Military Aviators: Assignment Policies and Practices

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-09-24.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                   United   States   General   Accounting   Office

GAO                Report to Congressional Requesters

September   1990
                   MILITARY AVIATORS
                   Assignment Policies
                   and Practices

United States
General Accounting  Office
Washington, D.C. 20548

National Security and
International  Affairs Division


September 24,199O

The Honorable Sam Nunn
Chairman, Committee on Armed
United States Senate

The Honorable Les Aspin
Chairman, Committee on Armed
House of Representatives

As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Years
1990 and 1991, we reviewed the aviator assignment policies and prac-
tices followed by the armed services to accommodate the assignment
preferences of aviators within the services’ operational needs. Our spe-
cific objectives were to (1) determine service policies regarding aviator
assignments, (2) describe how assignments are actually made, (3) iden-
tify the extent of aviator input into the assignment process, and (4)
identify aviator views regarding the assignment process. We have
briefed the Senate Committee on Armed Services staff on the prelimi-
nary results of our work and provided copies of the briefing to the staff
of the House Committee on Armed Services. This report summarizes and
updates the information presented in the briefing.

The Department of Defense (DOD) develops and implements general poli-
cies that affect the aviator assignment process in certain general areas.
Examples of these policies include establishing tour lengths for overseas
locations and implementing aviator career incentive pay requirements.
However, DOD is not involved in making specific assignments within a

Each of the services has its own policies and procedures for assigning
aviators, and we found that the services were generally following them.
Aviator assignments in each service are affected by aviator-specific
requirements, such as flying time, as well as requirements applicable to
all officers, such as overseas assignments. Aviators’ career needs and
desires are considered in assignment decisions. However, the services’
needs are their main concern.

The aviators provide assignment preference statements that indicate
location, educational, and specific assignment requests. The assignment

Page 1                                      GAO,‘NSL4D-9O-213   Military   Aviators

              requests are weighed against service needs and the developmental needs
              of the aviator before making assignments. Generally, proposed assign-
              ments are discussed with the aviators before they are finalized.

              Available information indicates that assignments are important to avia-
              tors. However, other factors such as family separation, job satisfaction,
              and availability of civilian job opportunities were generally cited as
              more important factors affecting aviators’ decisions to stay in or leave
              the service.

              The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991
Scopeand      requires us to analyze “the effectiveness and efficiency of the aviator
Methodology   assignment policies and practices of the Armed Forces, including an
              analysis of the policies and practices followed in accommodating the
              assignment preferences of aviators within operational needs of the
              Armed Forces.” The act requires us to report our findings to the Senate
              and House Committees on Armed Services.

              To accomplish our objectives, we reviewed pertinent DOD and service
              regulations and guidance, correspondence, and studies. We examined the
              assignment process in each of the services, observed actual assignments
              being made, and discussed the process with assignment managers and
              aviators. We also interviewed DOD and service officials.

              Documentation, previous studies, and prior indications of problems in
              the area of aviator assignments varied by service. As a result, we relied
              more heavily on aviator interviews for the Army and on studies,
              surveys, and transaction records for the other services.

              We conducted our review from August 1989 to May 1990 in accordance
              with generally accepted government auditing standards. We discussed
              the information in this report with responsible agency officials and
              incorporated their views where appropriate.

              Appendixes I through IV provide information on aviator assignment pol-
              icies and practices in the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army,

              We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of Defense and
              the Army, Navy, and Air Force and other interested parties. We will
              make copies available to others upon request.

              Page 2                                       GAO,‘NSIAD9O-213   Military   Aviatora

If you or your staff have any questions, please call me on (202) 275-
3990. The major contributors to this report are listed in appendix V.

Paul L. Jones
Director, Defense Force
Management Issues

Page 3                                       GAO/NSIAD-90-213   Military   Aviators

Letter                                                                                                      1

Appendix I                                                                                              6
Navy Aviator            Background                                                                      6
                        Assignment Policies and Practices                                               7
Assignment Process      Aviator Input Into Assignment Decisions                                         9
                        Aviators’ Views of the Assignment Process                                      10
                        GAO’s Assessment                                                               11

Appendix II
Marine Corps Aviator    Background
                        Assignment Policies and Practices
Assignment Process      Aviator Input Into the Assignment Process                                      15
                        Aviators’ Views of the Assignment Process                                      16
                        GAO’s Assessment                                                               16

Appendix III                                                                                           17
Air Force Aviator       Background
                        Assignment Policies and Practices
Assignment Process      Aviator Input Into the Assignment Process                                      20
                        Aviators’ Views of the Assignment Process                                      20
                        GAO’s Assessment                                                               21

Appendix IV                                                                                            23
Arrny Aviator           Background
                        Assignment Policies and Practices
Assignment Process      Aviators’ Input Into Assignment Decisions                                      25
                        Aviators’ Views of the Assignment Process                                      26
                        GAO’s Assessment                                                               26

Appendix V                                                                                             28
Major Contributors to
This Report
Tables                  Table 1.1: Number of Pilot and Naval Flight Officers,                               7
                            November 1989
                        Table II. 1: Number of Marine Corps Pilots and Naval                           13
                            Flight Officers as of February 1990

                        Page 4                                       GAO/N&W-90-213   Military   Aviators

Figures   Figure I. 1: Structure of the Naval Personnel Command,                              6
               Aviation Officer Distribution Division
          Figure II. 1: Structure of the Marine Manpower Officer                            12
               Assignment Branch
          Figure III. 1: Structure of the Air Force Military Personnel                      17
               Center, Assignments Directorate
          Figure IV.1: Structure of the Officer Personnel                                   24
               Management Directorate, Army Personnel Command


           DOD       Department of Defense

           Page 5                                        GAO/NSIAD-90-213   Military   .4~-iators
Appendix I

Navy Aviator Assignment Process

                                            The aviator assignment system is designed to allow the Navy to develop
Background                                  the officer’s individual aviator combat skills, leadership abilities, and
                                            experience required to ultimately fill senior leadership positions. The
                                            term aviation officers refers to both pilots and naval flight officers,
                                            which includes specialties such as radar intercept officers and aerial
                                            reconnaissance specialists.

                                            The Naval Military Personnel Command’s Aviation Officer Distribution
                                            Division is responsible for aviation officer assignments. Within this divi-
                                            sion, placement officers and detailersl work together in an effort to
                                            match assignment requirements with aviator qualifications. Placement
                                            officers are concerned with filling command requirements, while
                                            detailers represent individual aviator career needs and personal desires.
                                            Figure I.1 shows the structure of the Naval Personnel Command, Avia-
                                            tion Officer Division.

Figure 1.1:Structure of the Naval Personnel Command, Aviation Officer Distribution Division

                                                        Aviation Officer

/                                                                                                            Air Combat Units

                                            ‘Detailer is the term used in the Navy to describe the people who make personnel assignments.

                                            Page 6                                                      GAO/‘NSIADW213       Military Aviators
                                       Appendix I
                                       Navy Aviator Assignment Process

                                       As of November 1989, the Navy had 14,247 aviators at the rank of com-
                                       mander and below (8,863 pilots and 5,384 naval flight officers). Table
                                       I.1 shows the number of pilots and naval flight officers by jet, propeller,
                                       and helicopter communities.

Table 1.1: Number of Pilot and Naval
Flight Officers, November 1989                                                               Naval flight
                                       Communities                                Pilots        officers           Total
                                       Jet                                        2,991             2,817   ~._~___5,808
                                       Propeller                                  2,587            2,567        5,154
                                       Helicopter                                 3,285                0        3,285
                                       Total                                      8,863            5,384 --~~ ___

                                       During 1989, the Aviation Officer Distribution Division assigned 6,094
                                       aviators. According to Navy officials, about one-third of all aviators typ-
                                       ically receive new assignments each year. Length of assignments can
                                       generally vary from 1 to 3 years, although some may be shorter or
                                       longer. Factors that influence assignment length include whether an avi-
                                       ator is assigned to an overseas or U.S. sea or shore position or whether
                                       dependents accompany an aviator to certain overseas duty stations.

                                       The primary policy and procedural guidance used for making aviator
Assignment Policies                    officer assignments is contained in the Navy’s Officer Transfer Manual
and Practices                          (NAVPERS 15559), Officer Distribution Manual (NMPC.~ Instr. 5400lG), and
                                       the Naval Military Personnel Manual. These manuals govern assign-
                                       ments for all Navy officers, not just aviators. They provide detailers
                                       with the latitude to administer three basic requirements that govern
                                       each aviator assignment-the needs of the Navy, the officer’s career
                                       needs, and the desires of the individual.

                                       The needs of the Navy are the primary consideration in an aviator’s
                                       assignment and take priority over all other factors. Career path assign-
                                       ments of all aviators follow a distinct sea/shore rotation pattern. The
                                       first assignment of virtually all new aviators is to a flying-intensive sea
                                       position, generally aboard an aircraft carrier. Subsequent assignments
                                       are based on the number of aviators required to serve in flying positions
                                       at sea and ashore.

                                       An aviator’s individual desires are also an important part of the assign-
                                       ment process. Our review indicated that Navy detailers, when making
                                       assignments, are sensitive to such personal factors as a working spouse,

                                       Page 7                                         GAO/NSLADSO-213 Military Aviators
Appendix I
Navy Aviator   Assignment   Process

children in school, or dependents who are receiving special medical

Actions that occur during the assignment process can generally be
grouped into two distinct time periods: actions that begin 9 to 12 months
and then 6 to 9 months before an aviator’s projected rotation date.

For the first period, the process begins with a placement officer, within
the placement branch, who posts a list of the positions that are expected
to be vacated. Sea and shore coordinators, within the assignment
branch, use this list to compile positions for applicable sea and shore
assignments and to rank the order in which the positions need to be
filled. These coordinators send the list of positions to a community-spe-
cific detailer (e.g., jet detailer or helicopter detailer). The detailer then
attempts to match the positions with aviators due for new assignments.

In the second period, detailers communicate with aviators by telephone,
letters, or personal visits. Each detailer maintains a file of telephone
conversations or other contacts with aviators. Through contacts with
aviators, and the information obtained during the first period, detailers
attempt to balance the Navy’s needs with the individual’s career needs
and personal preferences.

Once a detailer and an aviator agree to a proposed assignment, the
assignment must be approved by the applicable sea or shore coordinator
and the gaining placement officer. As part of the acceptance process,
subspecialty education waivers and need for training updating are con-
sidered. Subspecialty education waivers provide the Navy with a pro-
cess to assign aviators who have received post graduate education to
positions suitable to their educational background. Also, when an avi-
ator is assigned from a nonflying position to a flying position, his/her
flying skills may need to be updated. Detailers try to visit naval bases
semiannually to inform aviators about assignment policies and proce-
dures administered by the Aviation Officer Distribution Division.

Our review of Navy assignment manuals, policies, and processes and
discussions with assignment and placement officers identified six prac-
tices and criteria the Navy uses to make aviator assignments.

1. Requirements. Navy requirements or needs are reflected in the
number of aviators authorized for each activity (i.e., squadron or
training command requirements), as shown in the Officer Distribution

 Page 8                                        GAO/NSWW213      Military   Avi~ton,
                       Appendix I
                       Navy Aviator   Assignment   Process

                       Plan. Requirements are satisfied by assigning the best qualified aviator
                       to available positions.

                       2. Sea and shore projected rotation date. An aviator’s projected rotation
                       date from a sea or shore position signals an aviator’s availability for a
                       new assignment.

                       3. Evaluation reports. An aviator’s performance rating records the
                       quality of job performance of each aviator relative to others of the same
                       grade and comparable experience. It provides information on duties per-
                       formed and an evaluation of personal and professional characteristics.

                       4. Career path consideration. An aviator’s career path involves rotation
                       between sea and shore assignments. This rotation pattern is influenced
                       by the number of aviators required to serve in flying sea and shore posi-
                       tions. Furthermore, as part of the process for maintaining an aviator’s
                       flying skills, detailers try to ensure that aviators are assigned to posi-
                       tions that will enable them to qualify for aviation career incentive pay.

                       5. Commanding officer’s endorsement. Placement officers are in routine
                       communication with gaining and losing commanding officers to discuss
                       an aviator’s specific skills and experience and those that are needed to
                       fill vacant positions.

                       6. Subspecialty codes. Aviators who obtain post graduate education
                       acquire technical or managerial subspecialty skills. When the Navy pro-
                       vides formal education, it wants to assign the aviator to a position
                       where the aviator’s education can best be used.

                       The Navy’s assignment practices accommodate, within the operational
Aviator Input Into     needs of the Navy, aviator assignment preferences. Basically, aviators
Assignment Decisions   provide input into the assignment process by completing an Officer Pref-
                       erence and Personal Information Card (NAVPERS 10301/l) and an officer
                       data card, and through personal contacts with a detailer.

                        The preference card lists, in order, the aviator’s preference for his or
                        her next assignment. It is submitted at least annually to the detailer. The
                        officer data card contains personal information, such as assignment his-
                        tory, rotation dates, education, and dependent status. Because some of
                        this information is also used for selection boards, aviators can annually

                        Page 9                                       GAO/‘NSIAWW-213   Military   Aviators
                         Appendix I
                         Navy Aviatm   Assignment   Process

                         review and verify the information. Personal contact consists of tele-
                         phone calls, written correspondence, and visits between aviators and

                         To help determine whether actual practices and the stated processes
                         were generally consistent, we reviewed decisions involved in 14 recent
                         aviator assignments. Our information was based on interviews with
                         detailers and a review of the detailer’s records that included aviator
                         preference cards, officer data cards, records of personal contacts with
                         aviators, and documentation of their rationale for making each assign-
                         ment. Of the 14 assignments, 6 resulted in aviators receiving their first
                         choice. In those cases where aviators did not receive their first choice,
                         three assignments were based on the needs of the Navy, and five were
                         based on career development needs of the aviators. According to Navy
                         officials, 12 aviators were happy or satisfied with their assignments and
                         2 were unhappy with their assignments. The number of assignments we
                         reviewed was too small to project the results to the universe of all

                         The Navy Personnel Research and Development Center, as part of a
Aviators’ Views of the   comprehensive study on career development, has been collecting data
Assignment Process       since 1982 on aviator attitudes about detailers and the assignment pro-
                         cess, The most recent results, based on questionnaire responses of 5,028
                         aviators, were published in the Center’s August 1988 report, entitled
                         Officer Career Development: Problems of Three Unrestricted Line Com-
                         munities (TR 88-13).

                         Overall, 75 percent of aviators reported they were pleased with their
                         most recent assignment. More specifically, 58 percent said they were
                         satisfied with the information detailers had conveyed to them during
                         discussions about assignments. However, only about half believed that
                         the detailers were concerned about meeting their needs. In addition,
                         about 18 percent of a sample of comment sheets allowing respondents to
                         identify any areas of concern about their careers contained negative
                         comments on the assignment process.

                         The Navy administers a separation questionnaire to identify why avia-
                         tors leave the service. From a list of 30 items, aviators are asked to rank
                         those factors that influenced their decision to separate. The question-
                         naires are completed on a voluntary basis and reflect the views of both
                         voluntarily and involuntarily separated aviators.

                          Page 10                                      GAO/NSL4B3O-213   Military   Aviators
                   Appendix I
                   Navy Aviator   Assignment   Process

                   In responding to the separation questionnaire from 1984 through 1988,
                   former pilots and naval flight officers cited several key factors influ-
                   encing their decisions to leave the riavy. The number one reason given
                   by both pilots and flight officers was too much family separation. Addi-
                   tional reasons, in order of importance for pilots, were too much crisis
                   management, problems with assignment/detailing, inability to suffi-
                   ciently plan and control career, and erosion of benefits (retirement, com-
                   missary, etc.). The additional reasons cited by flight officers, in order of
                   importance, were erosion of benefits, inability to sufficiently plan and
                   control career, too much crisis management, and problems with assign-

                   Our evaluation of the Navy’s aviator officer assignment practices indi-
GAO’s Assessment   cates that the Navy is following its formal assignment policies and pro-
                   cedures. For each assignment we reviewed, detailers maintained records
                   that documented their decisions. Furthermore, the assignment practices
                   accommodate, within the operational needs of the Navy, aviator assign-
                   ment preferences. Research performed by the Navy Personnel Research
                   and Development Center, which separated the characteristics of assign-
                   ments and detailing, indicated that aviators generally viewed their
                   assignments in a positive way, although only about half the aviators
                   believed the detailers were concerned about meeting their needs.

                    Page 11                                       GAO/NSIAD!W213   MiLitary   Aviators
Appendix II

Marine Corps Aviator Assignment Process

                                      The Marine Corps’ aviator assignment system is designed to guide avia-
Background                            tors along a career path that will develop their individual aviator skills
                                      and provide experience for future command positions. Aviation officers
                                      include pilots and naval flight officers, such as bombardier navigators
                                      and aerial reconnaissance specialists.

                                      The structure of the Aviation Officer Assignment Section, within the
                                      Marine Manpower Officer Assignment Branch, is shown in figure II. 1.
                                      Within the aviator assignment section, assignment managers, known as
                                      monitors, are responsible for matching position requirements and avi-
                                      ator qualifications.

Figure 11.1:Structure of the Marine
Manpower Officer Assignment Branch

                                                                     Aviation Officer
                                                                   Assignment Section

                                                I                                                                I
                                             LtcOl                    Fixed Wing                           Rotary Wing
                                            Monitor                     Monitor                              Monitor

                                      As table II.1 shows, the Marine Corps had 3,933 aviators at the ranks of
                                      first lieutenant through lieutenant colonel, as of February 1990. This
                                      includes pilots and naval flight officers in the jet and propeller commu-
                                      nities and pilots in the helicopter community.

                                      Page 12                                           GAO,‘NSL4IMO-213     Militmy   Aviators
                                           Appendix II
                                           Wrine Corps Aviator   Assignment   Process

Table 11.1:Number of Marine Corps Pilots
and Naval Flight Officers as of February                                                           Naval flight
1990                                       Community                                    Pilots        officers                 Total
                                           Jet                                            981                  500 --Tyiii
                                           Propeller                                      258        .          11               269
                                           Helicopter                                   2,183                     .            2,163
                                           Total                                        3,422              511                 3,933

                                           During fiscal year 1989, the Aviation Officer Assignment Section
                                           assigned 1,243 aviators. According to Marine Corps officials, about one-
                                           third of all aviators generally receive new assignments each year.
                                           Length of assignments usually vary from 6 months to 3 years. Factors
                                           that influence assignment length include whether an aviator is assigned
                                           to training, or an overseas or U.S. position, or whether dependents
                                           accompany an aviator to certain overseas duty stations. Commanding
                                           officers may assign aviators to different positions once the aviator
                                           arrives at a location.

                                           The primary policy and procedural guidance used by the Aviation
Assignment Policies                        Officer Assignment Section for making aviator officer assignments is
and Practices                              contained in the Marine Corps’ Personnel Assignment Policy Order
                                           (MC0 1300.8P) and the Staffing Precedence for Officer and Enlisted Bil-
                                           lets (MC0 5320.12A). These policies and procedures govern assignments
                                           for all Marine Corps personnel, not just aviators.

                                           Basically, these policies and procedures provide assignment officers
                                           with the latitude to make assignments that consider the needs of the
                                           Marine Corps and the career needs and desires of the individual.

                                           The needs of the Marine Corps are the primary consideration in an avi-
                                           ator’s assignment. The Marine Corps manages aviator assignments to
                                           help ensure assignment or career patterns support manpower require-
                                           ments and that aviation skills are developed along with leadership skills
                                           that are required for future command positions.

                                           An aviator’s individual or family considerations also affect assignments.
                                           Our review indicated that assignment monitors are sensitive to personal
                                           considerations, such as children in school and a working spouse, when
                                           making assignments.

                                           Actions that occur during the assignment process can be grouped, for
                                           the most part, into two distinct time periods: those actions that begin

                                            Page 13                                         GAO,‘NSIAENO-213      Military   Aviators
Appendix II
Marine Corps Aviator   Assignment   Process

approximately 12 months before an aviator’s scheduled reassignment
date (called slated estimated departure date) and those that begin about
6 months before.

During the first period, a list of staffing goals is developed for each
Marine Corps activity (i.e., company, squadron, and air wing). The
monitors use this list to prepare a time-phased list (slate) of billets (posi-
tions) that are expected to be filled in their specific communities.
Monitors then send aviators a list of available positions and a question-
naire to identify assignment preferences and special needs. The position
list enables aviators to plan for any opening and be aware of what time
frames are involved. The questionnaire requests information on assign-
ment preferences, desired training, and any special circumstances of
which the monitor should be aware (e.g., special medical needs for

During the second period, monitors communicate with the aviators;
match Marine Corps, career, and personal needs; and notify the aviators
of their orders. They communicate with aviators by telephone, letters,
or personal visits. Each monitor maintains a file of telephone conversa-
tions or other contacts with aviators. According to monitors, depending
on available funds, they attempt to visit each continental U.S. and over-
seas location at least once every 2 years to inform aviators of assign-
ment policies and procedures administered by the Aviation Officer
Assignment Section.

Once a monitor and an aviator agree to an assignment, the monitor
prepares the orders. The orders are approved, within the Aviation
Officer Assignment Section, by an officer who is at least two grades
higher than the aviator being assigned. For example, orders prepared
for a lieutenant colonel must be approved by a general, and orders for a
major must be approved by a colonel.

In our review of the Marine Corps assignment policies and processes and
through discussions with monitors, we identified six practices and cri-
teria the Marine Corps uses to make aviator assignments.

1. Requirements. Marine Corps aviator requirements or needs are
reflected in the number of positions authorized for each activity (e.g.,
company, squadron, and air wing), as shown in the Marine Corps
staffing goals.

 Page 14                                        GAO/NSL4D90-213   Military   Aviators
                         Appendix II
                         Marine Corps Aviator   Assignment   Process

                         2. Aviator career development patterns. An aviator’s career potential is
                         developed in a variety of flying and nonflying assignments to develop
                         skills and experience needed to perform in senior leadership positions.
                         An aviator’s evaluation report, known as a “fitness report,” contrasts
                         the performance of an aviator relative to others of the same grade and
                         comparable experience. Furthermore, as part of the qualification pro-
                         cess, a monitor ensures aviators receive assignments that permit them to
                         qualify for continuous aviation career incentive pay.

                         3. Slated estimated departure date. An aviator’s availability for an
                         assignment is determined by his/her scheduled departure date. This
                         date is used by monitors to project, on a yearly basis, the positions that
                         are expected to be vacated.

                         4. Overseas control date. This date determines when an aviator is due to
                         be assigned to an overseas tour. All aviators are required to serve an
                         overseas tour once every 6 years. An assignment to a Navy ship meets
                         the Marine Corps overseas tour requirement.

                         5. Seniority. Monitors are notified of expected promotions and ensure
                         that assignments are commensurate with an aviator’s rank.

                         6. Individual preference. Monitors solicit an aviator’s preference for his/
                         her next assignment about a year before the aviator’s scheduled depar-
                         ture date. Assignment monitors try to assign aviators to positions of
                         their choice.

                         Our review indicated that the Marine Corps’ assignment practices
Aviator Input Into the   accommodate, within the operational needs of the Marine Corps, an indi-
Assignment Process       vidual’s assignment preferences. Basically, aviators influence the
                         assignment process by completing a questionnaire provided by the mon-
                         itor plus personal contacts with monitors.

                          Each aviator who is scheduled for a new assignment is requested to
                          complete a short questionnaire. Aviators are asked to list their assign-
                          ment preference, the number and ages of dependents, training prefer-
                          ences, and any special needs the aviator may have. This information
                          helps the monitor match the aviator’s personal desires with available
                          positions. Personal contact consists of telephone calls, written corre-
                          spondence, and visits between aviators and monitors.

                          Page 16                                       GAO/NSIADBO-213   Military   .4viatms
                         Appendix II
                         Marine Corps Aviator   Assignment   Process

                         To help determine how the process actually works, we reviewed 18
                         recent aviator assignments. We interviewed monitors and reviewed their
                         records, which included questionnaires completed by aviators, records
                         of personal contacts with aviators, and documentation of their rationale
                         for making each assignment. In this sample, 11 aviators received their
                         first choice. In those cases where aviators did not receive their first
                         choice, five assignments were based on the needs of the Marine Corps,
                         and two were based on aviators’ career development needs. The number
                         of assignments we reviewed is too small to project the results to the uni-
                         verse of all assignments.

                         In March 1989, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Reserve
Aviators’ Views of the   Affairs met with over 600 Marine Corps aviators at various command
Assignment Process       and training sites throughout the continental United States. During
                         these meetings, aviators completed questionnaires and discussed rele-
                         vant issues concerning their future plans for remaining in or resigning
                         from the Marine Corps.

                         The survey results indicated that 45 percent of the respondents were
                         undecided on whether to stay or leave, 33 percent planned to remain,
                         and 22 percent planned to leave. The number one factor cited for those
                         planning to remain in the Marine Corps was job satisfaction. The four
                         main reasons cited by aviators for leaving the Marine Corps included
                         alternative civilian aviation career opportunity, lack of augmentation
                         opportunity,l too much family separation, and too much bureaucracy.

                         Our review of Marine Corps aviator assignment practices indicates that
GAO’s Assessment         the Marine Corps is following its formal assignment policies and proce-
                         dures. For each assignment we reviewed, monitors maintained records
                         that documented their decisions. It appears that assignment practices
                         accommodate, within the operational needs of the Marine Corps, aviator
                         assignment preferences.

                         ‘Lack of augmentation opportunity refers to active duty reserve aviators that are denied the oppor-
                         tunity to be converted to a regular duty status. According to Marine Corps officials, funds were not
                         available for augmentation in fiscal year 1990.

                         Page 16                                                       GAO/NSIAD3@213       Military   Aviatms
Appendix III

Air Force Aviator Assignment Process

                                                 The Air Force Military Personnel Center’s Assignments Directorate,
Background                                       located at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, has primary responsibility
                                                 for implementing assignment policy and practices. The Operations
                                                 Officer Assignments Division has eight branch offices responsible for
                                                 making the assignments. At the beginning of fiscal year 1989, the Air
                                                 Force had 32,297 aviators. This included 22,444 pilots and 9,853 naviga-
                                                 tors through the rank of lieutenant colonel. Figure III.1 shows the struc-
                                                 ture of the Assignments Directorate.

Figure 111.1:Structure of the Air Force Military Personnel Center, Assignments Directorate

                                                         Alr Force
                                                Military Personnel Center
                                                Assignments Directorate

                                          I          Operations Offiir
                                                    Assignments Division

       I         .                          I                                            I      L                        I       L
    Air Lii                              Bomber/                                      Fighter                         Trainer
   Helicopter                            Tanker

                Rated Departmental                                                                     Distribution
                 Joint Exchange                                                                     and Management

                                                   Air Force policy is that aviators are officers first and aviators second.
Assignment Policies                                This requires that the aviators be trained to be “total” officers in prepa-
and Practices                                      ration for higher levels of management responsibility. This has created

                                                   Page 17                                       GAO/NSIADSO-213 Military Aviators
Appendix III
Air Force Aviator Assignment Process


the need for career-broadening aviator requirements, including non-
flying staff positions at the major command and Air Staff levels rated
supplement (positions not requiring aviators), and professional military
education positions. This precludes pilot/navigator specialization and
has contributed to the perception that the assignment system gives avia-
tors little or no say in the assignment process.

Air Force officers move or are reassigned to fill existing or projected
vacancies. Vacancies most often occur when officers retire, separate, or
 complete an overseas assignment. Other openings develop when officers
 are selected for continental U.S. operational assignments, for profes-
 sional military education, or academic programs sponsored by the Air
 Force Institute of Technology. Officers finishing some departmental,
joint service, or other controlled tour must also be replaced. In addition,
 officers may be reassigned when the number of officers authorized for a
 career field changes. Changes in mission, base closures, and unit moves
 to new locations all affect the authorization structure and may generate
 needs for reassignments.

Assignment teams at the major commands and separate operating agen-
cies serve as intermediaries between the commanders or supervisors and
the Military Personnel Center. The assignment managers at the Military
Personnel Center, along with the commanders, provide professional
development guidance and assignment information to officers. In addi-
tion, they maintain officer assignment folders, track requirements, and
participate in a rated officer’ review process. The assignment managers
also identify officers who are in a must-move situation (e.g., completion
of a maximum controlled tour on the Air Staff or an overseas tour) and
make preliminary assignment decisions for the aviators. Once the
assignment managers identify the officers who are the best candidates
for a particular assignment, they work with the assignment teams at the
major command or separate operating agency to finalize an assignment.
They then process and enter the assignments into the Personnel Data

The primary concern of the officer assignment system is to fill Air Force
requirements, In filling those requirements, the officer’s qualifications
(experience, education, performance, training, and availability) are the
key concern. However, Air Force policy also requires that commanders,

‘Rated officers are pilots and navigators in the grades of lieutenant through lieutenant colonel.

Page 18                                                        GAO/‘NSIAIMO-213 Military Aviators
    Appendix Ill
    Air Force Aviator Assignment Procees

    supervisors, and personnel officers at all levels give maximum consider-
    ation to career progression when making or recommending an

    Because assignments are to complement the officer’s professional needs,
    the commander’s involvement is an important element in the assignment
    process. The aviator prepares an Officer Assignment Worksheet (Form
    90) to express personal preferences for the next assignment. The work-
    sheet also provides an avenue for the officer and his/her commander or
    supervisor to communicate how an officer’s professional development
    needs can be balanced within the needs of the Air Force.

    Considerations that affect assignment practices include (1) time on sta-
    tion, (2) overseas eligibility, and (3) limits on consecutive staff assign-
    ments. First, according to Air Force guidelines, when all factors are
    equal, the time an officer has been at one location is to be the primary
    consideration in selecting an officer for a move. This is an effort to sta-
    bilize the lives of Air Force members and their families, Second, officers’
    current time on station must be at least 36 months before they can move
    within the continental United States and 24 months to move overseas.
    The Air Force also tries to ensure that officers are not required to spend
    more than their fair share of time overseas. Third, after an officer has
    completed at least 9 years of flying, assignment to flying versus non-
    flying duty is to be determined by the aviator’s need to maintain his/her
     flying ability. As a general rule, assignment managers try to avoid
     assigning an officer to consecutive tours out of the officer’s primary

    There are several exceptions to the normal assignment process. A
    shortage of aviators for specific major weapon systems can result in
    some aviators receiving a greater number of flying assignments due to
    the need to fill these positions first. This can be caused by the introduc-
    tion of new weapon systems, low retention rates, or the phasing out of
    older weapon systems. An excess of aviators in a major weapon system
    can result in some aviators receiving fewer flying assignments and pos-
    sibly filling positions that could not be staffed by aviators from weapon
    systems with inventory shortages.

     Another exception allows commanders at the rank of lieutenant colonel
     or higher to request a specific officer by name. Also, in the event of
     force structure changes, such as base closings, assignment managers
     may need to reassign the aviators in such a way that the top officers are
     equitably distributed. In addition, the join-spouse option allows for

     Page 19                                      GAO/NSIALHO-213 Milita~   .4biators
                         Air Force Aviator   Assignment   Process

                         assigning the aviator and his/her officer spouse to the same base. In
                         some cases, the Air Force acknowledges that lieutenant colonels are not
                         considered for some of the better staff assignments because they have
                         been passed over for promotion. Finally, aviators with less than 1 year
                         of service commitment remaining have 7 days to decline an assignment
                         (in which case they must apply for separation or, if eligible, retirement,
                         but the Air Force determines the separation date based on its needs at
                         the time).

                         The assignment selection process uses information from three major
Aviator Input Into the   sources: the Officer Assignment Worksheet, the commander, and the
Assignment Process       assignment manager. Officers and their commander or supervisor use
                         the worksheet to communicate assignment preferences and recommen-
                         dations to the Military Personnel Center for the next assignment.
                         According to Air Force regulations, the commander is to play an active
                         role by (1) reviewing the officer’s progression relative to career develop-
                         ment requirements, (2) making recommendations to the assignment
                         officer, and (3) counseling the officer concerning the new assignment.
                         The Air Force considers the commander’s involvement to be the corner-
                         stone in each officer’s professional growth plan.

                         In our observations of how assignment managers make actual assign-
                         ments, we found that they followed the regulations and policies and
                         accommodated the views of aviators when possible.

                         In December 1986 and January 1987, the Air Force Military Personnel
Aviators’ Views of the   Center conducted an officer retention survey directed specifically at
Assignment Process       active duty pilots. It received responses from 4,230 pilots. We reported
                         some of the Air Force survey results in our June 1988 report.* One area
                         of inquiry asked pilots to rank job factors according to importance.
                         Having a say in job assignment ranked in the top five for those pilots
                         with 11 years of service or less. Pilots were also asked to assess their
                         satisfaction or dissatisfaction with 29 job factors. Dissatisfaction with
                         not having a say in the base assigned and specific job assigned were
                         among the five job factors listed as least satisfying.

                         2~ Force Pilots: U.S. Air Force Requirements, Inventory,   and Related Data (GAO/NSIAD-88-163,
                         June 1,1988).

                          Page 20                                                      GAO/NSLUNO-213      Military   Aviators
                   Appendix III
                   Air Force Aviator Assignment Process

                   In response to concerns about the assignment process, in September
                   1987 the Air Force established a working group to examine the per-
                   sonnel system and to recommend a redirection of the officer corps
                   toward a program of professional development. This redirection
                   included providing more flying time early in the aviator’s career,
                   realigning professional military education, and revising the Officer
                   Assignment Worksheet to focus only on the next assignment.

                   In July 1989, the Air Force established the Officer Separation Feedback
                   Program to obtain feedback on why officers were voluntarily separating
                   from active duty. The survey questionnaire is given to the officer at the
                   time he/she submits a request for separation. Completion of the ques-
                   tionnaire is voluntary. As of October 3 1, 1989, a small percentage, only
                   115 (including 100 pilots and navigators) of 1,258 officers, had
                   responded. The preliminary results listed several factors that the avia-
                   tors identified as contributing to separation. Ranked in order of impor-
                   tance, they were (1) availability of civilian jobs, (2) the quality of senior
                   leadership, (3) little say in assignment location, and (4) little say in the
                   assignment process.

                   Air Force officials have also indicated they are sharply curtailing “by-
                   name” requests so that, with rare exception, the normal assignment pro-
                   cess will not be bypassed by senior leaders hand-picking officers. Also,
                   where possible, the Air Force will continue to assign officers who are
                   married to each other to the same geographical area, but will counsel
                   both officers on the potential risks of such assignments to their indi-
                   vidual careers. Also, lieutenant colonels passed over for colonel are to
                   remain eligible for consideration for prime assignments. In addition.
                   officers with more than 12 months service commitment remaining can
                   apply for separation in lieu of an assignment, although the Air Force
                   decides the release date based on its needs at the time.

                   We found that the Air Force follows established policies and procedures
GAO's Assessment   in making aviator assignments and that, to the extent possible. it accom-
                   modates the personal preferences of the aviators when making those

                   The January 1987 retention survey and data from the separation feed-
                   back program reflecting aviator concerns are being used by the Aii
                   Force to improve the assignment process. We believe the Air Force ini-
                   tiatives are positive steps. Although preliminary results from the officer

                    Page 21                                        GAO/NSIAMJO-213 Military Aviators
Appendix El
Air Force Aviator Assignment Process

separation feedback program indicate little change in the aviators’ per-
ceptions of the process, only a small percentage of separating officers
have responded. Because some time will be required before many avia-
tors experience the effects of the changes resulting from the Air Force
initiatives, we believe it is too early to evaluate the impact of these

 Page 22                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-213 Military   Aviators
Appendix IV

Army Aviator Assignment Process

              Most Army aviators are members of the Aviation Branch of the Army.
Background    The exceptions to this rule are the medical evacuation aviators who are
              members of the Medical Service Corps. The Aviation Branch, which was
              established on April 12,1983, is 1 of the 16 basic branches of the Army
              through which officers enter the service. Prior to the establishment of
              the Aviation Branch, aviators were required to serve at least a 5-year
              tour of duty with their parent branch (i.e., armor or artillery).

              Army aviators fall into two categories: aviation commissioned officers’
              and aviation warrant officers2 In fiscal year 1989, the Army had 13,839
              aviators: 7,227 commissioned officers in grades through lieutenant
              colonel (including 427 in the Medical Services Corps) and 6,6 12 warrant

              Aviation commissioned officers typically have operational flying assign-
              ments early in their careers and later command aviation units and
              employ these units in combat as an integral part of combined arms oper-
              ations. Aviation commissioned officers are managed within the frame-
              work of the Officer Personnel Management System. The Army
              philosophy is that all commissioned officers must be well-rounded,
              multi-skilled generalists. At a minimum, this means that all officers
              must be skilled in a branch of service, such as aviation, armor, or
              infantry, and a functional area, such as personnel.

              Aviation warrant officers are unique because they fill a dual role-they
              are both combat warriors and the core of technical expertise. Aviation
              warrant officers are highly specialized experts and trainers who
              operate, maintain, administer, and manage the Army’s equipment, sup-
              port activities, or technical systems for their entire “fly-only” career.
              They spend most of their active duty time in operational flying

              Figure IV.1 shows the structure of the Officer Personnel Management
              Directorate, Army Personnel Command, Washington, D.C. There are
              eight assignment managers for the 6,800 commissioned aviators man-
              aged by the Combat Arms Division and five assignment managers for
              the 6,612 warrant officer aviators.

              ‘Commissioned officers are appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate.

              2Warrsnt officers, who rank next below commissioned officers, are appointed by the Secretary of the

              Page 23                                                     GAO/NSIAIMO-213 Military Aviators
                                           Appendix N
                                           Army Aviator Assignment Process

Figure IV.l: Structure of the Officer Personnel Management Directorate, Army Personnel Command


                  L                            \                      *

                              Officer                      Combat                  Health                Warram
                            Distribution                    Arms                  service.s              Officer
                           _ Division                      Division               Division               Division

                                               Many Army regulations apply to officer (including aviator) assignments.
Assignment Policies                            The Officer Assignment Policies, Details, and Transfers regulation (AR
and Practices                                  614- 100) prescribes policies and procedures pertaining to the assign-
                                               ment, reassignment, details, and transfers of officers between com-
                                               mands, units, branches, specialties, and components of the active Army,
                                               or between services. The Overseas Service regulation (AR 614-30) pro-
                                               vides policy guidance on eligibility and selection of soldiers for overseas
                                               service, tour length for soldiers serving overseas, deletion and defer-
                                               ment from overseas service, and curtailment and extension of overseas

                                               A primary factor considered in assigning officers is the needs of the
                                               Army, with overseas duty a priority. Other assignment considerations
                                               contained in Army regulations include the officer’s

                                               Page 24                                        GAO/NSIADW213   MiIitm   Aviators
                         Appendix IV
                         Anny Aviatm Assignment Process

                         career field, including the type of aircraft flown;
                         professional development needs (i.e., career needs); and
                         personal preferences.

                         Several different documents are related to the assignment of aviators.

                         The Assignment Officer Smart Book is designed to help assignment man-
                         agers accomplish their mission. It provides the basic tools and informa-
                         tion required by the assignment manager, including processes,
                         procedures, and examples of forms used. It also identifies the regula-
                         tions and directives related to each process.
                       . The Army Aviation Personnel Plan, better known to aviators as A2P2,is
                         used as a career guide and covers the eight life-cycle personnel manage-
                         ment functions (structure, acquisition, professional development, indi-
                         vidual training and education, distribution, unit deployment,
                         sustainment, and separation). It provides a personnel plan keyed specifi-
                         cally to the unique aspects of the active Army and Army Reserve avia-
                         tion force. The plan contains all personnel policies and procedures and
                         describes how they affect Aviation Branch soldiers-commissioned
                         officers, warrant officers, and enlisted personnel.
                       . The Officer Personnel Management Directorate’s Orientation and Coun-
                         seling Guide (1987) contains information papers on frequently discussed
                         officer personnel subjects.

                         Aviators provide input into the assignment process through the Officer
Aviators’ Input Into     Assignment Preference Statement (DA 483), which allows each officer to
Assignment Decisions     rank his/her first three choices by location or type of duty. An officer
                         may rank two location choices for overseas assignments. The aviator
                         can also discuss the upcoming assignment directly with the assignment
                         manager. He/she may request a tour extension at an overseas duty sta-
                         tion. The aviator may separate or retire from the Army if he/she feels
                         that the assignment is not a good one, or extend their obligation to take
                         advantage of a desired upcoming assignment.

                         Since the Army does not retain preference statements that were avail-
                         able when assignments were made, we could not review prior assign-
                         ment files to determine the frequency of aviators receiving their
                         assignment preferences. However, we spent several days observing
                         assignment managers making assignments. On these occasions, the
                         assignment managers compared the preference statements with avail-
                         able assignments to see if the preference and assignment could be

                          Page 25                                     GAO/NSIAIMO-213 Military Aviators
                           Appendix IV
                           Army Aviator Assignment Process

                           matched. In many cases, the assignment manager talked to aviators on
                           the telephone to discuss available assignments.

                           Based on our observations of how assignment managers make actual
                           assignments, and our discussions with assignment managers and avia-
                           tors, the indications were that assignment managers follow the guide-
                           lines and regulations and accommodate the input of the aviators when

                           To get some indication of aviators’ perceptions of the assignment pro-
Aviators’ Views of the     cess, we interviewed approximately 50 aviators. We could not verify
Assignment Process         how widespread these perceptions are held or their accuracy. The avia-
                           tors expressed the following perceptions about the assignment process.

                         . After completion of initial flight training, an aviator has little choice in
                           the type of aircraft he/she is assigned to fly, while the type of aircraft
                           the aviator is qualified to fly often determines available assignment
                           locations (i.e., some aircraft are based at only a few locations).
                           The preference statement does not ensure that an aviator receives his/
                           her preferred assignment.
                           An aviator needs more personal contact with the assignment manager to
                           increase the probability of obtaining a preferred assignment.
                           Assignment managers are more responsive to concerns of individual
                           aviators now than they were in the past.
                           Some aviators believe that assignment exchanges would help them to
                           better match their assignment preferences. Although there is no regula-
                           tion prohibiting it, aviators are not normally allowed to exchange
                         . Tour lengths are not stable. For example, some aviators say that their
                            continental U.S. tours last only 24 months instead of the standard 48
                            months, Also, some aviators reported being reassigned on short notice, 6
                            weeks in some cases, although the Army goal for notification of a new
                            assignment is 120 days.

                            The Army’s process of assigning aviators appears to consider the prefer-
GAO’s Assessment            ence of aviators while allowing the Army’s needs to be met. Our review
                            indicated that the nature and extent of the instability of tour lengths in
                            Army aviator assignments is caused primarily by the type of opera-
                            tional missions aviators are assigned to and a shortage of pilots for some
                            aircraft types, For example, the change of Panama from a 3-year accom-
                            panied (dependents permitted to accompany the aviator) tour to a

                            Page 26                                        GAO/NSLAIMO-213 Military Aviators
Appendix IV
&my Aviator   Adgnment   Process

l-year unaccompanied tour required a number of reassignments on
short notice.

Opportunities for aviators to achieve a closer match to their assignment
preference may exist through assignment exchanges, An informal
assignment exchange program currently exists for enlisted personnel.
Army officials, however, believe that the assignment process already
includes sufficient involvement of aviators, thereby allowing assignment
managers to make the closest possible match between the individual’s
preference and available assignments. They also expressed the concern
that an assignment exchange program might be unmanageable and could
raise expectations of aviators without greatly enhancing their chances
for obtaining preferred assignments.

 Page 27                                    GAO/?WdAD~213   Military   Aviators
Appendix V                                                                                             -
Major Contributors to This Report

                          William E. Beusse, Project Director
National Security and     David Childress, Assistant Director (Air Force)
International Affairs     William C. Meredith, Assistant Director (Navy and Marine Corps)
Division,                 James F. Reid, Evaluator-in-Charge (Army) & Project Manager
                          Raymond G. Bicker-t, Evaluator-in-Charge (Navy and Marine Corps)
Washington, D.C.          Ernest E. Lewis, Evaluator-in-Charge (Air Force)
                          Howard E. Kapp, Jr., Senior Evaluator
                          James B. Dowd, Evaluator
                          J. Paul Newton, Evaluator
                          Carolyn S. Blocker, Writer-Editor

                          Calvin E. Phillips, Regional Assignment Manager
Dallas Regional Office    Merrie C. Nichols, Site Senior
                          Salley A. Stalker, Evaluator

 (391117,394336,392527)    Page 28                                   GAO/NSLAIHO-213   Military   Aviatm-
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