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One key to “transforming” the Defense Department is a more flexible management system for senior officers, allowing the best to serve up to 40 years, said Dr. David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

In return for longer service, these officers and certain senior enlisted should be able to draw up to 100 percent of active-duty basic pay in retirement.

Chu, in a phone interview, discussed these and other highlights of an ambitious legislative package that would reshape the defense civilian and military work force.

The 207-page legislative package was sent April 10 to several members of Congress, including both Armed Services Committees, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Vice President Richard Cheney, who presides as president of the Senate.

The proposal, called the “Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act,”

One key to “transforming'' the Defense Department for challenges ahead is a more flexible management system for senior officers, allowing the best to serve up to 40 years, says Dr. David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. In return for longer service, these most valuable officers, and certain senior enlisted too, should be able to draw up to 100 percent of active duty basic pay in retirement.

Chu, in a phone interview, discussed these and other highlights of an ambitious legislative package from the Bush administration to Congress this month to reshape the defense civilian and military workforce.

The proposal, called the “Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act,'' aims its most sweeping changes at civilian employees, urging they be shifted from the rigid Civil Service System, and nine personnel demonstration programs, into a new National Security Personnel System with new tools to recruit, train, evaluate, pay and separate employees.

Changes eyed for military personnel are more modest but still significant, particularly for senior officers. The package calls for an end to mandatory retirement of general and flag officers (O-7 and above) at 30 years and to the ceiling on retired pay set at 75 percent of basic pay.

The most talented senior officers, and perhaps enlisted too, should serve up to 40 years and be rewarded with retired pay of up to 100 percent of basic pay, Chu said. Too many military leaders are rotated through assignments too quickly to make a difference, and then their talents are lost to the military while still in their prime.

To accommodate longer careers, DoD proposes that general and flag officers, including reserve and National Guard, be allowed to serve until age 68 versus the limit of 62. Under the proposal, the defense secretary could even defer retirement for individual officers until age 72.

Keeping even small numbers of senior officers longer can slow promotions for officers below. DoD would avoid this, Chu said, by asking Congress also to end a requirement, at least for star-ranked officers, that they serve three years in grade to retire at that grade. DoD also seeks permanent time-in-grade waiver authority for officers in grades O-5 and O-6. Allowing some to retire after only a year or two in grade can avoid promotion stagnation and actually improve the pace of promotions overall, Chu said.

The transformation package also would:

Allow the most senior officers to move laterally between top command and staff assignments.Raise basic pay of four-star combatant commanders by 10 percent to match pay levels of service chiefs of staff.Remove the limit of only two back-to-back, two-year tours for the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president could appoint them to as many tours as he thought necessary, with the consent of Congress.End restriction on service chiefs of staff serving no more than four years in these posts. Four-year limits also would end for service judge advocates, surgeons general, personnel chiefs and directors of nurse corps, giving the president more flexibility to manage his most senior officers.Chu said the department is studying broader changes to officer and enlisted management. “But we thought we knew enough about how we should try to manage flag and general officers that it was timely to go forward and make these changes,'' he said.

To improve force readiness, the package also would:

Give military recruiters access to all high schools except those with religious objections to military service.Broaden call-up authority for reserve members to response to natural or man-made disasters, or to conduct training for upcoming operational missions. Expand authority to screen and provide medical or dental care to reservists in units alerted for call up. This change would recognize that in the post-9/11 era, mobilization must occur more quickly than was needed during Cold War.An estimated 320,000 military personnel are in assignments that civilians could fill at less cost, Chu said. If Congress approves a new personnel system, many more military members will be available to fight the war on terrorism or to address other expanding military missions, he said.

The impact of a massive switch on job rotations is a legitimate concern, Chu said, because members returning from deployment expect more family-friendly stateside tours. Part of the answer, Chu said, is a fresh approach to deploying forces, abandoning the “static Cold War concept'' of keeping large forces in the same locations overseas year after year.

He cited, for example, a mid-March announcement by Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, of plans to reduce U.S. forces in Germany and other West European nations and to move to smaller, less costly basing in the former Warsaw Pact nations in Eastern Europe.

Jones envisions smaller bases as jumping-off points to world hot spots, with troops spending shorter tours there, without families or the costly infrastructure they demand such as base stores, hospitals and schools.

The administration hopes Congress treats the package as a single piece of legislation and passes it this year, Chu said. He conceded it's “an ambitious time table'' but the package “is essential to changing the way this department does business so it is agile and responsive.''

Comments and suggestions are welcomed. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111 or send e-mail to milupdate@aol.com


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