By Jim Garamone DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, November 18, 2015 — “Permeability” is a word that will be heard a lot in relation to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s new Force of the Future program.
Brad Carson, one of the architects of the program and the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, spoke about the concept and the program during a recent interview.
DoD officials are looking for permeability between the private and public sector, between the active-duty force and the reserve components and between military and civilian life.
U.S. Military is Superb
The baseline for the Force of the Future is today’s military: it is superb, Carson said. In the past 14 years, DoD has fought two wars, maintained alliances around the globe and responded to humanitarian disasters in Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Haiti, Liberia and the United States.
While, technology and systems play a part in American military dominance, it is the people of the department that are the real advantage. “There is no guarantee that will continue in the future,” Carson said. The Force of the Future is designed to ensure DoD maintains its most precious resource: its people, he said.
The program covers a number of different initiatives to ensure the military remains attractive to those who wish to serve. This runs from putting in place a blended military retirement system to attracting the best and brightest civilian employees. It also seeks to incorporate the best practices from the private sector.
Defense Digital Service
Carson called one of the initiatives, the Defense Digital Service, potentially transformative. The department will bring in technology entrepreneurs for a few months or years to share their product development or project management skills.
“I envision that Defense Digital Services will be mostly made up of tech people who come in from the outside for a very short time,” he said. “It’s quite possible that defense employees will work alongside them, but the core of the DDS will be tech workers, tech entrepreneurs -- skilled IT professionals working at America’s leading companies.”
The key is small groups working discrete problems, he said, noting tech companies today use “agile development” as their mantra, employing small teams that get products designed and in use quickly.
“The only way change ever happens is when small groups are committed to it,” the undersecretary said. “In Silicon Valley they say any group that can eat more than two pizzas at a time is too large to get anything done.”
The world-shattering products that Americans use in daily life began with a few men and women working on them. “Then the power of the idea, the beauty of the product sells itself,” he said. “And that’s what we envision here. There are great products that we can get DDS to work on. The power of the skills they bring in will help change the culture and have a direct impact on some of the knottiest problems that we have.”
Almost everything the department does now is embedded with information technology, from digitizing and sharing health records to forming databases for documenting sexual assault.
How these teams approach problems will rub off on DoD employees, Carson said. “There are alternative ways to think about problems, there are alternative ways to go about procurement. They will bring in the best practices that they see every day [and] that they take for granted at their companies,” he said.
An example is at Google and Facebook. On their first day, new employees are expected to write code and apply it to products. In DoD, that might not happen for a year. “They are doing things in smaller batches, iteratively, if it fails they recalibrate,” he said. “It’s just a different way to do business -- a better way to do business, I think.”
The blended military retirement system kicks in Jan. 1, 2018. Those on duty before then will continue to be covered by the current retirement system.
“I think the force will find this to be a great benefit to them and it’s a change all for the better,” Carson said. “While those currently serving will not be affected by the current retirement changes, ... if you served less than 12 years, you will have the opportunity to change over into the blended retirement system, [but] no one will be compelled to do so.”
Another initiative is the entrepreneur-in-residence program. This is a pilot program that will embed entrepreneurs inside DoD to examine some chronic problems within the department, Carson said. “I expect they will be working at the intersection of defense policy and business,” he said. “I really envision it that we bring people in who are very creative, who are extraordinarily energetic. And we say, ‘We’re setting you loose. Go find interesting projects you think you might add value to.’ We want people who are divergent thinkers, who can energize the building.”
The Force of the Future will expand the career intermission program. This program allows personnel to take sabbaticals from the military to raise a family, get a new degree or explore other career opportunities. “I don’t envision there will ever be a world where a large portion of the force will take a sabbatical, but I do think you will see some of the most important people who will rise over time to the senior leadership of the services will take sabbaticals,” he said.
Participants would transfer to the individual ready reserve and wouldn’t count against active-duty end strength. They would still be covered under TRICARE, and they would shift year group so promotion potential is not thwarted, he said. Carson added that he would like to see the services experiment with eliminating the “pay back” obligation under the program.
Shifting Between Active-Duty, Reserve Service
The Force of the Future also wants to make it easier for the services and service members to shift back and forth seamlessly between the active-duty force and the reserve components and vice versa. “Right now, it’s a very hard thing to do,” he said. “We’d like to make it a world where any service can say, ‘Hey, there are people in the RC that we need to bring them back into the AC.’”
The department wants a two-way street between the private sector and the department. “It’s not a world where you have to come to DoD and spend the next 40 years -- if you want to do that you can,” Carson said. “But you can come in for a year or two and make a big impact, and then go back to the private sector. And then maybe come back again in five or 10 years. That’s the kind of permeability that benefits both the private sector and DoD.”