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American Forces Press Service

Facing the Future: Chu Outlines NSPS, Other Initiatives

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2005 Defense Department civilians will soon be paid for productivity rather than longevity, while in future years servicemembers may be required to serve longer tours of duty and spend more time in the military before becoming eligible for retirement.

These initiatives are part of DoD efforts to transform itself into a more agile and efficient organization for the 21st century, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, noted during an interview with the Pentagon Channel for its documentary “Facing the Future.”

In fact, Chu noted, the new National Security Personnel System slated for partial implementation in July will affect about 300,000 of the department’s 700,000 civilian employees. Remaining DoD civilian employees are slated to move into the new system starting around January 2007.

Current civilian pay scales, Chu explained, are based on how “long you’ve been around.” He said polls show the younger workers DoD is seeking to replace retiring older employees want a more performance-based compensation system.

“They want to join an organization where if you do more, you are rewarded,” he pointed out.

Performance for pay “is not an untried principle” at DoD, Chu pointed out, noting several pay-for-performance pilot programs have been tested through the years.

The NSPS also gives managers the tools to hire new employees more quickly and more means to discipline underproducers.

Such change, Chu acknowledged, is likely to be “upsetting” among a workforce accustomed to the older personnel system. Managers who will supervise workers under the NSPS, he noted, will “require training and preparation in order for them to be effective.”

Chu asked DoD employees to be patient as NSPS is implemented, noting studies of pay-for-performance pilot programs have shown most workers like the new system.

After NSPS has been fully implemented “you will have a much happier work force,” Chu predicted.

He pointed out that old civil service rules hamstrung supervisors and often caused military members to be employed for tasks that could be accomplished by civilian employees. Implementation of NSPS, Chu noted, will allow more flexible use of civilian employees, while freeing up military members to perform other important duties.

Another initiative that’s under study, Chu said, involves establishing longer duty tours for servicemembers, especially senior officers. He noted that some military leaders serve in their posts for too short a time.

“So, they never have enough tenure to make transformational changes, to see them through to success,” Chu pointed out, noting many senior officer tours of duty span just 18 to 24 months.

Another personnel change under consideration is increasing the years of service military members need to retire. Today’s 20-year minimum required for military retirement, he said, “has become something of an ‘automatic’ event” that began after World War II.

The 20-year retirement, Chu said, was established in conjunction with an “up-or-out” policy recommended by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall that was designed to prune veteran servicemembers who’d become ineffective partly due to increased age.

But today’s servicemembers in their 40s and 50s are “physically fit,” he pointed out, and are “able to do many of the things that are necessary to do” in the military environment. Consequently, Chu maintained, “we need to have a system that allows them to serve … on active service longer.” And that envisioned change, Chu pointed out, “is one of the most difficult transformational challenges” DoD faces.

“We are really at (the) early stages in making this shift,” he explained. “Some of it requires legislative changes, which we have not yet convinced the Congress to make.”

Addressing the amount of military pay required to attract and retain quality servicemembers in the future, Chu emphasized, “If we don’t keep up a vigorous, upfront compensation package, we will not succeed in the long term.”

Achieving transformation, Chu pointed out, requires having “a sharp and appropriate set of tools in your toolkit” and a willingness to adapt new methods of doing military business. For example, the asymmetrical nature of the war against terrorism, he noted, has made U.S. military field hospitals likely enemy targets.

Consequently, he said, it’s now routine for servicemembers who’ve been severely wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq to be medically stabilized in local field hospitals and then air-evacuated to “safe havens” in Germany or the United States for further treatment.

This transformational change, Chu observed, contrasts from past practices, where injured troops most often received medical care at facilities established in or near war zones. He credited the field hospitals “for being able to stabilize the patients” and the Air Force for providing the needed “air bridge” support.

“We will not go backwards,” Chu declared, noting DoD will no longer plan to “take heavy, bulky, hard-to-protect medical facilities to the front.”

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