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Message to Commissioned Corps Officers
On 18 December 2003, the “three and freeze” temporary promotion policy was implemented. That policy requires that an officer must be selected for competitive temporary grade promotion within three attempts or be frozen in grade for the remainder of his or her career. A fourth promotion consideration is permitted if requested by an agency head (Subchapter CC23.4, INSTRUCTION 2, Section F.3).
This policy was established to ensure that the Commissioned Corps acknowledges its strongest officers and that all officers are aware of their responsibility to perform to the best of their abilities. The policy offers officers opportunities to be more proactive in their career development and to bring the Corps in line with the policies of the other uniformed services. As officers, we all wish our Corps to attain as much parity with the other uniformed services as possible, recognizing its unique nature as a public health professional force. However, in the absence of a fully functional force management system, among other considerations, the policy presents a risk of unintended consequences for some excellent officers.
As this is the first promotion cycle in which the policy will begin to affect officers, I asked my senior Commissioned Corps advisors to examine the current policy to assure it achieves its original intent and is consistent with the objectives of the transformation process and to provide me with recommendations for any modifications that may be warranted. Additionally, through the Surgeon General, I have solicited advice from the Chief Professional Officers (CPOs).
Weighing all of the advice I have received, and with the Surgeon General’s full support, I am announcing my intent to amend the current policy as outlined below:
  • All officers who score in the bottom quartile for their category and grade in any promotion year and are not selected for promotion will be required to engage in career counseling with their supervisors. A report of the counseling sessions will be forwarded to the respective categorical CPOs who will engage the officers in professional counseling regarding their strengths and weaknesses for promotions, including performance concerns, as the CPO deems necessary.
  • All officers who are “recommended” by a Temporary Grade Promotion Board, but not selected for promotion, should continue to be eligible for review in subsequent promotion years, except for officers who have occupied the bottom decile for their category and grade for 3 consecutive years.
  • Officers who are reviewed by a Temporary Grade Promotion Board for any one grade and score in the bottom decile for their category and grade for 3 consecutive years will be referred to a Retention Board
  • The Corps has expected officers to achieve basic readiness for almost 3 years and it has become an important part of our culture. Accordingly, instructions to the Temporary Grade Promotion Boards will be promulgated to require that any officer who fails to meet the basic readiness standards (excluding officers who have a previously approved waiver in place) must be given a “not recommended” outcome by the Board. All officers who are “not recommended” for promotion by a Temporary Grade Promotion Board will be referred to a Retention Board.
This process will require new policy issuances and modifications to several existing INSTRUCTIONs. For instance, a policy that governs Retention Boards will be drafted and issued. It will outline the “menu” of options available to the Board when reviewing an officer who is referred to it, to include required training, further counseling, reassignment, a “cooling off” period before further consideration for promotion, separation, and mandatory retirement. Officers will be able to appeal Retention Board determinations to the Surgeon General. The current policies regarding readiness standards and promotions will require some modification to incorporate the requirement for officers to meet all readiness standards before being reviewed by the Temporary Grade Promotion Board or receive a “not recommended” outcome from that Board. Furthermore, to implement the counseling requirement, CPOs will need to develop a counseling network for their categories and the Corps will need to develop and conduct training in this area for supervisors of officers.
The amended policy will provide all officers an opportunity to strive and advance their professional development through tools to maintain readiness, proactively manage their careers, and receive career counseling to improve their standing before the Temporary Grade Promotion Boards. This approach is consistent with and maintains the intent of the policy when it was introduced more than 3 years ago and it is in keeping with the Corps’ transformation initiatives.
The policy will be assessed again in 3 years to determine if there is a need to adjust the percentile at which officers would be referred to a Retention Board, or any other element of the policy. Within that timeframe, it is anticipated that other support services, billet management plans, and 3 years of experience with the policy will be available to assess its overall impact, as well as its utility in the context of the transformed Corps.
The amended policy will be made effective upon my final approval and as such, will affect those officers in the current promotion year. It will take several months to prepare and issue new INSTRUCTIONs incorporating these policies. However, I believe it is useful for the Corps and its officers to be aware of these new policy developments before this promotion year’s results are announced.
John O. Agwunobi
Assistant Secretary for Health
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