Nascent Strategy Foreshadows Seismic Personnel Changes

Nascent Strategy Foreshadows Seismic Personnel Changes

Barnard, Richard C

While the public spotlight in Washington, D.C., is focused on defense numbers, as usual, relatively scant attention is being given to a nascent personnel management strategy that foretells of fundamental change to the Navy and its people, possibly to include several revolutionary shifts in the service’s recruitment and staffing practices.

Under development by the Navy’s senior officers, the Human Capital Strategy foreshadows far-reaching effects on the service that potentially dwarf the consequences of the latest budget phenomenon – the $30 billion of Pentagon procurement cuts over six years – that has for weeks galvanized Congress and the defense press corps.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark has directed his admirals to challenge every assumption “inherent in our current manpower approach.” The central pillars of that approach are rooted in the post-World War II era, when the nation had a conscript Navy with a 20-year vested retirement plan as the chief financial incentive for the corps of professionals who ran the service.

The Human Capital Strategy is a work in progress intended “to change our policies and organizational structures – like non-rated billets – that inhibit the growth and development of our people,” Clark said in his “Guidance for 2005.” He wants nothing less than to inspire “great leaps in human possibilities” throughout the fleet.

To achieve that lofty goal, the service is assessing personnel changes that, if implemented, would create a profoundly different Navy of the future. Among the possibilities:

* A blurring of the roles and responsibilities of officers and senior enlisted personnel;

* Changes in the concept and purpose of shore assignments;

* Improvements in what one admiral called sailors’ “work-life balance;”

* The creation of new “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” enabling individuals with high-value skills to enter the Navy for a few years and leave with a substantial sum of money tucked in their personal bank accounts, thanks to a vesting program that would be created;

* Major changes to the ways in which support services – from dentistry to weather forecasting – are provided, saving millions of dollars;

* Force reductions beyond those already announced, as the Navy continues to scrutinize its personnel requirements, transferring many jobs now done by uniformed personnel to civilian employees or contractors.

Navy officials emphasize that these and other possibilities are under assessment. Some will turn out to be nothing more than interesting experiments. Most decisions lie months or years away.

Vice Adm. Gerald. L. Hoewing, chief of naval personnel, said the prospective changes in the wind are a product of the times. The Navy has to deliver new warfighting capabilities at a pace faster than ever before.

“We have changed our business processes to … drive up the capability performance of our platforms,” Hoewing said. The service’s Fleet Response Plan, for example, includes shifts in ship maintenance schedules to get more sea days out of the fleet. The idea behind the Human Capital Strategy is to change personnel processes and drive up productivity.

That means challenging virtually every tenet of the service’s personnel policies and practices. The Navy will have to reshape much of its culture to accommodate the tectonic shifts in personnel management envisioned for the future. The service has for years been a fast-changing organization. But the ideas being discussed, such as recruiting highly skilled individuals into the Navy for a five- or six-year tour and assigning senior enlisted personnel as division officers aboard destroyers are, for many in today’s Navy, a radical departure from the norm.

Two keys to success are good communications with the Navy’s rank-and-file and robust testing of new ideas, Hoewing said. Both will be needed as, for example, the Navy takes a long and skeptical look at the whole idea of shore tours.

Sea-shore rotations are “a big cultural thing for our Navy,” Hoewing said. “After a sailor has spent a certain amount of time at sea, he has to go to a shore-duty assignment even if the job is worthless. He has to have that break from sea duty,” and time to be with his family.

In too many instances, however, the process is a waste of sailors’ energy and talents. While on sea duty, sailors become “as technically competent and mission capable as they can possibly be,” Hoewing said. However, sailors often then move to jobs ashore that have nothing to do with their specialties. Their skills atrophy and their motivation declines. The Navy spent time and money training them, but much of that investment is lost because of the way sea-shore rotation is done.

“We need to create an opportunity for that sailor to have a work-life balance but be able to stay in his or her skill set,” Hoewing said.

One possibility is to assign sailors on shore duty to back up the crews preparing their ships for a sea tour. The additional people would reduce the long hours and stress involved in preparing a ship to get underway.

The jobs now done by sailors ashore will be given a stringent review, Hoewing said. Some probably can be eliminated while others are assigned to civilians or contractors, driving costs down.

Uniformed personnel are the most costly human resource in the military. Their basic compensation is only 70 percent of what civilians are paid. But other personnel expenses such as housing, retirement accrual and health care drive the total costs of uniformed people above that of civilians or contractors who do the same work. That is why Clark, Hoewing and other officials hammer away at the need to give every Navy billet a serious review. Those that do not require a military specialist will be subject to outsourcing or conversion to a civilian slot.

Tradeoffs like this will enable the service to continue reductions of uniformed personnel, contributing to Clark’s goal of creating “a better trained and better compensated, but smaller workforce in the future.”

The Navy’s official goal is to eliminate 6.5 percent – 25,035 people – from its active force by 2008, but Hoewing said the number of men and women on active duty probably “will continue to go down … as we become smarter at determining the true requirement” for sailors. Those who remain in the service will spend more time in jobs connected directly to Navy readiness, “giving us more bang for the buck.”

Toward that end, the Navy is continuing to assess ways to reduce the crews of its ships, present and future. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is testing reductions of 450 sailors from its ship’s company and carrier air wing of approximately 4,600, according to a report in the weekly newspaper Navy Times. Program managers for the future CVN-21 carrier have a mandate for substantial reductions in the ship’s company and air wing. Experiments by Naval Surface Forces, Pacific, have demonstrated that destroyer crews can be reduced by about one-third.

Another way to improve productivity is to look for underutilized assets, causing some in the Navy to quickly cast their eyes on the ranks of the services’ senior enlisted personnel, the master, senior and chief petty officers renowned for their knowledge and years of service. Many, including Clark, believe they could contribute more.

That is the idea behind a two-year experiment aboard the destroyer USS Decatur, in which 19 of the ship’s 23 divisions will be run by chiefs rather than junior officers. Begun in November, the Decatur test is intended to give chiefs greater responsibilities and “develop lessons for potential future applications,” Rear Adm. Terry Etnyre, commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, said in a written statement.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry D. Scott said the Decatur experiment is “recognition that our senior enlisted personnel are truly capable of taking on additional responsibilities. In many instances, they have been underutilized for a good period of time.”

Those days are probably over.

“The CNO believes that in the 21st century, the roles and responsibilities between officers and enlisted will blur,” Hoewing said. Senior enlisted people “have tremendous capabilities … they’ve got great ideas, so why not tap into that human resource pool?” It also could lead to changes in the mix of personnel in a service that some say has too many officers.

Another change that may be tested is the creation of what Hoewing calls “on-ramps and off-ramps” into and out of the Navy, especially for highly skilled technical specialists to fill shortfalls in the Navy’s manpower requirements.

At present, all enlisted personnel and unrestricted line officers enter the Navy through a traditional path such as boot camp, officer candidate school or the Naval Academy. However, the service should be able to bring the highly skilled in at a more senior level for a limited period of time. They would leave with thanks for their service and a pile of money in their personal accounts, derived from a vesting program that would pay out as individuals take the off-ramp out of the Navy.

In the civilian world, employees are vested in their retirement accounts after a few years of service, and some receive severance when they leave their employer. Military people typically must serve 20 years or receive nothing.

Changes of that magnitude would require legislation.

Meanwhile, the Navy is reviewing its delivery of services to the fleet, ranging from dental care to ministerial services and even weather forecasting, and finding ample room for efiiciencies.

For example, “we have sailors delivering face-to-face weather briefs to our pilots,” Hoewing said. Improvements in technology and the selective use of contractors would save $250 million over six years. Similar savings should be available as the Navy changes its means of delivering other support.

Clark’s “Guidance” put the Navy on a fast track for change by establishing a June 2005 deadline for major progress in the development of the Human Capital Strategy.

“We must do all that we can to increase the speed and agility of our great institution,” he said. “We can only succeed in that endeavor if we can get the people with the right skills to the right place at the right time, and provide them with the professional and personal tools they need to be successful.”

BY RICHARD C. BARNARD Editor in Chief

Copyright Navy League of the United States Feb 2005

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