate hearing on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he plans to announce additional proposals, including potentially sweeping changes to the military's officer promotion system "in coming months."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, said lawmakers received complaints from military officials about the way in which the proposals were crafted.

"Let me tell you what I'm concerned about," he told Carson. "We hear that you met with a group of people far down the road in developing this plan for the Force for the Future before senior military people were really involved and that they are frustrated about it and that they do not feel like they were properly consulted."

Carson replied, "They were very engaged in it senator from the very start of this. I can assure you of that."

Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, said he has received reports of a "hostile work environment" in Carson's office.

Carson replied, "I would strongly object to that characterization. I have never heard that allegation."

Regardless, Inhofe said he planned to request for the committee to delay a vote on Carson's nomination until a "command climate assessment" of his office was completed.

In his written responses to advance policy questions from the lawmakers, Carson said he oversaw the development of the reform proposals that were first presented to Carter in August. He also said he has personally discussed the efforts in general terms with the officials from the U.K. military, Rand Corp., Institute for Defense Analyses, and trade unions.

Of the 81 proposals presented to the defense secretary in August, Carter has approved more than three dozen, Carson said in his responses.

"The Military Services and certain components within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) have already submitted initial implementation plans for the initiatives announced by the Secretary in November 2015 and those plans are currently under initial review," he said. "To my knowledge, the only initiatives that are currently being actively implemented across the Department are expanded Maternity Leave and the creation of the Defense Digital Service (DDS)."

Note: This story was updated to correct Sen. Jeff Sessions' state of representation in the 15th paragraph.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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