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Pentagon proposes changes to military promotion system

Pentagon proposes changes to military promotion system
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday new plans to give military services flexibility to retain certain troops even if they are passed over for promotion twice in what is known as the "up or out" system.

“Up or out is not broken,” Carter said. “In fact it’s an essential and highly successful system. But it’s also not perfect.”

The proposals, unveiled during a speech in the Pentagon courtyard, are aimed at keeping high-tech experts or other specialists on the job. 

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The plan is part of the Carter's Force of the Future initiative, which is aimed at recruiting and retaining talent to make the Pentagon more competitive with modern workplaces.

Defense officials say Carter's new plans are not meant to bypass the "up or out" system, but give the services flexibility to bypass that system when they feel it's needed.

The promotion proposal, which would require action from Congress, would allow a major or captain to remain at their rank for years or even their entire career, if they are highly skilled in a critical field such as cyberwarfare or another technical job.

Troops could also be allowed to have their promotion review postponed if they haven't completed all the requirements for the next rank, and want to pursue another opportunity, such as an internship or higher education.

Under the current promotion system, service members must complete a number of specific requirements before getting promoted to the next rank, within certain timeframes.

Carter also wants to bring in new talent with critical abilities at higher ranks, rather than have them start at the bottom. While it is already done in some specialities, he wants to do it for high-tech jobs.

While civilians can fill some technological jobs, Carter said, “some missions have to be done by people who have the legal protections we afford military personnel.”

Other proposals would allow promotions based on merit, rather than seniority, and make it easier for troops who leave the service for medical reasons to get civilian defense jobs.

In addition to the promotion changes for military personnel, Carter announced proposals for changes to civilian personnel. Those changes would also require approval from Congress.

Carter proposed creating a two-way exchange program with the private sector and providing six weeks paid paternity leave to civilian employees.

Carter also wants the Pentagon to be able to fill civilian jobs by hiring directly on college campuses. Right now, civilian job seekers must go through the same hiring website as all federal employees, which can take months.

That long process, Carter said, can deter talented people in fields like cyber who can get job offers faster from the private sector. Under Carter’s proposal, recruits at job fairs and other events would be able to make tentative offers on the spot, pending security clearance.

“Being able to make a tentative offer is not unique,” Carter said. “The intel community has been doing it for decades. This has the potential for a real game changer.”

-- Rebecca Kheel contributed

-- Updated at 12:13 p.m.