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Air Force begins overhaul of officer evaluations

The Air Force is starting work on a widespread revamp of how it evaluates and promotes its officers, about a year after wrapping up a similar overhaul of its enlisted performance system.

At a Wednesday breakfast in Arlington, Virginia, hosted by the Air Force Association, Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso said the service is looking at all parts of the system, to see what needs to be updated "for the 21st century officer."

"We're doing a cradle-to-grave look," Grosso said. "Everything's on the table. So, how do we evaluate people, how do we think about promotion recommendations, how do we stratify" officers, designating who is the best.

One element of the enlisted overhaul that may be carried forward into the officers' version is the static closeout date. Throughout fiscal 2015, one by one the Air Force started closing out the enlisted performance reports for all airmen at the same rank at the same time of year, coinciding with their promotion eligibility cutoff date. Previously, EPRs were staggered throughout the year, which meant airmen were being evaluated on different time periods and those evals were "all over the place," Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said in 2014.


On Wednesday, Grosso noted that the move to static closeout dates for enlisted airmen generated a lot of pushback at first, even though the Navy already did its performance evaluations the same way. But now that it's been established for enlisted, Grosso said her office frequently gets requests from the field to do the same for officers.

Grosso noted the effort is still in its infancy. In a follow-up email, spokeswoman Brooke Brzozowske said the Air Force won't have any timeline until its review of the current system is complete.

But now that the new enlisted system is finished, she said, it's time to take a look at officers.

"I think the force is ready, frankly, from the feedback that we get," Grosso said.

The right airmen for assignments

Grosso also said the Air Force is looking for ways to improve how it picks airmen for assignments. The service will launch a new pilot program in December that will have a computer try to use qualitative data about airmen's jobs, skills and other experiences, and match them up with commanders who need airmen for specific duties, she said. The Air Force will continue to have its hiring authority fill jobs in the traditional way, but will compare results to see if the new system yielded better matches.

"It may look like LinkedIn, it may not," Grosso said. "How can we think differently about matching people's desires with the requirements of the Air Force?"

And Grosso said the Air Force may need to reconsider what kind of standards it sets for airmen, for example, the standards for physical fitness and tattoos. Uniform standards across the service may not make sense, she said, because some people who don't meet those standards may still be able to contribute. This could become increasingly important as fewer and fewer young people meet the physical standards necessary to join the military.

"How much brawn does the military need, and how much intellect?" Grosso said. "I think about a cyber warrior. Do I care what a cyber warrior weighs? Do I care if he can run a mile and a half in 12 minutes?"

And Grosso suggested that the Air Force may eventually change some of its rules regarding HIV. Currently, anyone who is HIV-positive cannot be assessed into the Air Force, but with increasing advancements in treatment, Grosso said that could change in the future.

Grosso also said the Air Force finished fiscal 2016 with an end strength of about 317,800 -- slightly higher than the 317,000 that was its goal, and what the service originally said it reached.

Brzozowske said the Air Force's retention incentives, such as high-year tenure extensions and the expansion of the post-pregnancy deployment deferment from six months to 12, helped improve retention and get the service's end strength higher.

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