U.S. defense chief announces reforms aimed at strengthening military

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2015 4:20 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced reforms to the Defense Department's personnel policies on Wednesday aimed at attracting tech talent and improving the recruitment and retention of troops and civilians.

The more than 20 initiatives include establishing an executive in charge of recruiting, expanding a program that allows service members to take sabbaticals, and implementing exit surveys to determine why personnel choose to leave.

A more sweeping update of the military's retirement system would grant benefits to service members who serve less than 20 years and allow them to take their benefits when they leave, in contrast to the current system, which has been criticized as being out of date. The retirement reforms were first proposed in June.

Carter said he wanted to create more "on-ramps" for those outside the Defense Department to join even for short periods of time. A new chief recruiting officer will headhunt for executives to fill top civilian roles in the department, Carter said.

Another program would embed entrepreneurs from the private sector into the Department of Defense to work on special projects.

Defense officials are still discussing possible changes to paternity and maternity leave policies as part of the package of reforms, a senior defense official said earlier on Wednesday.

"This is the first tranche, so this is the beginning, not the end," the official said.

Expanding the sabbatical program, which would require congressional approval, is aimed at retaining those individuals who have competing demands, such as wanting to obtain a graduate degree, or needing to take care of elderly parents or children, the official said. Pilot versions of the program have been in place in the military branches for several years.

There is no net cost to the initiatives announced on Wednesday, the senior official said, adding that they will be put in place within weeks.

There are about 1.3 million people on active duty in the U.S. armed services, and an additional 742,000 civilian personnel, according to Department of Defense data.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Tom Brown)