The Specter Haunting the Perfumed Princes
December 7, 1999
I received the attached response from a Lt Col on active duty in the Army. It builds on George Wilson’s discussion of MAJ Don Vandergriff’s efforts to reform the Army’s personnel system. The author lays out his reasons for believing reforming the Army’s personnel system can only be done from without and in confrontation with the Army’s leadership.
-----[Email from LTC Two-Block]-------
From: "LTC Two-Block"
To: 'Chuck Spinney'
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 11:50:40 -0800
MAJ Vandergriff is in good company, but he is not the first nor probably the last to face the bastion of PERSCOM inertia to change. First, a defense of the current system: the OER is now one of the few, if not the only, document of legal standing in a courtroom dealing with the removal of an officer. Thus, changing the OER undermines the institutional case to get rid of incompetents (and there are a few.) Second, in opposition to the system, the OER is supposed to document the evaluation of an officer's performance; now it is used to cull the herd - in short, the OER is used for a negative purpose more than a positive purpose.
I was part of a task force in the early 1990s to reengineer the Army's total personnel operations. One of the main things we zeroed in on was the OER system. We proposed doing away with the formal OER system because of the perversion of its original purpose, and retaining only the "dash one" portion that served as the contract between commander and subordinate; there are no numbers in the "dash one," just a verbal agreement on what the officer is expected to do during the rated year. We argued that the Germans in WWII had almost won their war without OERs; couldn't the US do as well without such a wretched system? You can pretty much guess what the reception was. At that time, the OER branch at PERSCOM was run by a retired officer who designed the then current system; so his motivation for not changing was very high and very influential with the brass. GEN Reimer's changes were a small alteration to the system, and did not affect the underlying culture or bureaucracy.
I will tell you where the MAJ Vandergriffs of the world used to go: to the National Guard and Reserves, and they augmented the reserve component capabilities quite well. The problem now is that the Guard and Reserves have adopted the same systems of centralized management and review that the Army has (to become one team as it were); thus the renegades and reformers are even now being driven out of the reserve components.
Changing the Army (or any service's) personnel system will only come about when such change is in the vested interest of the Army's leadership. Since the Army leadership is a product of that system, they likely are not going to have a vested interest in such changes. CATCH-22. Changing the system will have to occur from without and in confrontation with Army leadership; I don't put a reasonable probability to that happening anytime soon.
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