July 26, 2009:
The U.S. Navy is doing something it has rarely done before; culling the ranks of its senior NCOs (Chief Petty Officers). While officers command the navy, and the ships, it's the "Chiefs" who run the navy. Those chiefs with over twenty years service (and thus eligible for retirement at half pay) are considered the most essential, and these are the ones being reviewed now.
Review boards are being established to measure the performance, over the past five years, of all the most senior chiefs. Anyone with disciplinary problems, or low performance evaluations, will be forced to retire. This will cost those chiefs a lot of money, because those with less than 30 years service, will lose out on the 75 percent pay you get when you retire at 30 or more years. The navy is not setting any quotas for how many chiefs to boot, they just want the low performers gone.
Aside from wanting to improve the quality of the senior NCO force, the additional retirements make it possible for more qualified chiefs to get promoted, and for junior NCOs to become chiefs. Because of the recession, more senior chiefs are putting off retirement, and promotions to chief have slowed.
This is all part of a downsizing program, "Perform To Serve" (PTS), that was instituted six years ago. PTS is an effort to get rid of people the navy doesn't need (not possessing needed skills) or want (disciplinary or physical fitness problems). Initially only first term sailors, seeking to reenlist, had to basically reapply for their jobs. Recently, junior NCOs also had to do so, including those with 10-14 years of service. Last year, 90 percent of those who applied, kept their jobs. The other ten percent were either offered a job in another area, or told they could not reenlist.
Changing technology has caused shortages in some jobs, and surpluses in others. The PTS program allows sailors in overmanned jobs to take aptitude tests to see if they qualify for training in another job. Some sailors can't make the cut, and have to leave.
There are other programs for determining who has to leave. For example, it was recently made easier for officers and NCOs eligible for retirement (having served at least twenty years) to leave before their current contract was up (NCOs re-enlist for 4-6 years at a time, while officers have contracts to do basically the same thing). In addition, the navy is letting some younger sailors get out a year or two before their current contract is up, if they are in job categories that are overmanned.
The navy currently has a strength of 332,000, and wants to get that down to 326,000 within the next two years. At the same time, the navy wants to keep scarce, hard-to-train and difficult-to-keep technical specialists. In particular, there are always shortages of nuclear power techs for submarines, and special operations troops (SEALs and their support people). And then there are the new recruits, most of whom are only in (deliberately) for one term (usually four years). These have to be replaced, along with those who stay in, but later decide to get out. There's less of this with a recession going on.