Scores on exams could be de-emphasized in future advancement calculations for more senior sailors, but would count for more in junior petty officer advancements. Some Navy Times readers said they wanted the tests ditched entirely, while others wanted to modify the focus of the questions. (MC3 George M. Bell/Navy)
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Sailors have griped forever that the advancement rules reward bookworms and penalize gearheads.
Officials have heard that beef — and now they’re looking to address it.
Personnel leaders are proposing a shakeup in the way petty officers are picked that would boost the value of job performance for first classes and trim that of seniority. It would be the first advancement overhaul in seven years.
“The majority of you seem to like greater weight added to performance — make the evals count more, make it less about who can pass the test or who hangs around long enough,” Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of naval personnel, wrote on Navy Times’ Facebook page. “In general, I agree with you.”
Moran was responding to sailors’ posts — 252 of them — about what they’d like to see changed in the advancement system. The changes, which are pending final approval, could go into effect as early as September as part of a multifaceted review of advancement rules.
“We are close to finalizing stage one of what will be a multistage look and adjustment to enlisted advancements — final multiple score (FMS) and the [command advancement] process,” Moran explained in his post, saying the review was central to “promoting and retaining the best quality, hardest working sailors we can.”
Once approved, Moran said, the Navy will roll out the first in a series of changes that could start as soon as the fall 2014 exam cycle and continue in phases over the next year.
Up first is a proposed change to the overall advancement formula that will change how a sailor’s exam score and evaluations are weighed in producing a final score.
Next up will be changes to how the service uses the Command Advancement Program — better known as CAP — which gives commanding officers the ability to advance small numbers of sailors.
And later on, officials are considering more far-reaching adjustments to the advancement formula that could include awarding points for being on sea duty, for multiple deployments — or for being in great shape.
Test score changes
The proposals are the fruits of a year of research by the Navy and its think tanks, which took the first deep dive into advancement issues in half a decade.
“The main things the studies found was that sailors who served at sea or who were in sea-intensive ratings do better on the advancement exams — the more sea-intensive the rating, the better sailors tend to do on test performance,” said Capt. Karan Schriver, who heads enlisted force plans and policy for the chief of naval personnel, in a Jan. 30 phone interview.
The first changes to the formula — those pending final approval — are for how the test’s standard score and the evals combined score, or “performance mark average,” are weighed in the formula that computes the final score.
It’s that final score that sets a sailor’s ranking Navy-wide among those competing in a given rating each exam cycle and ultimately determines whether a sailor advances.
For those competing for E-4 and E-5, the exam counts for 37 percent and evals for 42 percent, making up the bulk of the score. For those competing for E-6, the exam counts for 33 percent and the evals for 47.5 percent. Though officials aren’t giving out exact details on how the percentages will change, they say that if finally approved, percentages in both areas will continue to move in separate directions — the value of exams up for E-4 and E-5, and down for E-6. Junior petty officers need to deepen their technical mastery, the thinking goes, while senior POs should be measured from managing work centers and divisions.
“Although we found a direct correlation between exam performance and performance mark averages, we think that weighing the exams more at the junior officer paygrades [will] have them show more technical knowledge, what they’ve learned at school and on the job,” Schriver said.
“We put more weight on the performance mark average — the eval — for the more senior paygrades,” Schriver added.
The difference here, officials say, is that sailors at the E-6 and E-7 paygrades are expected to display their performance primarily through their on-the-job leadership skills, which is captured in their evaluations.
Officials plan to decrease the value of time-in-paygrade in hopes of promoting more hot-running POs. They’re also looking at shrinking the number of sailors who qualify for passed, not advanced, or PNA, points — those who pass the test but don’t make the final cut for advancement.
Schriver said credit for time-in-paygrade would remain in the formula, but it’s weight would drop some — officials didn’t want to discuss exact percentages until the proposals are approved. PNA points will remain, up to a 15-point maximum, but fewer sailors likely will earn them.
“We’re looking at the sailors who score in the top 25 percent for their performance mark average and their standard score over the last five cycles and allowing them 1.5 points per cycle, up to the 15-point maximum,” Schriver said. PNA points are now awarded in a tiered system to every sailor outside the bottom 25 percent.
Also on the table are adjustments to which awards qualify for points. Current maximum points levels — 10 for competing for E-4 and E-5, and 12 for competing for E-6 — are expected to remain the same. But officials have removed some medals from the list of those netting advancement points.
“We did remove certain categories of awards from the calculations because most sailors get those, such as the Good Conduct or a Reserve Meritorious Service medals,” she said. “Individual awards for performance or achievement will still count.”
These would include, she said, things like Navy Achievement and Navy Commendation medals, as well as higher awards for valor.
Schriver said the review also found merit in many ideas offered by sailors, such as awarding advancement points for other factors — top physical fitness scores, for example, or cumulative sea duty or multiple cruises.
Before they can assess these moves, personnel officials need more computer analysis tools to make future formulas easier to develop and allow “more latitude to add more things to the computations,” Schriver said. “But I can’t give a time line at this point when that will happen.”
Long-term, Moran says he is embarked on a deeper look at advancement rules to see if more radical changes are needed.
Already, he’s been working on changes to the CAP, the program that allows COs to advance a limited number of talented sailors.
This program came under heavy fire after the enlisted retention boards, officials say, as many were pointing fingers, blaming these spot promotions for the overmanning problems in many ratings.
Moran is developing some reforms to CAP that will include more coordination between commands and community managers to prevent those overmanning issues in the future and an announcement on these changes is expected soon.
But Moran has even more extensive plans that could include looking at other services’ systems and examining how the Navy sets its quotas — the actual advancement numbers — on each cycle to make sure those parts of the process are meeting the Navy’s needs, as well.
“We owe it to the fleet and especially Commanding Officers as much flexibility as we can to ensure that the right sailors with the right skill sets advance at the right time — sounds easy, but you all know that it’s not,” Moran wrote in his Jan. 30 Facebook post. “Many of you have brought up some outstanding ideas and each of them deserve our attention.”