Carter to Revive 'Force of the Future' Plan Despite Lawmaker Criticism

Ashton Carter. DoD photo by R.D. Ward
Ashton Carter. DoD photo by R.D. Ward

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday that he would seek to revive his "Force of the Future" plan for overhauling the military personnel system, which appeared to be dead on arrival in Congress last week.

At a Pentagon news conference, he said he would continue to defend the plan at future congressional hearings to make sure that "we attract the very best and also that we retain the very best" for the military.

Carter said he would be appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the coming weeks and "I look forward to telling them more about it. And I hope that everyone understands the logic of what we're doing."

Last week, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and the chairman of the panel, called Carter's plan "an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints. It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient defense organization."

In unveiling the plan last year, Carter said he was looking to make the military more business-like and family-friendly through a series of reforms. He proposed 12 weeks service-wide for maternity leave for active-duty female service members. The Navy currently provides 18 weeks of maternity leave; the Air Force and the Army provide six weeks.

The proposals initially included major changes to military pay, benefits and promotion schedules, with suggestions of midcareer sabbaticals and the elimination of the up-or-out rank advancement rules.

The secretary has also pushed for reforms to the personnel management systems to match troops with desired job assignments and the creation of a new office to oversee efforts to attract top talent to the ranks.

On Monday, Carter insisted that he was not trying to take the business model to the extreme in crafting the proposals.

"We're not a company. We're not Walmart," he said. As a military organization, "we're not like anybody else." He added, "Our objective here simply is force effectiveness. We're not trying to be futuristic. We're not trying to be progressive. We're trying to make sure that we continue to attract and retain the very best."

At a SASC hearing last week, Brad Carson, the nominee for undersecretary of Defense for personnel and one of the architects of the "Force of the Future" plan, came under withering criticism from Senate Republicans.

"I find it deeply disturbing that you are proposing to add expensive fringe benefits allegedly aimed at retention during a time when we are asking 3,000 excellent Army captains to leave the service who would have otherwise chosen to remain on active duty," McCain said, referring to the downsizing of the Army to 450,000 soldiers by fiscal 2018.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said the plan was too "progressive" for his tastes, and Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, questioned whether business models were suited for an organization involved in national security.

Carter's plan disclosed last year raised eyebrows with the suggestion that military pay should be influenced by "the principles of talent management."

The Pentagon was going ahead with "a comprehensive study for the purposes of better aligning basic and special pays with the principles of talent management," according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the plan.

The fact sheet did not define what was meant by "talent management" or provide other details but stated, "This study will build upon the recent findings of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) by focusing exclusively on possible reforms associated with basic and special pays."

When asked for an explanation, a senior Defense official, speaking on background said that Carter's intent was to reform the way the military pays its troops to be more in line with the way major corporations handle compensation to attract talent.

"Right now everyone is paid the same based on your rank and time in grade," the official said, but "that isn't necessarily how America's leading companies do that. You might be on the same team and you make different amounts," because the wages for particular skills were different, the official said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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