Carter Proposes Changes to “Up or Out” Promotion System


By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in his bid to modernize the military’s antiquated bureaucracy, has proposed a sidestep to the 100-year-old “up or out” promotion system via sweeping new proposals.

Up or out  mandates that officers passed over twice for promotion are required to be discharged from the military.  It has been criticized as “arbitrary and bad management” that forces out “many fit, experienced officers…because there were only so many slots into which they could be promoted”.

Carter’s proposals are largely aimed at making it easier for the military services to attract and retain good quality people and keep them in jobs where they excel.

“‘Up-or-out’ isn’t broken – in fact, it’s an essential and highly successful system – but it’s also not perfect,” Carter said. “The problem, however, is that DoD can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

While Carter’s plan, part of his “Force of the Future” reforms won’t abolish the traditional up or out, it will allow the services to bypass those rules for people when they feel it’s needed.

Many of the proposals will require congressional approval, but there is some general support for giving the military greater flexibility, as long as the historical systems aren’t eliminated.

Changing the 1980 law known as the Defense Officer Personal Management Act could fundamentally redefine the officer corps’ career tracks, where promotions are mainly based on seniority rather than demonstrated talents and skills. The initiative could apply to the military’s enlisted force as well, but that would not require congressional action to change federal law.

The current promotions system does not give credit for experience and training that occurred along slightly different timelines, even if it benefited the military.

Military leaders have expressed varying degrees of support for the promotion changes, noting that in some fields — such as fighter pilots or certain combat command positions — the strict advancement system may make more sense.

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