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New EPR could drop number ratings

Questions on finances, relationships part of revised feedback form

Jan. 22, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
CMSAF visits Langley airmen
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said the service is considering dropping numerical performance ratings as part of a major upcoming overhaul of enlisted airmen's evaluations. (Airman 1st Class Areca T. Wilson / Air Force)
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The Air Force is considering dropping numerical performance ratings as part of a major upcoming overhaul of enlisted airmen’s evaluations.

And supervisors could ask their airmen personal questions about their finances and relationships under the new system.

In a video posted online Jan. 17, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody acknowledged widespread criticisms that the current Enlisted Performance Report ratings are often inflated. Roughly 80 percent of enlisted airmen receiving the top score of 5, Cody said, which renders the rating system effectively useless.

He told an audience of enlisted airmen that they instead might be evaluated based on written summaries — or “word pictures” — of their performance under the new EPR system.

“When you look to the future, we’re really not even having a discussion about 3s, 4s and 5s,” Cody said. “We’re not even looking at using those number scales in the future. We’re looking at, do you fit into this word picture? Does this word picture describe you as an airman and your performance?”

Through his spokesman, Master Sgt. Lee Hoover, Cody declined an interview request to expand on the possible EPR changes because many details have not yet been finalized. Hoover also said that the Air Force has not yet definitively decided to drop the numerical ratings.

“It will be dramatically different,” Cody said in the video. “To get to where we need to be, you can’t just cut at it at the fringes.”

Cody also said that a new feedback form, or Airman Comprehensive Assessment, will be the first piece of the enlisted evaluation system to be implemented.

In preparing that form, supervisors will ask their airmen about some personal matters that could affect their careers in the Air Force, he said.

“We’re going to get to the point where we’re asking you questions that today we’re probably not comfortable talking about with each other — finances, relationships, all the things that impact your ability to be an airman in our Air Force,” Cody said.

Cody said the new evaluation system will likely have some level of forced distribution of performance highs and lows, because it is unrealistic to have the bulk of airmen rated at the top. He did not offer details on how the written performance summaries would be judged against one another.

Cody said that during the span of an airman’s career, the quality of his performance is likely to go up and down as he gets promoted or takes on new responsibilities. It is normal for someone’s performance to dip while he learns new skills, Cody said, and the revised EPR should take that into consideration.

“The day we promote you, are you going to be a really good staff sergeant?” Cody said. “Likely not as good as other staff sergeants around you that have been doing it a while. It takes time for all of us to learn our new jobs.”

“Given time, when we implement the new EPR, we’ll get used to that, that this is what a career looks like,” Cody said, making a wave gesture with his hand. “We will manage expectations through some level of forced distribution. We’ll still promote our best. There will still be assignment opportunity for airmen. But it’s just not going to be the way it was.”

Cody also said that in June or July, the Air Force will begin considering retraining opportunities for airmen in fiscal 2015. That could mean reversing some of the cross-training reductions the Air Force announced in November as part of its force management efforts.

“You can’t cross-train somebody into a career field and then all of a sudden notify people in that career field, at the same rank, that we’re looking at having to reduce the size of that career field,” Cody said.

But Cody said that the force management effort is not going to result in career fields getting combined beyond the normal review process the Air Force conducts.

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