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Last week, we brought you the story of a new Air Force policy designed to increase flexibility for Air Force officers selected to attend in-residence development education. The gist of the new policy was that it permitted officers declining school to stay in the Air Force, but there was a catch: they had to make the declination decision after learning they were selected but before finding out their actual school assignment. Personnel honchos presented the change as a sweet tonic, pretending the service’s brightest field grade officers wouldn’t notice the poison pill it was washing down.

Yesterday, in a memo released across the service, the policy was summarily changed. Officers on the Intermediate/Senior Developmental Education (IDE/SDE) list were informed of their actual school assignments without enduring the three-week wait advertised in the initial policy memo. The change means they can make informed decisions about whether to incur lengthy service commitments maximally aware of where they will attend school, and therefore the precise value proposition they and their families are being asked to weigh.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from the memo, which dispenses with the most confusing and potentially alienating element of the otherwise constructive policy change announced last week:

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The most interesting thing about this reversal is the way it came about. According to my sources, the release of the memo triggered two sequential reactions.

First, colonels and generals in the field raised concerns about the coercive “delayed notification” element of the policy, which they correctly argued would make the service’s future leaders feel their scant bargaining power in the assignment process was being unfairly burglarized. 

Second, those concerns reached the Chief of Staff, who acted swiftly to address them. JQP’s sources say Gen. Dave Goldfein immediately and forcefully rejected the idea of officers incurring a service commitment before knowing where they were going. He directed that they be treated with dignity and transparency in the assignment process, and that the policy be changed to reflect those principles.

In other words, this reversal didn’t happen because of media or public pressure from JQP or any other external agent. It happened because leaders inside the system voiced their concerns and responsible officials reacted decisively to address those concerns. This is how things are supposed to work.

Now … when we get to the point where the personnel system stops trying to coerce people without having its crayons confiscated by the boss, we’ll really be getting somewhere.

But this is a start, and a refreshing change after years of generals refusing to call wayward bureaucrats to heel.