The Buzz

The Pentagon Should Unshackle Its Military Personnel with One Standard Evaluation

After the Allied invasion of Sicily was complete in the late summer of 1943, Lieutenant General George Patton took a respite from the war to type up an Efficiency Report for his deputy, Lieutenant General Omar Bradley.  The short, two page report had only thirteen questions.  In them, Patton observed Bradley over the course of “intimate daily contact” and commended Bradley as “not only a great soldier, but an utterly loyal friend.”  When asked to gauge his deputy up against the other general officers that he was familiar, Patton ranked Bradley 2nd out of the 12 he knew and recommended that he be granted command of “An Army.”  Patton was already famous in his own right but General Omar Bradley would go on to be one of only four 5-star generals in U.S. military history and the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Seventy years later, evaluations remain an integral, albeit understated and underappreciated, system for the military.  In fact, the U.S. military now stands as one of the largest assessment organizations in the world with almost 1.4 million active duty and 800,000 Guard and Reserve personnel. Combined, they expend in excess of 3 million hours (roughly 342 years) annually in the preparation, rating, review, and socialization of their military professional evaluations.  Yet, each Service has its own stove-piped assessment system that essentially evaluates the same thing: identifying the most qualified Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine for advancement and assignment to positions of increased responsibility.  However, my recent study in Joint Forces Quarterly (JFQ) finds that while the distinct Services’ systems appear to support their respective Services’ needs well enough, four disparate and divergent evaluation systems burden joint operations, distract from larger Department of Defense (DoD) personnel initiatives, degrade the Joint Force’s ability to achieve stated national military objectives, and inefficiently expend limited resources. Moreover, the highest military positions remain at the Joint, Interagency, and Secretariat-level so why isn’t there one standard evaluation?

Administrative Obstacles to the Warfighter

Filling out the myriad of evaluations for different military personnel in a Joint-environment, such as on-going operations in Syria or Afghanistan, is a difficult task in itself.  But it becomes more so when the senior DoD civilians and the Joint Force need to identify skilled and competent personnel for special programs and operational assignments, certify Joint credit and qualifications, or to fulfill and track DoD-wide personnel initiatives.  Recently, the GAO criticized DoD for its inability to hold the Services accountable during the performance evaluation process or monitor professionalism issues linked to ethics, gender issues, and command climate.  For their part, the Services have employed their evaluation systems to monitor some of these issues as well as others highlighted by the GAO. For instance, the Marine Corps commissioned multiple studies over the last decade to assess to what extent biases exist within officer evaluations based on occupation, race, gender, commissioning source, educational achievement, and other factors.  Meanwhile, the Army has taken great strides to wrestle grade inflation among its officer corps with its revised evaluation system.  While these individual efforts are helpful, they could be better coordinated among the Services and Joint Force to capture what are essentially shared, cross-Service personnel challenges.

Incongruent evaluations systems also degrade the ability of the Joint Force to face stated national military objectives more effectively. Joint Force doctrine maintains that its strength relies on the combination of unique Service capabilities, such as personnel, into a coherent operational whole in order to execute globally integrated operations.  An integrated personnel evaluation system would significantly bolster this endeavor. Besides, enhanced jointness already exists within many military specialty communities that have similar performance metrics, such as health care and medical services, special operations, chaplain corps, logistics, cyber, public affairs, electronic warfare, military police, intelligence, and engineering. Regrettably, up till now, no comprehensive study neither evaluated the U.S. military’s myriad of personnel evaluation systems as a whole, nor assessed the lost productivity and resources consumed in maintaining these separate regimes.

Primer on Military Evaluations