Carter to Sailors: I Want to Make Careers More Flexible

In this Sept. 30, 2015, photo Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
In this Sept. 30, 2015, photo Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

While the Pentagon's personnel reforms were dealt a setback when the official behind the plan, Brad Carson, resigned in March, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told sailors Tuesday during a base tour he's still working to make career advancement more flexible in order to retain top talent.

Speaking at Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, while on a tour of New England installations, Carter said new technology enabled the Defense Department to manage people in a more discriminating way, and the ongoing Force of the Future plan create ways to do that.

The so-called Force of the Future plan includes a dense portfolio of recommended personnel changes that include pay tables designed to reward those in high-demand career fields and allow commanders to recognize individual performers; a repeal of the up-or-out standards that currently create time-in-grade promotion deadlines for troops; and opportunities for troops to put their careers on hold in order to gain experience in civilian industry.

Carter said Tuesday there were additional details of the anticipated career advancement changes he couldn't discuss yet.

"I want to make changes that will help us in terms of readiness and in the long-term, the quality of the force," he said. "In the short term, I think that might give some individuals or some commanders additional flexibility as well and that's a good thing. But the honest truth is, it's not that I'm trying to give you flexibility--I'd like to tell you that but I'd be lying--it's really that I want to take advantage of what flexibility offers the force."

Carter's remarks come against a backdrop of intense criticism from Congress that has followed the Force of the Future plan ever since it was introduced last year.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain called the program a "waste of time" in light of pressing budget concerns, and others have faulted the reforms for being part of a progressive agenda for the military.

On Tuesday, Carter reiterated his defense of the plan as a way to keep troops in high-demand fields and avoid eliminating options for developing the future force.

"If we're killing ourselves in some way or limiting ourselves in some way with a one-size-fits-all system, it doesn't make sense," Carter said. "So we're going to look at things like the [career] clock and so forth and look to make some changes to a system which, I need to add, and you are proof of it, overall works incredibly well."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Hope.Seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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