In 1986, Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense (DOD) Reorganization Act to improve Service effectiveness in executing joint operations. Title IV of the act called for the establishment of a Joint Specialty Officer (JSO) designation to identify those officers particularly educated and experienced in joint matters.1 The goal was to increase the quality, stability, and experience of officers assigned to joint organizations, which in turn would improve those organizations' outcomes.
Despite overwhelming efforts to strengthen joint professional military education, little has occurred to exploit the experiential skills and competencies derived from joint assignments. Because of its failure to designate career paths and implement a career management plan for joint officers, DOD is losing valuable expert knowledge. This article explores the DOD Joint Officer Development (JOD) approach and highlights the effects of career management methodologies on joint officers. It recommends that DOD identify and implement a specific career management plan for joint professionals, including designated career paths, which will improve the performance and effectiveness of joint organizations.
Goldwater-Nichols instituted comprehensive changes in the organizational structure and functional authority of DOD. Prior to the act's passage, a congressional report characterized the overall performance of officers assigned to joint duty as follows:
Tour assignments of the Joint Staff officers are only about 30 months on average, even less for general and flag officers. Few [staff officers] have had formal training in Joint Staff work and even fewer [have] previous Joint Staff experience. Only a small percentage have completed joint schooling specific to Joint duty. . . . The average Joint Staff officer, while knowledgeable in his Service specialty, has limited breath [sic] of knowledge of his own Service, much less a broad understanding of his sister Services.2
The authors of Goldwater-Nichols believed DOD needed to develop a joint organization perspective for how military forces should operate.
To ensure the proper career development of officers assigned to joint organizations, Goldwater-Nichols tasked the Secretary of Defense to establish career guidelines, including types of duty assignments, for officers designated as joint specialists. Clearly, Congress intended for JSOs to serve a unique purpose in the joint organization—to provide comprehensive, inherently joint strategic advice to senior military commanders and top civilian officials. Likewise, Congress also directed the purposeful career development of JSOs to serve as the mechanism to generate and retain joint expertise, thereby transforming the military into a cohesive joint organization.
In 1989, Representative Ike Skelton (D–MO) led a House Armed Services Committee Panel on Professional Military Education to review DOD implementation of key Goldwater-Nichols's provisions. In conducting its review, the Skelton Panel found it essential to fully understand the meaning and purpose of a joint specialist: "Parenthetically, the panel is convinced that defining the JSO is the crux of the problem posed for DOD by all of the Title IV joint officer personnel policies."3 In developing its portrait of a JSO, the Skelton Panel offered a comparative description of a non-JSO. Furthermore, it elaborated on the interplay between JSOs and non-JSOs serving on the Joint Staff, stating, "In fact, non-JSOs are essential to the proper functioning of the joint system because they bring current Service expertise and credibility to bear in considering the solutions to joint problems."4 Conversely, JSOs would provide better continuity, more objectivity, and increased experience levels in joint operations beyond the Service perspective. While both are essential in a joint organization, the variance of diversity of education and professional experience promotes synergy.
The Skelton Panel also recognized the need to select theoretical strategists and strategic advisors from among those officers skilled in the application of strategy.5 Identification is important because the characteristics unique to theoretical strategists demand a more in-depth professional development scheme.6 Representative Skelton wrote that developing leaders and strategists is a process that comes from years of careful study, reflection, and experience, citing General John Galvin: "We need senior Generals and Admirals who can provide solid military advice to our political leadership . . . and we need officers who can provide solid military advice, options, details—the results of analysis—to the Generals and Admirals."7
Job Characteristics and Tenure
Categorizing jobs as either developing or using jobs is one methodology used to articulate the functional description that various positions serve in an organization.8 From a utility perspective, it is desirable for officers to remain in developing jobs for the minimal time necessary to acquire the intended skill set before moving to the next developing job or into a using job. However, frequent turnover is suboptimal from the organization's perspective. While it creates a larger pool of officers with general experience, it does so at the expense of maximizing professional expertise and organizational performance. These costs manifest themselves in lower quality performance, workflow interruptions, and splintering of relationships—all of which impact effectiveness and organizational outcomes.
Using jobs, on the other hand, are ones in which the officer, based on accumulated competencies, proficiencies, and/or experiences, is expected to perform key functions on behalf of the organization. Within the organization, using jobs usually demand a high degree of accountability and stability and are often critical to the success of the organization.9 Longer tenure in these assignments builds greater depth of expertise, promotes complementary relationships, and allows the officer to reach a point of sustained effectiveness.
In general terms, individuals pass through developmental assignments as they rise in an organization. Since developmental opportunities are often limited, the organization needs an assignment management plan to move individuals systematically through a sequence of positions that develops particular competencies valuable to the organization and makes the individual competitive for a using job at the higher level. A rational sequence of developing jobs can be described as a professional career path. These identifiable job patterns suggest that accumulated experience is not serendipitous; therefore, career management is vital to the success of the organization.10
Ultimately, tenure of assignment must be weighed against the value of its impact on organizational success. It is in the best interest of the joint organization to have longer tenured personnel because tenure is more relevant to organizational effectiveness than it is to determining who has received a valid joint experience.11
The Joint Officer Development Vision
In 2005, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff published his vision for Joint Officer Development. The JOD concept is based on the guiding principle that joint officers are derived from Service officers.12 The stated objective is to produce the largest pool of fully qualified, inherently joint officers at the O–6 level for promotion to general or flag officer (GO/FO). Additionally, the Chairman asserts that "attaining the rank of colonel and captain signifies that an officer fundamentally thinks in a joint context . . . and thereby possesses an unprecedented ability to integrate capabilities across the joint force."13 But does attaining the rank of colonel or captain, or any rank for that matter, signify that an officer is capable of integrating joint forces, especially when there is no requirement for the officer to serve in a joint assignment prior to being promoted to O–6?
The JOD concept as outlined by the Chairman is not a complete solution. Familiarity with joint operations from a Service perspective does not transform into joint competency. The results of the Navy's Fiscal Year 2012 Major Command Board reflect the haphazard and nonbinding approach to joint officer development. The board, which convened in November 2010, selected 41 Surface Warfare Officers to serve in O–6 command positions. The Surface Warfare Community considers selectees to be its top officers, those with potential to serve as flag officers. Of the 41 officers selected, just 13 (31.7 percent) have completed Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) Phase II, and only 11 (26.8 percent) are joint qualified. More alarming is the fact that two of the officers selected have not yet completed JPME Phase I.14 These results give a much different impression of the significance of joint officer qualification to one's career. From the individual officer's perspective, why serve in a joint assignment when more than three times the officers being selected to serve in a flag officer milestone assignment have no joint experience?15
Over the past 20 years, numerous studies have called for DOD to identify career paths consistent with the cumulative building of deep knowledge and experience essential to the most demanding joint billets.16 The objective of JOD should be directly tied to improving the effectiveness and performance of the joint organization. Unfortunately, the objective of creating the largest pool of joint qualified officers for promotion to GO/FO effectively translates into maximizing throughput—and thus correspondingly shortening tenure in joint assignments. It removes the impetus for the Services to assign qualified officers to a second joint assignment because the Services must use every available opportunity to increase their pool of qualified officers.
Joint Officer Management
The DOD plan for Joint Officer Management (JOM) is designed to develop officers progressively in joint matters throughout their careers. It includes alternate ways that are currently being missed to recognize and award officers with joint experience credit, as long as the position and/or context of work are relevant to joint matters.17 The JOM plan is centered on a flexible qualification system that benefits the busy officer and a Service-oriented officer management system. According to the Chairman, "Officers and Services will find it easier to reconcile Service and joint assignment options; consequently, more assignments that deepen an individual officer's personal occupational competency will be easier to link to achieving the common objective of JOD."18
While the JOM plan provides the mechanism for how officers acquire joint qualifications, it lacks a means by which DOD will develop and utilize these officers. Organizations do not exist for the purpose of providing officers joint experience, traditional or otherwise. On the contrary, the purpose of jointness is to develop a highly effective joint organization.19 Nonetheless, the failure is the result not of implementation but rather the DOD strategic approach to JOM. The concept breaks down at the point of developing the proficiency level of joint officers. Relatively speaking, current proficiencies never improve beyond a baseline level because there is no mechanism to retain joint expertise in the joint organization. Without purposeful management and utilization of acquired joint expertise, there is no net gain in joint organizational performance.
Joint Specialty Officer Revisited
Goldwater-Nichols sanctioned the joint specialist as a professional of the joint community. Establishment of joint officer career paths and career management guidelines consisting of developing jobs, advanced education opportunities, and using jobs at the upper levels of our national and military organizations would better support JOD. To move forward, DOD should ask specific questions regarding the value and demand for joint officers, principally: What is the relative importance of joint officer experience? How does it relate to joint organizational outcomes? What career paths and management policies will sustain its development?
In congressional testimony in 2009, Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.), observed that our current officer management system paradoxically identifies expert tacticians for promotion and then expects them to magically recreate themselves as strategic leaders. His testimony highlighted the fact that the Services' management policies are almost exclusively biased toward the tactical level and command, and that those who pursue specialization, even in areas as vitally important as national security and military strategy formulation, risk upward mobility because Service policies do not value this kind of expertise.20 Nonetheless, if so much emphasis is given to the importance of tactical experience in developing combat arms officers, one could conclude that experience is the de facto means of developing competencies and professional expertise.
Joint expertise comes from increasingly challenging and reinforcing joint assignments. However, there are no definitive, qualifying measures of effectiveness regarding joint officer proficiency or joint expertise. Observations by various joint staff officers and senior leaders indicate that on average, joint staff officers experience a 7- to 12-month learning curve.21 To perform their duties successfully, 75 percent of officers reported that prior joint experience was either required or desired.22 Table 1 summarizes survey results of average effectiveness ratings for prior education, training, and experience in preparing officers for their joint assignment.
Career Management Models
The selection of an appropriate career development model largely depends on whose perspective is being considered: the individual officer, the joint organization, or the officer's Service organization.23 Currently, the Services control officer development. They educate, assign, promote, and manage personnel based on their own need for highly qualified officers to serve as commanders and on Service-specific headquarters staffs. However, Service-derived career development models do not necessarily foster the competencies needed to serve in an organization focused on joint matters and strategic issues. The value of experiential development of joint competencies, and of those who possess this expertise, needs to be recognized as an asset of the joint organization. Unfortunately, the JOD concept does not align development of joint expertise with joint assignment requirements.
To create an incentive for officers to become joint specialists, DOD must generate a demand signal for this expert knowledge and designate a career path that allows these officers to flourish. To achieve this, JOM policies should focus on managing officers whose competencies contribute to joint organizational outcomes.24 Joint assignments would be linked to form a series of developing and using jobs creating career paths for joint specialists. These paths would represent viable career tracks leading to senior-level joint assignments that demand a high degree of joint expertise or are suitable for a theoretical strategist.
An Interagency Assignment Officer Career Management study conducted by RAND in 1999 offers examples for how DOD could manage a cadre of joint specialists. The authors described the career model being used for managing combat arms officers as managing the "generalist."25 The objective of this model was to develop breadth of knowledge by exposing officers to various positions, primarily within their specific career field. Although it was Service-oriented, its goal was to develop leadership competencies applicable in a range of positions leading to command.
The RAND study also considered various career models applicable to managing a specialized group of officers, such as a cadre of joint officers. These career models can be described as:
Tables 2, 3, and 4 capture characteristics associated with officers and the career model.
In 2009, RAND completed an analysis that compared the managing leader succession, managing competencies, and managing skills career models. Table 5 illustrates the comparison of career model outcomes.27
Based on table 5, the managing leader succession model appears to be superior. However, an examination of the assumptions behind each model and the fact that the comparisons are made relative to average non-joint combat arms officers are significant to interpreting the results.
First, it is important to note that when considering the managing skills model, there is no relative difference for promotion between those combat arms officers who have joint experience and those who do not. This can be attributed to the fact that average officers promote and retain equally. Second, the analysis of using the managing competencies model for joint officers, which results in a slightly less than average promotion rate to O–6 compared to average non–joint qualified combat arms officers, is more indicative of completing an O–5 command assignment (keep in mind those officers who become part of a cadre of joint officers will serve in multiple joint assignments instead of command assignments, which make them relatively less competitive for promotion to O–6). It is also important to consider that if DOD only prescribes a small number of O–6 jobs and no GO/FO jobs for joint officers managed by the competency model, promotion opportunities beyond O–5 will be extremely limited; therefore, the majority of joint officers will not remain in the military beyond that level.
The relatively shorter joint assignment in the managing leader succession model is consistent with a pattern of developing leaders. This model presumes that only higher quality officers would be sent to joint assignments but would not remain in those jobs for long, and only a minimal number would serve a second joint assignment prior to promotion to GO/FO.28 Further inspection of this model also reveals that joint experience in excess or at the wrong juncture in a career can be detrimental, even for officers who are considered higher quality.29 Other inherent aspects of the managing leader succession model include a substantial number of GO/FO billet opportunities associated with combat arms officers' career tracks—a contributing factor to promotion and retention rates. Finally, comparing the results of the managing leader succession and managing skills models suggests that the increased promotion and retention rates are more indicative of the higher quality officers portrayed in the managing leader succession model and not at all related to serving in a joint assignment.
Generally speaking, existing military officer management practices resemble those found in the managing leader succession model. However, this model provides more weight to the individual officer's and the Services' perspectives than to the joint perspective.30 Given these assumptions, the analysis shows that the managing leader succession model is capable of producing, promoting, and retaining more officers with joint experience. 31 Admittedly, this fulfills the objective outlined in the Chairman's JOD plan. However, it conflicts with the needs and requirements of the joint organization as demonstrated by the findings of numerous studies, reports, and congressional reviews. Although joint officers are not currently managed as a separate group, the RAND study found that when the joint organization's interests are given priority and the contribution of the work performed by joint specialists is considered valuable, the managing competencies model is preferred.32
DOD must revisit the original idea of the joint specialist, the creation of which was intended to improve the performance and effectiveness of joint organizations. Because the Services are responsible for managing officer assignments, the Service perspective takes priority over the joint perspective when it comes to developing officers. Hence, joint qualification resembles a time-share approach where officers serve in a joint billet for a brief interlude before returning to their primary career path.33 Tension exists between satisfying career advancement on the one hand, and expertise development on the other. A review of DOD's annual Goldwater-Nichols Act Implementation Reports from 1995 to 2005 is evidence that the Services have not shown due diligence in developing joint specialists or in filling critical joint assignments with properly qualified officers.34
An effective JOM framework would serve the joint organization better by developing the expertise that it values. It would recognize this expert knowledge as an asset of the joint organization by designing career paths to support its development and optimize its utilization. Joint specialists would build depth of expertise through interrelated and reinforcing joint assignments, faculty positions at military institutions, and postings to external agencies where military expertise is in demand or where DOD can enhance the whole-of-government concept. Additionally, strategists and regional specialists would be vetted from this cadre, provided doctorate level education opportunities, and assigned to key positions in the national security arena.35
DOD could develop various architectures to create the joint officer community.36 One possible construct would ideally reflect the JSO/non-JSO concept outlined in Goldwater-Nichols and expounded on by the Skelton Panel. For argument's sake, this cadre of joint professionals would equal half of the total joint duty assignment requirement. Joint officers would possess depth of joint knowledge, staff officer stability, and internal operational expertise: the core capabilities necessary to deliver the desired outcomes. They would create and preserve a body of knowledge and would serve as subject matter experts in joint matters, available to mentor, guide, and teach others.37 Concurrently, their non-JSO counterparts—ideally, high-quality combat arms officers—would bring the newest operational concepts, current insight, and creativity to the joint organization. This self-reinforcing tandem would form a highly effective, agile team enhancing the effectiveness of the joint force.
To organize and staff this cadre of joint professionals, DOD could implement a lateral entry process similar to that shown below.38 The career model would target officers at the 11- to 14-year point of their careers for lateral entry into the joint officer community for the remainder of their careers. Additionally, they would complete one of the Services' advanced operations studies programs and would serve longer assignments, up to 4 years, to capitalize on their experiences. 39
Career management and assignment screening for joint officers would be handled via the establishment of a DOD Joint Officer Advisory Board composed of representatives from each of the Services. To preserve the joint perspective, this advisory board would have to reside at the DOD level, perhaps in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.40 The screening board would be responsible for approving Service nominations for joint officers, conducting periodic reviews to ascertain an officer's development, and screening each joint officer for follow-on assignments or advanced education programs. Using specific language to characterize those joint officers with the potential for higher level assignments or specific education programs, the advisory board's results would be included in each officer's performance report and also coordinated with the Services' promotion board proceedings.
Joint specialists aspiring to the most demanding joint billets should know what kind of joint expertise is needed to do the job.41 Therefore, a major role of the Joint Officer Advisory Board would be to designate career patterns for joint professionals. The objective is to administer the sequencing of developing jobs leading to top GO/FO using jobs for joint professionals. The key is to identify senior-level positions that would be filled exclusively by joint specialists, which would then dictate prerequisite assignments to develop the necessary credentials. Possible candidates for top-level joint professional positions could be Director or Deputy Director of the Joint Staff, J5 or J7 Directors, or President of the National Defense University.
Although DOD has achieved significant improvements in executing joint operations since Goldwater-Nichols, it has come up short in developing a comprehensive approach for the utilization of joint professionals. The right approach would include a systematic process of reinforcing education and joint assignment experiences to purposefully yield expert knowledge in joint matters. The need for joint professionals is already high, and demand is increasing. All that remains is for DOD to fully recognize the value of joint officers and the significance of their contribution to joint operations. JFQ