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PTS needs overhaul, CNO says

System too bureaucratic and hard to understand

May. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Navy's re-enlistment system is too bureaucratic, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert says. Pictured, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson re-up.
The Navy's re-enlistment system is too bureaucratic, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert says. Pictured, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson re-up. (MC2 James R. Evans / Navy)
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If you've got problems with Perform to Serve, you're not alone. The Navy's top officer has his own issues with the re-enlistment system — and he wants them fixed.

If you've got problems with Perform to Serve, you're not alone. The Navy's top officer has his own issues with the re-enlistment system — and he wants them fixed.

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If you’ve got problems with Perform to Serve, you’re not alone. The Navy’s top officer has his own issues with the re-enlistment system — and he wants them fixed.

“The current process, as I know PTS and understand it, it’s too bureaucratic and it needs to be simplified, and I’ll just leave it with ... overhauled,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert told Navy Times this month.

Despite efforts to improve the process for sailors, the CNO said, “I am not yet satisfied with the construct of how we authorize re-enlistment.” He intends to sit down with the chief of naval personnel and the master chief petty officer of the Navy to hash out a way ahead.

CNP’s office was poised to roll out a host of new PTS changes June 1. But in light of Greenert’s call for internal talks, any changes have been put on ice. These adjustments would have included ditching the “Perform to Serve” name, which has grown to have negative connotations in the fleet. Instead it would be called “Career Navigator.” CNP’s changes also would have created two additional looks in the PTS system, and more time to snag a re-enlistment.

But these changes may have not been enough to ease CNO’s bureaucracy concerns. The changes, while not completely off the table, kept the guts of PTS intact, with sailors competing against their peers to stay in the Navy.

Now that the drawdown is over and the Navy wants 8,600 more sailors, some high-level sources are even questioning the need to have PTS and suggest ditching, or at least shelving for now, the central re-enlistment system.

What Greenert wants, sources say, is a comprehensive rework that answers sailors’ concerns while meeting Big Navy’s needs to manage the force.

Sources familiar with the discussions say those talks will happen soon.

Officials with CNP declined to weigh in on CNO’s comments. Instead they issued the following statement: “We are working hard at changing the re-enlistment process to better serve sailors, and the fleet.”

Evolution of PTS

Perform to Serve was created more than a decade ago primarily as a conversion tool to shape the force, a way to move sailors from overmanned skills into lesser manned career fields where the Navy needed them.

But, for most of this time it’s also been a force-shaping tool, helping to cut Navy end strength by 60,000 since 2004. In that role, officials have said, PTS became overloaded.

Because the system was being used to cut, re-up approvals in many overmanned ratings dropped to 30 percent and the system was sending home good sailors who the Navy ultimately could have used, including nearly 3,000 sailors through two enlisted retention boards.

But the Navy is growing again, to the the tune of 8,600 sailors over the next six years, after admittedly overshooting the drawdown. Officials are also wary of a drop in retention as the economy slowly improves.

“For all those factors, I think we need to ask ourselves if we really need PTS as our mechanism to approve all re-enlistments,” said one senior Navy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he hasn’t been cleared to openly discuss the topic.

“At a minimum, it needs to be simplified, as it’s tough to really understand it as leaders, let alone for the sailors whose career chances ride on it. I’m not so sure, yet, that the proposed changes accomplish any of that.”

PTS problems

The bottom line in the fleet is that PTS causes stress for the sailors. That stress derives from an overall lack of trust in the system and fear they’ll be denied a chance to re-up.

“Even if you understand how the system ranks sailors, there’s really no way for a sailor to fully understand where they stand and what their chances really are,” said a surface sonar technician first class who recently wrote to Navy Times.

“I am about to put in for PTS and I am still worried that my almost 12 years in the Navy will not lead into 20-plus years — I am also [an early promote] sailor, [a leading petty officer] and a [junior sailor of the quarter], yet I still worry.”

This distrust of the system itself was identified in a 2007 study of PTS conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses at the request of then-Vice Adm. John Harvey, CNP at the time.

“The current stacking algorithm is too complex to be transparent to sailors,” the report concluded. “To provide incentives, a quality measure should be transparent to those being evaluated by it.”

At the time the study was published, PTS was only 4 years old. In 2009, the system expanded from re-enlistment Zone A, those with six years or less. It now includes Zone B, more than six years but less than 10, and Zone C, more than 10 and less than 14. It evaluates E-6s and below up for re-enlistment.

The mechanics of PTS are largely unchanged since the study was done, except for a few minor tweaks and administrative rule changes.

Navy Times reached out to Dr. Henry Griffis, who directs CNA’s Defense Workforce Analyses projects, to comment on whether he felt the findings remain valid today. Griffis, through a spokesman, would only say that “the document needs to speak for itself.”

The study concluded that 8 percent of rejected sailors were “quality,” and because of that “the current stacking algorithm may result in an inconsistent quality cut.”

The report recommended an extensive overhaul of the system by simplifying the stacking formula and expanding the numbers of sailors evaluated, which would result in fewer top sailors falling through the cracks.

The senior official who spoke to Navy Times said the report is a confirmation of “what sailors and leaders on the deck plates have believed for years.”

“But the bottom line is that if sailors believe the system that ranks them is flawed, they won’t trust it, and that creates undue stress for the sailors and their families, as well as their leaders,” the official said.

And with long deployments and threats to benefits and quality-of-life initiatives, the result is a “pressurized workforce” that can lead to bigger problems such as on-the-job accidents and plummeting retention.

“It only makes sense that we look at everything we’re doing and work to relieve that stress everywhere we can,” the official said.

CNP's changes on ice

It’s possible CNO will adopt many, some or none of the new rules already previewed by CNP’s office and the subject of Navy Times’ Feb. 18 cover story, “All-new re-up rules.” CNP Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk touted the pending PTS changes while at an all-hands call May 1 in San Diego and in a Navy news release posted the next day. Though his comments are still available online, CNP officials confirmed those changes have been tabled until discussions can occur with CNO.

In an official Navy video, Van Buskirk stressed the proposed re-enlistment rules were “absolutely a result of feedback from the fleet.”

“What we are trying to do is meet their demands for a sailor portal, putting transparency into the process, so our young men and women have the ability to have a view into how their career unfolds, what their opportunities are, what choices they have, and really bring that into a process an ability for them to be able to, each day that they want to, to have a view into their career,” he said.

Ditching the name Perform to Serve, and maybe some of the baggage that goes along with it, “will change how we think, discuss and apply enlisted career management processes in the Navy. Career Navigator will make the experience more interactive for Sailors — placing their career at their fingertips,” Van Buskirk said in a Navy news release.

Van Buskirk said Career Navigator, if approved by CNO, would include basic online career tools that would show a sailor’s chances to re-enlist in his current rating and provide conversion options.

The eventual plan would be to tie Career Navigator into a sailor’s electronic service record and official military personnel file. Greenert told Navy Times he liked this part of the idea. But those additions would take more time and money to complete, personnel officials said.

Career Navigator would still require sailors to apply for re-enlistment.

The biggest change would be what officials are calling “3-2-1,” which reworks how and when sailors apply to stay in.

The upshot of this change is sailors would begin to apply one month earlier and would get a total of eight monthly chances in the system to pick up an active-duty quota, instead of the six that exist now.

Starting 13 months from their end-of-service date, sailors would first compete to stay on active duty in their current rating and receive four monthly chances to get approved.

Those who don’t pick up a quota would get four more months to compete for a conversion quota into another rating.

If they don’t get to stay on active duty, they’d then have the chance to compete for a billet in the Navy Reserve.

Officials said more looks would reduce stress. They would also reduce late re-up approvals for sailors who had to negotiate orders the same time their PTS application window opened.

Whether the proposed 3-2-1 revisions to the system ultimately meet CNO’s concerns in whole or in part is an open question and is sure to be part of the discussion, the senior official said.

“Those changes arguably add to the complexity and bureaucracy of the system,” the official said, “though a time line that better aligns PTS with a sailor’s detailing window is definitely a good idea.”

Online tools in Career Navigator would also mean less reliance on career counselors.

There would also be additional help for nonrates looking to strike into a rating as well as reservists wanting to return to active duty full-time, and not on temporary orders.

Nothing is off the table at this time, the senior official said. “CNO has made that clear. He’ll be presented with options. It’s his call on how we’ll go forward.”

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