The Navy is testing a plan that doubles re-up bonuses for some eligible sailors who perform well and stay out of trouble.
Featuring what officials call a “kicker,” it’s a temporary initiative that offers “pay for performance” bonuses to boost sailors in seven surface engineering ratings.
Sailors already can qualify for payouts under the Navy’s Selective Reenlistment Bonus program but these kickers tack on more money than they would’ve received. And if this fledgling campaign is successful, officials will consider spreading it out to other ratings across the fleet.
“At this time we are unsure how long the pilot will run,” said Lt.j.g. Stuart Phillips, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. “We intend to monitor the pilot for the number of takers, cost of the program and impact on top performers re-enlisting.”
Announced in the NavAdmin 305/18 released Monday, the eligible ratings are Electrician’s Mate - EM, Engineman - EN, Gas Turbine Systems Technician - GSM , Machinist’s Mate (Surface) - MM(SW), Damage Controlman - DC, Hull Maintenance Technician - HT and Machinery Repairman - MR.
“The conventional surface engineering ratings were specifically chosen due to the size and make-up of the ratings,” Phillips said. “The number of sailors ensures that there are enough potential takers, yet not too many that data tracking and collection is difficult. Additionally, the current SRBs for these ratings are all comparable [in payouts].”
To calculate a bonus, the Navy will start with a “multiple.” It’s a number that’s multiplied by the amount of the sailor’s monthly basic pay. That product is then multiplied by the number of years they choose to reenlist, up to a maximum of six years.
But sailors graded as top performers in the seven ratings will get an additional 0.5 added to their multiple. That’s the kicker.
If they haven’t received an early promote recommendation on two of their past three annual performance evaluations, however, they don’t get it. And transfer, concurrent or special evaluations don’t count.
Sailors also must have passed three years of fitness tests — both body composition and the physical readiness test.
If they’ve received any non-judicial punishment during the same span, they can’t get a performance bonus.
Maximum payouts are capped. For these engineering ratings, the ceiling is set at $30,000.
Five of the test ratings — DC, EN, HT, MM(SW) and MR — currently qualify for a multiple of 1.0 for sailors in re-up zone A.
Let’s take a second class petty officer in one of these ratings whose monthly basic pay on Jan. 1 is $2,804.31. The normal payout for a six-year reenlistment with the multiple of 1.0 comes to $16,825.86.
Now add in the 0.5 performance kicker — $8,412.93 — and the sailor’s total payout rises to $25,238.79 with the six-year obligation.
An electrician’s mate 2nd class reenlisting for six more years with the kicker would see the bonus double from $8,412.93 to $16,825.86.
With the kicker, a petty officer 2nd class in the Gas Turbine Mechanical rating would reach the max payout of $30,000 with a six-year reenlistment.
Two reforms are playing out in the pilot program.
Navy leaders want to find ways to reward merit over seniority as they woo the best sailors to stay in the service. And they want to see what other forms of merit incentives might entice the best and brightest to remain in uniform.
“One of the things we’re going add into the new evaluation system is a way to add in a pay kicker for merit,” Vice Adm. Bob Burke, the service’s top uniformed personnel officer told Navy Times in August, telegraphing this and future innovations.
Officials also are mulling launching a retention, SRB-like merit pay program for officers, but that requires legislation from Congress first.
For now, the Navy wants to see what happens with the new performance evaluation system for enlisted sailors. It’s slated to start rolling out in 2019.
That could pave the way for even more pay experiments, like giving commanding officers the ability to award spot merit bonuses to their top performers, much as they hand out advancements today.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.