The Shinseki evaluation system

A note on Gen. Shinseki’s evaluation system.

My friend the amateur military historian writes:

Under Shinseki, the Army started experimenting with ways to constrain inflation in officer evaluations. Commanders rate their direct reports as “above the center-of-mass,” “center-of-mass,” or “below center-of-mass;” essentially above average, average, or below average. The commander cannot issue more than 50% “above the center-of-mass” ratings or the personnel computer automatically deflates them to “center-of-mass.”

Anecdote reports that most files presented to selection boards now have a mix of “above the center-of-mass” and “center-of-mass” ratings. The few files with all “above the center-of-mass” ratings have a high probability of being selected. The fate of files with mixed ratings depends on the board’s predetermined selection rate. Some boards have high selection rates (~90% of captains eventually make major), while others have low rates (~10% for battalion command, colonel to general, admission to astronaut school).

Presumably, a single “below center-of-mass” rating still means no army career. A file with all “center-of-mass” ratings will have difficulty attaining high rank, but might survive the 20-years for half-pay retirement.

The Army has occasionally experienced personnel shortages in a particular rank or specialty such that a “center-of-mass” file remains competitive for selection (e.g., physicians, infantry during a prolonged war, computer specialists during the craze).

Shinseki reasoned that rating inflation plus up-or-out made officers too cautious (“no errors”). The everyone-is-excellent ratings rewarded avoidance of errors and responsibility, rather than risk taking or

initiative. To the best of my knowledge the other services don’t use quotas on officer ratings.

Two comments:

1. While obviously superior to the old system, the Shinseki system as described has one big disadvantage: it puts all of any officer’s subordinates in direct competition with one another, discouraging cooperation. A superior, though harder-to-manage, system, would move the quota of “above center” evaluations according to some evaluation of the performance of the unit as a whole.

2. Aren’t you glad Rummy and Bush fired Shinseki and replaced him with someone less prone to think for himself?

It seems to me that those on the left who fear the expansion of American military power have failed to recognize the debt of gratitude they owe to BushCo for its sheer barking incompetence. By contrast, those of us who hoped for worldwide benefits from the hegemony of a liberal democratic republic have a right to feel cheated.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: