New Navy Boards Will Send Underperforming Officers to Early Retirement

The Navy as a whole is poised to grow in coming years — but top brass say there’s still no room for senior officers who don’t carry their weight.

In a new move aimed at rooting out officers who are underperforming or causing problems at their units, the Navy on Thursday announced the creation of a new Selective Early Retirement Board, set to convene this fall.

The move was made possible by a provision in the Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that gives military service secretaries the ability to look within subsets of paygrades to find officers who aren’t making the cut, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke told reporters this week.

“We … think that enforcing the standard with our senior officers sends a good signal, provides a necessary tone across the entire force in terms of our expectation for the entire Navy and all subordinates to emulate,” Burke said.

The boards, modeled after the Senior Enlisted Continuation Boards set in place by the Navy more than a decade ago, will consider commanders and captains whose military record or performance includes items of concern.

Those eligible to be sent to the board include captains with three or more years in grade and commanders who have failed selection for promotion to captain at least twice, according to a Navy administrative message released Thursday.

The board set to convene in September will consider line and staff corps officers in more than three dozen distinct specialties and year groups, according to information provided by Navy officials. Navy leaders expect the boards to convene annually hereafter.

But time in grade and being passed over aren’t enough to get someone sent to a board.

“We’re not looking for [physical fitness assessment] failures, because we have an admin program that does that,” Burke said. “We’re not necessarily looking for a single disciplinary issue, but a disciplinary issue in the context of something else.This board may look at a disciplinary issue in the context of other issues. So an officer that’s doing their job and performing just fine has nothing to worry about here.”

Unlike when the Navy convened officer early retirement boards in fiscal 2012 under a mandate from Congress to reduce the number of officers in the ranks, there are no quotas associated with these boards, Burke said. Instead, he said, it’s about making sure all officers are meeting Navy standards.

“Because we’re looking for quality, it would be a perfectly acceptable outcome if in a given designator or given category if the board found that no officers were selected for early retirement,” he said. “Our expectation is, since we’re looking for underperforming officers, that the number of officers selected for early retirement will be very, very small.”

Data provided by the Navy show that the number of senior enlisted sailors selected for early retirement through the existing Senior Enlisted Continuation Boards ranged from 2 to 4 percent of the eligible population for most years between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2018.

Burke said he expects the number of officers selected for early retirement through the new boards to be even smaller, a fraction of a percent of the population.

Those selected for retirement will not face any resulting disciplinary action and will be permitted to retire at their current rank within seven months of notification of selection, officials said. If the selected individual is not yet retirement-eligible, he or she must remain on active duty until eligible, and then retire within a month.

The Navy has worked for years to secure authority from Congress to hold its officers to the same level of scrutiny as they hold their senior enlisted troops with the boarding process, according to Burke.

“My discomfort with having a senior enlisted continuation board, and not having one for officers, was palpable,” he said.

The change follows a year that has seen a number of high-profile disciplinary actions within the Navy officer corps. In the most dramatic incident, senior leaders of Navy destroyers that collided with commercial ships in the Pacific were publicly fired, and some later brought up on criminal charges due to alleged command negligence leading to the deaths of sailors.

But Burke said these new boards weren’t specifically designed with the intent of halting burgeoning leadership disasters in their tracks. Rather, he said, they will ensure all officers are toeing the same line, regardless of where they are in their career.

“You can’t get to where you’re reaching retirement age and coast,” he said.

— Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.
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