By Vice Adm. Robert P. Burke
Chief of Naval Personnel
You may have heard that we will convene Officer Selective Early Retirement (SER) boards for FY19. I wanted to make sure you know why we think this is necessary, and how it is critical to our People Strategy for the Navy.
The decision to hold FY19 SER boards was made after considerable thought and careful deliberation. Our growing Navy requires the most consistently reliable performers to lead and sustain a modern, ready and lethal force. We are committed to retaining and promoting the right leaders to meet tomorrow’s challenges. We’ve used a similar process in the Chief’s Mess called the Senior Enlisted Continuation Board to maintain the “gold standard” we expect from our senior enlisted leaders. The Officer SER board is the next step, one that is frankly overdue, because our Sailors deserve leaders who embody what we value as a Navy. Enforcing performance standards for Navy leaders annually sets the necessary tone and expectation for subordinates to emulate.
Some of you may remember the FY12 SER board, and I want to assure you that this is not the same process all over again. Repeating that would make no sense while we are trying to grow our Navy. This is a new process, enabled by a revised legislative authority, and it has an entirely different purpose.
Under 10 USC 638a, updated in the FY18 NDAA, the Secretary of each military department may request authority from the Secretary of Defense to consider officers for selective early retirement who are O-5s with at least one failure of selection (FOS), or O-6s who have served in that grade for at least two years, and whose names are not on a list of officers recommended for promotion. The parameters established for the FY19 SER boards have been tightened to have the board consider O-6s with three years’ time in grade and O5s who have failed to select two or more times. The FY12 SER board was conducted under a less flexible authority (10 USC 638) which was designed to correct officer imbalances and overages from high retention, and reductions in officer billets due to downsizing. That board was provided a list of eligible officers in paygrades O-5 and O-6 to be considered, and directed to select a specific number of officers in each pay grade. The objective for the FY12 SER board was to reduce numbers of O5s and O6s, plain and simple.
For our FY19 SER boards, the updated authority allows the Secretary of the Navy to convene these boards without directing a specific number of selections. Unlike the FY12 SER board, this board WILL HAVE NO DIRECTED SELECTION QUOTA. Therefore, the board is under no obligation to select a single officer for early retirement! However, there will be performance-focused reviews meant to identify senior O-5s and O-6s whose performance, when compared with their peers, is not competitive. The Secretary of the Navy’s board convening order will provide specific guidance and criteria for conducting these reviews.
I cannot stress enough that the approach for the pending FY19 boards is unlike the FY12 SER board, which was aimed at balancing the force by driving down inventory to comply with mandated officer reductions. The FY19 SER boards will identify and select for early retirement only those senior O5s and O6s who are under performing — which we expect will be a small number. The question all of you have on your mind is, “What does under performing mean?” We’re not talking about PFA failures — we have administrative processes for that. What we’re talking about is folks who are no longer pulling their share of the load…retired on active duty…pick your colloquialism. A more important example would be officers who have demonstrated they don’t have the character or the will to lead at the senior level. Additionally, while the FY12 SER board looked only at the Unrestricted Line, all competitive categories (URL/Restricted Line (RL)/Staff Corps), regardless of manning levels, will benefit from a quality review during the FY19 SER boards.
Since there is no required selection quota, the review will not favor or disadvantage any one community over another, regardless of manning level. To reiterate that key point — there are no selection quotas for these SER boards — selecting zero officers in a competitive category is a possible outcome. If the board identifies no officers who meet the underperforming criteria, there is no requirement to select anyone for early retirement.
Bottom line, I would ask you not to start calling your detailer asking if they think you will be selected or dropping your retirement papers tomorrow. As with other Navy boards, the FY19 SER will be conducted in a fair, deliberate manner, adhering to the same strict guidelines to ensure the sanctity of the board process.
Sailors are the foundation of our Navy and our People Strategy hinges on attracting and retaining top talent. Our workforce deserves leaders who continue to perform. The FY19 SER is a key initiative to refine and strengthen our team, and will have a positive impact on individual communities and the Navy as a whole.
So, let’s jump into some questions I suspect you may have:
Should officers submit a retirement request in order to avoid the board?
No, not if they are performing their job well and are in good standing.
If an O-5 or O-6 is selected to retire as a result of this board, what will be the retirement grade and pay?
Since officers being reviewed under this board have been at their current pay grade for at least three years, they will retire at their current pay grade.
What is the total number of individual SER boards that will be held?
Separate FY19 SER boards will be held by paygrade and competitive category (URL/RL/Staff Corps). Based on the number of designators and factoring in that we’ll hold boards for both O5 and O6 officers, the total is 41 boards.
Will those O-5s and O-6s being looked at for this board be notified prior to the start of the board?
Yes. NAVADMIN 193/18 identifies the zone of officers whose records will be considered and reviewed by the SER boards. The notice identifies the senior eligible and junior eligible officers in each competitive category to be considered by the board.
Do these officers know they have not met performance standards?
The board will review how well an individual is performing as documented in their record. Individuals have access to their records and are encouraged to review them periodically. It is also standard for every officer to receive mid-term and annual fitness report (FITREP) counseling about their performance.
By law, officers selected by a SER board must be retired no later than the first day of the seventh month beginning after the month the Secretary of the Navy approves the board report. Can someone selected retire prior to that month?
Yes. Officers selected for early retirement are eligible to retire as early as they can complete the prerequisite separation courses and medical/dental examinations for transition and retirement.
Did the Navy evaluate the impacts to individual communities that this process will have?
Yes, we expect these boards will have a positive impact on individual communities and the Navy as a whole because they will reinforce the Navy’s expectation that senior officers continue to perform at a level comparable to their peers within their pay grade. Additionally, the selected early retirement of officers due to an insufficient level of performance may create opportunities for talented junior officers to move up sooner and assume senior leadership positions.
How many O-5s and O-6s will be looked at for the FY 2019 board?
As of May 2018, 2,611 officers will be looked at for the FY19 SER (O5: 441 URL and 548 RL, O6: 694 URL and 928 RL). These numbers do not include officers who subsequently request voluntary retirement which would make them exempt from consideration. Since the boards will be held by pay grade and competitive category (URL/RL/Staff Corps), there will be a total of 41 individual boards. By statute, no more than 30 percent of any competitive category can be selected for early retirement, but we do not envision coming close to this cap and zero selections in a competitive category is acceptable.