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Bye-bye, PTS: Automatic re-up approvals here for most sailors

Jun. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert re-enlists Sailors at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 25. Greenert's mandated changes to the re-enlistment approval system has led to the end of Perform to Serve.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert re-enlists Sailors at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 25. Greenert's mandated changes to the re-enlistment approval system has led to the end of Perform to Serve. (MCC Leah Stiles/Navy)
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PTS is dead. But sailors are more likely to rejoice than mourn the demise of a program long associated with confusion, stress and downsizing.

PTS is dead. But sailors are more likely to rejoice than mourn the demise of a program long associated with confusion, stress and downsizing.

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PTS is dead. But sailors are more likely to rejoice than mourn the demise of a program long associated with confusion, stress and downsizing.

The Navy’s decade-old Perform to Serve re-enlistment approval is officially gone as of June 3, replaced with a new program called “Career Navigator.”

In a big change, petty officers first class will no longer have to compete against their peers for re-enlistments. Neither will E-5s and below in undermanned skill sets. At present, more than 150,000 sailors are in skill sets or paygrades that position them for automatic approvals to re-up.

It’s not completely open season, however. Sailors in overmanned skill sets will still have to face “rack-and-stack” ranking to get a quota, but it will be less of a burden. These competing sailors are most likely going to be in the minority, at least for now.

The changes are part of a total rework of enlisted career management mandated by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, who said the process was too bureaucratic and needed to be simplified so sailors could understand it.

“We have evolved; PTS needed to end,” Greenert told Navy Times on May 30. “Sailors should now see a more simplified construct to how their re-enlistments are authorized. I look forward to hearing their feedback when I get back out to the fleet to participate in what I like doing best — re-enlisting shipmates.”

Plans were initially on the table to eliminate PTS and institute Career Navigator, but that plan, announced by the Office of the Chief of Naval Personnel, did not include exemptions as the new policy does.

Greenert’s mandate sent personnel officials back to the drawing board and as a result, as the Career Navigator program is rolled out, re-enlisting for most sailors will again be a simple process.

This new policy should help retention, which is among Greenert’s top priorities.

“I want to bring people in and I want to hold onto people,” Greenert told Navy Times in March.

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk described the latest actions as a “dismantling” of PTS.

“With Career Navigator, we’ve developed a program that impacts the total force, both active and reserve,” he said. “For the sailor, these changes make the process of re-enlisting much simpler and will get them an answer quicker — but also significant is this puts most of the re-enlisting power back in the hands of the commanding officer.”

But Career Navigator isn’t just about re-enlistments. Major career events, such as re-enlisting, are now called Career Navigator “waypoints.” Other waypoints include qualifying undesignated sailors for ratings as well as reservists applying to return to active duty.

“Career Navigator is not an IT system, and it isn’t even the re-enlistment process,” said Cmdr. Renee Squier, who heads enlisted plans and policy for CNP. “It is an umbrella under which all these things that affect sailors’ careers will live.”

For now, sailors will still access these functions through their career counselor, though by the end of the year, Squier said the plan is to have an initial “sailor portal” where sailors can manage their records and perform some career functions themselves in one place online.

COs have control

It wasn’t just sailors who had a problem with PTS. Commanding officers also weren’t happy.

“The feedback we get is that our commanding officers out there don’t feel like they’re a part of this process and they really are,” Squier said.

Even under PTS, the CO’s approval was the first step, but for many, that command stamp of approval is now the only step.

“We’re going to start auto-approving applications and that means the command has a big role in ensuring fully qualified and command-approved to re-enlistment,” she said.

It’s the command’s job to also ensure a sailor is eligible to re-up, she said. That means keeping track of multiple fitness failures, bad evals and promotion recommendations in the last two years. For many ratings, additional measures such as security clearances are also required.

In the past, community managers often made these checks, but Squier said those days are gone and and now commands hold sway over whether a sailor is qualified.

“Even if they meet all the [eligibility] criteria, if that CO doesn’t feel they meet the standard for re-enlistment, then it’s up to them to tell that sailor no,” she said. “Every application has a block on there that indicates whether or not that sailor is command-approved to re-enlist — and that block carries more weight now than ever.”

Automatic approvals coming

Even with PTS gone, sailors E-6 and below with up to 14 years of service will still have to apply to re-enlist through their career counselors. And that’s not going to change, officials said.

“It’s critical for us to know a sailor’s intention as soon as possible,” Squier said. “And the vehicle for communicating that is their application.”

Remember that once they’re command-approved, for a majority of sailors, that application will be a formality. Those in overmanned skill sets must still compete to stay.

It all depends on what “skill set” a sailor is in and, for some, a sailor’s year group.

Your year group is the year you entered active service.

“Though a skill set could be a rating as a whole, for others, it is a rating and [Navy enlisted classification] combination,” Squier said.

For the more than 47,000 petty officers first class, approval, regardless of skill set, will be automatic.

“In the current algorithm we use to sort sailors requesting to re-enlist, rank is the No. 1 factor,” Squier said. “We realized that, across the board, it was E-6s that were getting quotas, but we were still putting them through the wait to find out.”

In many cases, this meant that good E-5s in the same skill sets weren’t getting approved, simply because of their rank. But now, with E-6s out of the picture, it will be E-5s who have the rank advantage and the better shot at approval.

As the old system transitions, automatically approved E-6s will still have to wait 30 days for confirmation, Squier said. But that should be much faster by the fall.

Sailors will be able to sit with their career counselor, fill out an application and get an instant approval.

“It’ll be like buying an airline ticket online,” she said. “The sailor will fill out the application with their career counselor and hit ‘send’ and they’ll immediately get a confirmation back that they can print out and head to their [personnel support detachment] and start their re-enlistment process.”

For E-5s and below, whether they’ll qualify for an automatic approval will depend on manning levels in their particular skill set, which will fall into one of three categories: open, balanced or competitive.

As of May 2, there were 122 separate skill sets in the Navy. Of those, 68 are considered open, 20 are balanced and 34 are competitive. Here’s how it’ll work for each:

Open re-enlistment. “These are undermanned skill sets, and we absolutely want every single sailor eligible to stay, to re-enlist,” Squier said. “We really need these skills sets to stay.”

As with the E-6s, she said, these sailors will initially get approved the first month and have their paper confirmation within 30 days.

“By the fall, we plan to be able to offer immediate approvals for these skill sets, too,” she said.

Balanced re-enlistment. Balanced skill sets are those considered properly manned.

“A large portion of the sailors who are in that balance category are going to get an automatic approval,” she said. “We want to do that as much as possible.”

But here, officials have added another twist — year groups — and it’s the manning at that micro level that matters.

Those in undermanned year groups will get the automatic approval within 30 days now and, down the line, instant approval, as well.

Those in overmanned skill sets will have to compete PTS-style to stay in, but will compete in a vastly designed system that officials say increases their chances and gets them an approval quicker.

Competitive re-enlistment. This category applies to skill sets that are overmanned or have what Squier calls “special requirements.”

For sailors in the overmanned skill sets, they, too will compete to stay in. Starting June 3, this process will fundamentally change for the better. Read on for these details.

Right now, the only skill sets in the special requirement category are nuclear power sailors, whose re-enlistments have always been controlled separately from the rest of the fleet.

Though officials are working hard to align re-ups for nuclear sailors with that of the rest of the fleet, they remain a separate category for now.

“Special requirements doesn’t mean that skill set is overmanned. It’s just that their records ensure they still meet all the standards to continue on in the skill set,” Squier said.

New competitive process

For those E-5s and below in overmanned skill sets, the process of competing to stay blue is now called “3-2-1.”

While it will be similar to PTS, the upshot of this change is sailors in overmanned skill sets will begin to apply one month earlier — 13 months before their end-of-service date — and will get a total of eight monthly chances in the system to pick up an active-duty quota, Squier said.

Under PTS, sailors only got six looks.

Though sailors will still get “racked and stacked” to see who gets a quota each month, officials have reworked the formula.

Now, instead of the six factors used in the calculations before, there are only three: rank, performance evals and critical NECs. Sailors still only compete against peers in the same skill set and year group regardless of rank.

Here is the breakdown of a sailor’s eight monthly looks to stay active duty:

The first four months a sailor competes to stay active duty in his current rating. “Sailors will know at least 10 months from the end of their contract if they will be allowed to re-enlist in their current rate,” Squier said.

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

Sailors will “know at least six months from their end of contract if they are able to stay in the active component by converting to a new rate,” Squier said.

Sailors who still don’t get an active quota during those eight months will then have three more months to compete for a drilling reserve quota before leaving active duty.

Along with giving more chances to re-enlist, Squier said the new timeline will especially help those sailors whose rotation dates overlap with their re-up windows.

That’s because the 13-month PTS window gives sailors a total of four months to try to re-up before they have to start contending with the nine-month countdown to their orders rotation.

Because those picked up for conversion often attend training on the way to a new command, they’ll only negotiate orders to a new duty station once the conversion process is complete.

“This will significantly speed up the process for most sailors,” Squier said. “As was the case in PTS, the majority of sailors who get an in-rate quota get that approval in the first two months and we expect that dynamic will continue.”

But wait, there's more

A major feature of the Career Navigator won’t be available until next calendar year, and that’s what Squier calls a “Sailor Portal” where initially sailors will be able to research their own situation as they approach re-enlistment time.

Until it’s available, sailors will only be able to do this research with the help of their career counselors. Once it comes online, sailors will still apply through their command, but they’ll be able to research their own particulars anywhere they have a computer with Common Access Card access.

This portal will allow sailors to research rating entry, re-enlistment and conversion, as well as reserve to active opportunities.

But officials say they plan to expand that as soon as possible to also include access to sailors online and permanent records, which now reside in separate databases.

“It will require significant ... work to bring those pieces into the portal, but that’s the plan,” Squier said. “As with everything else, it will come down to budget priorities, but we’re optimistic that will happen relatively soon.”

Down the line, officials also want to look at including how sailors research and apply for orders into the process as well, though they have no idea yet when that will become a reality.

And though the biggest change right now is in the re-enlistment process, the Career Navigator umbrella will also include other career functions.

Under PTS, sailors used what was called Fleet Ratings Identification Engine, or Fleet RIDE, to see if they might qualify to convert to another skill set.

Now that function has been absorbed into Career Navigator as a waypoint, just like re-enlistment.

This will be especially key for undesignated sailors who join under the Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks program. These nonrate sailors join the Navy and spend two years in the fleet, mostly working in deck and engineering departments, or on flight decks for two years.

At any given time, there are about 12,000 of these nonrates in the fleet.

Previously, commands had to manually track these sailors and put in “rating entry;” or REGA; applications. Now, tracking these nonrates will be much easier for all involved.

In addition, Career Navigator will incorporate the new RC2AC — Reserve Component to Active Component — accession program. Career Navigator will allow reservists to see if their skill set and year group are needed in the active force and allow them to apply.

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