Last quarter’s SUBMARINE REVIEW described various submarine related issues being considered by the Congress, mainly related to ship construction and procurement. I thought there might similarly be interest in the support we are receiving at the highest levels within the Navy and on the Hill for our people programs. While there are numerous examples I could cite, I will limit my discussion here to three recent and significant changes.
The spot promotion program allows for the temporary promotion of lieutenants to lieutenant commander while they fill key conventional and nuclear engineering billets. The program is necessary to help overcome shortfalls of qualified lieutenant commanders, and provides appropriate authority, recognition and compensation commensurate with the job. The program has been authorized in its current form since 1975, when it was modified from a similar Viet Nam era authorization.
Because of its unique nature within the Department of Defense, the spot promotion program has been authorized in several year increments, and periodically reexamined for renewal. This year, the 1997 Defense Authorization Bill, awaiting passage, will make the authority permanent. Congress has agreed that officers serving in these few critical billets need to be lieutenant commanders, and has acknowledged our necessity to sometimes assign top lieutenants. This decision was made following our thorough review of various alternatives, including major changes to career paths, a special bonus, and greater use of below .zone promotions. Our study concluded that spot promotions remain the most efficient and economical solution to put the best officers in the job while properly compensating them. Navy leadership concurred in our findings. The Secretary of Defense whole heatedly agreed, and Congress voted to make spot promotion authority permanent! Another issue receiving strong support is Nuclear Officer Incentive Pay (NOIP). NOIP provides additional compensation to attract, retain and compensate nuclear trained officers. The program was first established in 1969 and was last adjusted in 1987. NOIP rates were held constant through the post Cold War drawdown to aid in retaining high quality officers.
With the end of the draw down in sight, we conducted a review of retention programs needed for the future. This study examined future requirements for nuclear trained officers and past retention behavior in response to bonus level changes. The total costs of accessing excess officers to compensate for low retention were compared to the costs of limiting accessions to meet junior officer requirements and paying bonuses to achieve required retention. This analysis concluded that the most efficient and economical strategy will be to retain the current NOIP structure while adjusting the bonus rates to overcome the erosion of inflation since the last rate increase in 1987.
In his forwarding endorsement to Congress, SECNAV showed his very strong support for our nuclear trained officers by directing that the NOIP rates be immediately raised to their legislative maximums to encourage an increase in junior officer retention required as we emerge from the draw down. He also stated his intention to recommend to Congress higher legislated rates to provide him with added flexibility should retention trends indicate the need.
Funding for the increased NOIP rates was provided for FY97, and programmed into the budget for FY98 and beyond. The revision to the implementing instruction to raise the bonus rates gained final approval on 12 August 1996, and is now in effect. The following table summarizes this change:
We have submitted draft legislation for the FY98 Defense Authorization Bill which proposes higher bonus maximums.
The third issue of interest is the recent change to the obligated service requirement for attending the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Federal regulations and Department of Defense policy require officers to accrue additional obligated service for attending fully funded postgraduate education. Three years additional obligation is earned for the first year of schooling, and thereafter at a one for one rate. Navy policy additionally required this obligated service to be completed on a consecutive basis with other pre-existing obligated service. This policy had the unintended effect of precluding potentially career oriented nuclear trained officers from access to the Continuation Pay described above during the period of time they were fulfilling their postgraduate school obligation. Many of our officers were reluctant to attend Monterey because of this unintended financial burden.
When this conflict was identified to Navy leadership, they enthusiastically agreed that the obligated service requirement should be concurrent vice consecutive, and immediately revised it. This new policy now meets the dual needs of ensuring officers remain on active duty to fill subsequent assignments related to their advanced education, and attracting nuclear-trained officers towards advanced education and a Navy career.
In this era of fiscal constraint, this strong backing is both welcomed and appropriate. Today’s submarine officers remain highly motivated, technically competent, and well respected. Through initiatives such as these, we can offer the support and compensation to offset the sacrifices they and their families must make. Our leaders know this, and their actions reflect it.
CAPT Luciano P. Montanaro, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Richard A. Ryzow, USN(Ret.)