“Quantico, We Have a Problem”
On 24 April 2018, the Deputy Commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, LtGen Michael A. Rocco, released MARADMIN 234/18, highlighting the fact that there were over 10,720 of 198,976 fitness reports still outstanding for the period of March 2017 to March 2018.1 This represents a 5.39 percent failure rate amongst reporting seniors and reviewing officers. Furthermore, the MARADMIN noted that officers submitted late reports 47.08 percent (over 94,500) of the time.2 We should find relief that LtGen Rocco chose not to report the number of open fitness reports, including the totality of fitness report gaps, for all Marines currently in service. Such a high number of late submissions would likely have created a tsunami of finger-pointing that the officer corps would not have been prepared to handle.
A Problem Exists
As officers, we have a cultural problem. The simple fact that we are late nearly 50 percent of the time and failing 5.39 percent of the time in our foremost duty is appalling. (See Figures 1 and 2.)The future of the Corps is our duty, and we should take it as seriously as training for combat operations. The system demands our input to promote the best and brightest amongst our NCOs, SNCOs, and commissioned officers. We alone communicate to the boards on a Marine’s leadership potential and fitness for promotion within our Corps. We are tasked with shaping the future of the organization, and yet, we are fumbling the task.
As per the regulations, reporting seniors are charged with ensuring evaluations are completed, and reviewing officers are responsible for submitting fitness reports to HQMC within 30 days.3 This is not an onerous task. When we arrive at a unit, we quickly learn who works for us and who manages us. The Marines under our charge become our responsibility, and as officers, we are entrusted with their personal and professional well-being. While the completion of a fitness report may seem like a daunting task, the Performance Evaluation System (PES) Manual has a helpful chart in Appendix A.4 This chart delineates who rates a fitness report and the date these evaluations are due. Officers should print a copy of this page and keep it in their office or posted in their cubicle. It is understandable that this scope of responsibility may be large; however, it is far from insurmountable. Managing evaluations can be done in a timely manner in nearly every situation with few exceptions.
It is completely understandable that bumps in the road may disallow timely submission on occasion, but timely success a mere 47.5 percent of the time is unacceptable.
Simplifying the Reporting Senior/Reviewing Officer Assignment Process
It is time we force evaluations to become important to both reporting seniors and reviewing officers through automation. Marines checking into a unit should be assigned a reporting senior and reviewing officer in Marine Online during the same process that joins them to their new unit. The reporting relationships can be slightly more difficult to assign in instances where the battalion’s hierarchy is complicated, such as Quantico’s Headquarters Battalion. In these cases, the chiefs of staff, division directors, or their representative should be granted permission to complete the task within a reasonable amount of time. Their progress should be monitored by the Headquarters Battalion’s S-1 and can be tracked via timeliness reports. In either case, proactive assignment in Marine Online should theoretically permit the tracking of events, which are predictable and warrant a fitness report within Marine Online or Marine Corps Total Force Structure (annual evaluations, promotions, permanent change of station, TAD, etc.).
Praise for Success, Accountability in Failure
To further improve the care of our Marines, Manpower and Reserve Affairs should consider the automation of Section H of the fitness report. Marines who complete evaluations in a timely manner with none returned for administrative correction or who return all administratively incorrect or inflated reports should receive a systematically generated F. Officers who submit late evaluations with inflated markings should receive a B. Once HQMC returns them for action or the reviewing officer disagrees, there should be no further recourse unless extenuating circumstances apply. Scandalously inflated evaluations, excessive errors, or extreme tardiness should automatically generate an adverse report. This portion of the automation may be suited with more human interaction, but leaders should be wary; allowing exceptions to the rule can lead down a slippery slope.5 (See Figure 3.)
Another invaluable feature would be a tally mechanism in Marine Online reporting subordinate fitness report submission statistics to general officers, commanders, chiefs of staff, and colonels or lieutenant colonels in staff director billets. This would be similar to the timeliness reports currently available but would specify the reporting senior and reviewing officer responsible for submitting the late reports. This level of visibility will create an appropriate and continuous awareness deserving of our Marines’ evaluations. In this case, when it is understood that a colonel or general can see your failures, evaluations will be completed on time.
I further recommend officers with outstanding evaluations have their personal evaluation placed in a “holding” status. Officers who do not have the consideration to care for their Marines deserve their careers to be placed on hold, whether they are a junior or senior officer.
This new system will have trouble with situations outside of the norm; however, those can be considered during and after implementation. This can include methods to handle officers relieved of cause, officers who leave service without completing evaluations, and more. No system modification works perfectly on the first go, and this proposal must be implemented with the same level of flexibility.
The bottom line is that we have a problem. Trust and confidence, in this case, have proven too optimistic a belief, and automation with instant reporting may be the solution to create an instant, impactful change when it comes to doing what is required for our future leaders.
1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MARADMIN 234/18, Reinforcing Guidance with Regard to Timely Fitness Report Submissions, (Washington, DC: 24 April 2018), available at http://www.marines.mil.
3. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCO 1610.7, Performance Evaluation System, (Washington, DC: 13 February 2013).