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AA and EEO in the Military

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Affirmative Action


7.1 Concepts & Principles

Today's military leadership is fully committed to equal opportunity. (54) This commitment has produced considerable progress, although more remains to be done, particularly for women. Historically, the Army has been the most successful of all the services at racial integration-- a record, one official explained, built on "necessity, control and commitment." More specifically:

First, the current leadership views complete racial integration as a military necessity -- that is, as a prerequisite to a cohesive, and therefore effective, fighting force. In short, success with the challenges of diversity is critical to national security. Experience during the 1960s and 1970s with racial conflict in the ranks was an effective lesson in the importance of inclusion and equal opportunity. As a senior Pentagon official told us, "Doing affirmative action the right way is deadly serious for us -- people's lives depend on it."

Second, doing it "the right way" means ensuring that people are qualified for their jobs; promotion is based on well-established performance criteria which are not abandoned in pursuit of affirmative action goals.

Third, the equal opportunity mission is aggressively integrated into the management systems -- from intensive efforts at training to formal incorporation of EO performance into the appraisals used by promotion boards.

Fourth, the military has made very substantial efforts and investments in outreach, retention and training. These tools help build diverse pools of qualified individuals for assignment and promotion.

Fifth, despite the formality of the military system, the details vary somewhat across services. Different officials expressed slightly different perceptions about subtle aspects of how the system operates.

7.2 Policies & Practices

Because minorities are overrepresented in the enlisted ranks and underrepresented in the officer corps (compare Exhibits 3 & 4), the armed forces have focused recently on the officer "pipeline." The services employ a number of tools:

  • Goals & Timetables: The Navy and the Marine Corps, historically less successful than the other services in this arena, have responded in recent months by setting explicit goals to increase minority representation in the officer corps. Both services seek to ensure that, in terms of race and ethnicity, the group of officers commissioned in the year 2000 roughly reflects the overall population: 12 percent African American, 12 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian. Department of the Navy officials point out that this represents a significantly more aggressive goal than had been the case, when the focus for comparison had been on college graduates; the more aggressive goal implies vigorous outreach and other efforts (see below). Moreover, the Navy and the Marine Corps have set specific year-by-year targets for meeting the 12/12/5 goal.

  • Outreach, Recruiting, & Training: All of the services target outreach and recruiting activities through ROTC, the service academies, and other channels. Also, the services have made special, race-conscious (though not racially exclusive) efforts to recruit officer candidates. For example, the Army operates a very successful "preparatory school" for students nominated to West Point whose academic readiness is thought to be marginal; the enrollees are disproportionately but non exclusively minority.

  • Selection Procedures: All of the services emphasize racial and gender diversity in their promotion procedures. The Army, for example:

    - instructs officer promotion boards to "be alert to the possibility of past personal or institutional discrimination -- either intentional or inadvertent";

    - sets as a goal that promotion rates for each minority and gender group at least equal promotion rates for the overall eligible population; if, for example, a selection board has a general guideline that 44 percent of eligible lieutenant colonels be promoted to colonel, the flexible goal is that promotions of minorities and women be at that same rate;

    - establishes a "second look" process under which the files for candidates from underrepresented groups who are not selected upon initial consideration are reconsidered with an eye toward identifying any past discrimination; and

    - instructs members of a promotion board carefully so that the process does not force promotion boards to use quotas. Indeed, as Exhibits 5-7 illustrate, the minority and women promotion rates often diverge considerably from the goal.

  • Management Tools: These include performance standards, reporting requirements, and training and analytic capacity.

    - Personnel evaluations include matters related to effectiveness in EO matters.

    - DoD maintains the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, which trains EO personnel, advises DoD on EO policy, and conducts related research.

    - DoD conducts various surveys and studies to monitor equal opportunity initiatives and the views of personnel.

    - Most important, DoD requires each service to maintain and review affirmative action plans and to complete an annual "Military Equal Opportunity Assessment" (MEOA). The MEOA reports whether various equal opportunity objectives were met and identifies problems such as harassment and discrimination.

The MEOA includes both data and narrative assessments of progress in 10 areas. One of these is recruitment and accessions (i.e., commissioning of officers). Other areas include officer and enlisted promotion results, completion of officer and enlisted professional military education (e.g., the war colleges and noncommissioned officer academies), augmentation of officers into the Regular component, assignment to billets that are Service defined as career-enhancing and to commanding officer and deputy commanding officer billets, and over- and under-representation of minorities or women in any military occupational category. In addition to these formal efforts, the Services support the efforts of non-profit service organizations, such as the Air Force Cadet Officer Mentor Action Program, that strengthen professional and leadership development through mentorship, assist in the transition to military life, and support the establishing of networks.

7.3 Performance & Effects

In quantitative terms, the military has significantly increased opportunities for minorities. As Exhibit 9 illustrates, in 1949, 0.9 percent of all officers were African American; today, that proportion is 7.5 percent; in 1975, only five percent of active duty officers across all services were minorities, and today that proportion is 13 percent. At senior levels, over the past two decades there has been a fairly steady increase in, for example, the numbers of African Americans at the colonel/Navy captain rank; General and flag officer representation increased until roughly 1982, and has been essentially steady since then.

It is important to note, however, that equal opportunity has not meant total racial harmony or universal respect for the system. A congressional task force that interviewed 2,000 military personnel reported continued perceptions of discrimination, some perceptions of reverse discrimination, and a need to strengthen equal opportunity training. For example, the task force reported that at one installation, on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 = poor, 5 = excellent), minority enlisted personnel rated the equal opportunity climate at 1.9, while majority enlisted personnel rated the climate at 4.1. This and other data suggest continuing sharp differences in perceptions. The Services conduct regular Military Equal Opportunity Climate Surveys. Generally, the races and sexes diverge when asked whether the unit's command structure is committed to equal opportunity. The greater divergence tends to occur between minority women officers and majority male officers, who respectively rate that commitment as "below average" and "good."

Finally, as noted earlier, there are significant variations in diversity across the services, and across specialties and missions within each service. For example, the Navy and Marines have lagged generally, and all the services report comparatively less success in integrating the ranks of technical specialties and of certain "technical" career tracks. For women, progress slowed by restrictions on the categories of jobs available to them. This should be eased as more women move into combat-related positions available since April 1993.

The Department of Defense reports that minorities constitute less than 2 percent of the Air Force enlisted missile maintenance personnel, and 17 percent of the enlisted Electronic Warfare/Intercept Maintenance personnel in the Army, while more than 24 percent and 41 percent of the enlisted personnel in the Air Force and the Army, respectively, are minorities. In the case of officers, only 6 percent of the Navy physical scientists, and 7 percent of the officers of the Marine Corps Electronic Maintenance officers are minorities. (55)

7.4 Implications

Several tentative inferences can be drawn from DoD's experience.

  • Goals and related policies play a critical role in military promotions. DoD and Service officials are unanimous in stating that merit is not sacrificed in the effort to meet goals for equal opportunity and diversity. The Services reconcile this emphasis on merit with their commitment to correcting underrepresentation of minorities and women by using the tools of goal-setting, outreach and training. The key appears to be management vigilance, motivated by a clear sense of the relationship of diversity issues to the military mission.

  • The military is unique. In significant respects, the policies and practices of the military may not be portable to other realms. The military is unlike other public and private entities in several relevant dimensions:

    - A closed system: There are virtually no lateral hires in the military, thus competition for promotions are among a closed group. Moreover, under the general "up-or-out" policy, underperforming personnel tend to leave the service.

    - A controlled system: The military has tremendous discretion to assign, train, and promote its personnel. This provides a degree of control not available elsewhere.

    - A disciplined system: Individuals who are unhappy with the management priorities, including the attention to diversity, are likely to keep their objections to themselves or exit the service. While EO measures are subject to continual evaluation, internal protest against such a high priority initiative would be frowned upon.

  • But some lessons may be transferrable. Nevertheless, certain elements in the military success may be applicable more broadly, including in the corporate sector:

    - Top-down priority: There is no confusion in the ranks about the importance of the equal opportunity agenda. Private sector experts on affirmative action stress the importance of similar commitment flowing from the Board Room to the line supervisors.

    - Thorough implementation: Relatedly, the goals are pursued with a range of tools, from management information systems, to equal opportunity training, to performance appraisals of managers based on their EO efforts.

    - Emphasize merit and have patience, but measure results: The long-term support for the program has depended upon the firm belief that merit principles are indispensable. The payoff has required both patience and investments. Patience, however, can degenerate into flagging commitment unless progress is carefully measured, tracked and related to goals.

    - Investments for a quality pool: The organization works to recruit, retain and upgrade the skills of women and minorities to ensure that they, like their white male colleagues, can compete effectively in the promotion pool.

  • Overall, the military has made significant progress. In part because of the closed and controlled nature of the system, the military has made significant progress. Interestingly, to the extent that side-effects of aggressive equal opportunity policy may exist -- such as resentment by white males -- they are probably subdued by the high level of discipline in the services.

    It is worth noting, however, that President Truman's actions in 1948 to provide equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces took several decades to bear fruit, as measured by the increasing representation of minorities in the flag and general officer ranks.

7.5 Conclusions and Recommendations

Do the military's affirmative action programs meet the President's tests: Do they work? Are they fair?

7.5.1 Conclusions

Does it work?

For years, segregation in the military was a widely-debated national issue. Even after the military was desegregated, however, the effects of discrimination were deeply ingrained. Racial conflict within the military during the Vietnam era was a blaring wakeup call to the fact that equal opportunity is absolutely indispensable to unit cohesion, and therefore critical to military effectiveness and our national security. Then, with the move to an All Volunteer Force, the military's need to include all Americans in the pool of potential recruits took on added urgency. Today, discussions with both uniformed and civilian leaders at the Pentagon make clear that the justification for aggressive, affirmative efforts to create equal opportunity is understood by commanders and translated into a broad program of outreach, recruitment, training, retention, and management strategies.

The uneven pattern of progress across the services reflects both different choices of strategy and differences in top-level commitment over the years. Many observers, for example, credit the Army's leading effort to the unswerving drive of a few general officers and certain subcabinet officers during the 1970s. Of special importance were the efforts of Carter-era Army Secretary Clifford Alexander, the first African-American service secretary. While much remains to be done, (the pipeline has not yet led to senior ranks diverse enough to declare victory), the trend and the commitment are positive.

Is it fair?

The military has always had a different role and different requirements. For example, actions taken by the Department of Defense since April 1993 have resulted in the eligibility of women for assignment to some 260,000 additional military positions, many of which involve combat. However, women may not be assigned to units that engage in direct ground combat. The military is exempt from the statues prohibiting discrimination in employment. Nevertheless, its affirmative action efforts prohibit quotas. The core of their strategy is to build the pool so that there are minorities and women fully qualified to enlist, succeed, and rise.

7.5.2 Recommendations:

We recommend that the President:

  • Meet with senior military and civilian leadership of the Armed Services to underscore personally the importance of continued progress in ensuring equal opportunity to women and minorities. Of special concern are: the "pipeline" difficulties at the flag and general officer ranks; the importance of successful implementation of recent initiatives to correct the lagging performance of the Navy and Marine Corps; and improvement in certain career tracks in all of the Forces, such as "technical" specialties, where underrepresentation remains substantial.

  • Direct the Secretary of Defense to convene a high-level group to examine the degree to which the military's equal opportunity philosophy and management tools (such as performance evaluations, job-specific training, sexual harassment training, and alternative dispute resolution) can be adapted to non-military organizations, including DOD's civilian workforce and private sector organizations. Of particular interest is whether the driving force behind the military's commitment to equal opportunity -- military necessity -- has analogies in other settings. That group, whose members should include retired senior military officers and corporate executives, should report back to the President.

  • Instruct DoD officials to share with other agencies the materials that DoD has developed for its equal opportunity training for senior military and civilian officials.

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Affirmative Action Review


2. History and Rationale

3. Empirical Research on Affirmative Action

4. Justifications

5. Review of the Programs

6. Office of Federal Contract Compliance

7. AA and EEO in the Military

8. Federal Civilians

9. Federal Procurement Policies and Practices

10. Education and HHS Policies

11. Selected Other Federal Policies


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix B Footnotes