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Defense Officer Personnel Management Act: The Army's Challenge to Contemporary Officer Management

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has directed each of the military service chiefs to consider changes to officer management policies that will contribute to a more efficient and flatter military organization. However, it is not clear whether the Services actually have the ability to develop changes to officer career paths such as those espoused by Secretary Gates. Federal law -- primarily, the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) -- establishes the broad framework for current military officer management. An examination of four key provisions of DOPMA reveals that absent changes to the system imposed by this law, the Army lacks sufficient latitude to modify its officers'; career paths in a way that facilitates future stated organizational requirements. To determine the extent to which DOPMA inhibits the development of a contemporary Army officer personnel management system, it was necessary to do three things. First, it was necessary to describe the development and key elements of DOPMA. Next, it was necessary to determine whether the Army's Officer Personnel Management System (OPMS) has changed since DOPMA's inception; and if so, then identify to what extent these changes have enabled the Army to meet organizational requirements. Finally, it was necessary to examine changes in the military environment since DOPMA's inception. Examination of DOPMA, its development and impact on the Army, revealed that major provisions of the law originated from legislative antecedents dating as early as 1947. At that time, three of the major concerns influencing officer management legislation were creating uniformity among the Services, promoting a youthful and vigorous officer corps, and ensuring the military's ability to quickly mobilize in the event of another major conflict. Despite significant organizational changes to the Army since initiation of these laws, DOPMA continues to impose an antiquated, time-based system of military officer management upon the Army.

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