WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 – The Pentagon office for personnel and readiness and the programs it oversees will not be immune from Defense Department efficiency initiatives, but will keep troops and their families at the forefront in the consideration of changes, the office's top civilian leader said.
"I joined with an efficiency mindset," Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said during a June 7 interview with American Forces Press Service of his recent return to the Pentagon.
Stanley is a retired Marine Corps major general who was appointed undersecretary in February 2010. Although he has worked in other senior civilian positions in the department, he said, his 33 years in uniform guide his decision-making today.
"Not a day goes by that we don't ask how we can help our troops," he said of his staff. "Accountability -- that's critical to what we're doing, and making sure we're relevant."
The personnel and readiness office, which oversees recruitment, career development, and pay and benefits for more than 2 million service members, is in the midst of a five-year strategic plan. Stanley said his goals for the plan, in order, are:
- To provide the right policies, practices, and tools to attract, train, educate, shape, sustain and retain diverse talent to anticipate and meet future requirements;
- Strengthen individual and mission readiness and family support;
- Deliver quality health care at an affordable cost while improving military readiness;
- Strengthen the internal workings of the personnel and readiness office; and
- Communicate with "one voice."
To stay connected, Stanley and his staff travel to military installations around the country, as well as some overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan. "He wants to know the honest truth," said Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. William Mahoney Sr., Stanley's senior enlisted advisor. "At the end of the day, our work is about ‘What have we done to support the total force?'
"He's not just reading it or publishing a plan," Mahoney added. "He's reinforcing it every day."
It's important to have a flexible, working document that doesn't just sit on a shelf, Stanley said. "Our actions speak louder than our words," he said. "We're already executing our portfolio of initiatives."
One area Stanley and his staff are working on is reforming the department's "talent management," or personnel system. "It's about having the right people in the right places at the right time for the right kinds of missions," he said. "We don't have that right now."
The system needs some improvement, Stanley acknowledged. "Our bureaucracy sometimes works against us in terms of getting the best here," he said.
Stanley said he goes beyond common goals of hiring reform, focusing on "employment reform," including recruiting new hires, developing staff, and properly transitioning people out of the military into civilian employment.
"At the same time, we have to be able to move those folks who aren't performing out of the system," he said. "The government is loath to that — in many cases, for the right reasons that are there to protect the system — but I think we've gone too far in that. So, when a person is here, they're here for a long time."
The military system works better than on the civilian side because "if you don't make the next cut in promotion, you're out after a couple of looks," he said. "On the civilian side, we don't have the same. You can find yourself at a level and just be comfortable and retire there after 20 or 30 years. That's not right, so we have to fix that."
Stanley's plan also includes an assessment of military and family support programs. He couldn't say yet what the outcome will be, except that some programs need more resources, while others will be cut altogether, either because of duplication of efforts or because they are ineffective.
The strategic initiatives also focus on military health care, which Stanley is personally familiar with. "I am a TRICARE Prime user," he said. "I understand what the system is and isn't. I understood it when I was on active duty, so I'm not removed from that."
With booming health care costs and no fee increases since the mid-1990s, the department in its fiscal 2012 budget proposed raising TRICARE user fees on a gradual, sliding scale for working-age retirees. Stanley said other concerns to be addressed include too few military hospitals, serving National Guardsmen and reservists who live far from military or Veterans Affairs hospitals and outpatient centers, and improving the disability evaluation system.
"When we look at the disability evaluation system, we're looking at how we take care of people who have been wounded, that they're not being held up in some morass of bureaucracy," Stanley said. "How do we ensure they're taken care of immediately, and how do we do that with compassion?"
That also means extending compassion to those separating from the military. "We're not trying to kick anybody out the door," he said.
While no one knows yet what changes will transpire with health care, change itself is certain, Stanley said.
"This is going to affect families," he said. "We're looking at asking some hard questions, and I will promise you, we will change. We'll do it with the help of Congress and the people in this building, and the help of our service members and retirees, but we will change and we will improve."