For the first time beginning Monday, some airmen who are up for promotion will face quotas limiting how many can get the top recommendations.
Technical sergeants, whose enlisted performance reports close out on that day, are the first enlisted airmen to encounter the promotion quotas. Staff sergeants will be up next when their EPRs close out Jan. 31, and senior airmen will follow on March 31.
On Nov. 25, the Air Force released the latest version of the EPR form -- called Form 910 -- for technical sergeants and below. The form can be found on the Air Force's e-Publishing site here, under "forms."
The quotas -- which are officially called "forced distribution" -- are one of the final elements of the Air Force's sweeping overhaul of how enlisted airmen are evaluated and promoted.
Under the old system, there were no restrictions on how many airmen could receive the top score of 5 out of 5. As a result, commanders gradually inflated the grades they handed out until some 90 percent of airmen received the so-called "Firewall 5," which rendered the EPR system effectively useless at differentiating between levels of performance. For years, airmen complained to their leaders and in comments to Air Force Times about this problem and demanded changes.
The quota system is intended to kill the Firewall 5 effect. Under it, only the top 5 percent of promotion-eligible senior airmen, staff sergeants and technical sergeants can be deemed "promote now" and receive the full 250 out of 250 EPR points.
The next 15 percent of senior airmen, and 10 percent of staff and tech sergeants, can receive a "must promote" rating, which yields 220 points. The next three ratings -- "promote," "not ready now," and "do not promote" -- will get an airman 200, 150 and 50 points respectively, but there will be no limits on those.
Those who are not eligible for promotion will only receive a performance assessment, but not a promotion recommendation.
The Air Force hopes the new system will place more of an emphasis on using performance to choose whom to promote, and several of the new features that have already been enacted reflect that goal.
For example, the Air Force is now phasing out time-in-grade and time-in-service points, which rewarded longevity instead of performance.
Possible EPR points under the new system increased from the former 135-point maximum to 250 points. That means performance will have a much greater effect on who gets promoted.
Also under the new enlisted evaluation system:
- Airmen must score at least 40 points out of 100 on both their specialty knowledge tests and promotion fitness examinations, and the combined scores of both tests must be at least 90.
- Airmen and their supervisors must complete a feedback form called the Airman Comprehensive Assessment each year, which is meant to set expectations and goals, and spark a conversation to make sure those objectives are clear and understood.
- A promotion board, similar to those already in effect for choosing senior and chief master sergeants, now evaluates candidates for promotion to master sergeant.
- All airmen in the same rank now have the same static closeout date for EPRs, which coincides with their promotion eligibility cutoff date. Airmen's EPRs used to close out throughout the year.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.