Defense officials' hopes for sweeping personnel reforms were crushed by Senate Republicans on Thursday who attacked the ideas as "an outrageous waste of time" and the Pentagon's pick to implement them as unfit to serve.
Brad Carson, the nominee to serve as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness for nearly 11 months, received blistering criticism from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for his work over the past year on the Force of the Future plan, work aimed at updating the military's personnel system to better compete with civilian business benefits.
The 49-year-old former congressman and Iraq War veteran worked as the personnel office's acting head for most of 2015, becoming the public face for the reform plans. But senators accused him of presuming confirmation and failing to inform them about the proposed historic changes, many of which would require dramatic legislative changes.
"I find it deeply disturbing that you are proposing to add expensive fringe benefits allegedly aimed at retention during a time when we are asking 3,000 excellent Army captains to leave the service who would have otherwise chosen to remain on active duty," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.
"This initiative has been an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints. It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient defense organization."
The Force of the Future plans initially included major changes to military pay, benefits and promotion schedules, with suggestions of midcareer sabbaticals and elimination of the up-or-out rank advancement rules.
But the ideas — championed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter over the last year — have been met with resistance among defense officials and lawmakers.
Carter last fall offered a watered-down version of the plan as a starting point, starting new personnel management systems to better match troops with desired job assignments and the creating of a new office to oversee efforts to attract top talent to the ranks.
He has promised to build on that work, and was across Capitol Hill on Thursday defending the Pentagon's fiscal 2017 budget request as senators tore apart his longer-term defense proposals.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, questioned whether civilian corporation tactics can work in an environment where national security issues are paramount. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, criticized efforts to make the military more "progressive" as off-base and unproductive.
For his part, Carson defended the proposals as an ongoing effort to prepare the military for the future, and to keep top talent from fleeing the services for higher-paying, more comfortable civilian posts.
But advancing that work will require his official confirmation into the personnel post, an assignment that appeared very much in doubt by the end of Thursday's hearing.
McCain accused Carson of lying on several occasions in the hearing, and suggested his actions over the last year disqualified him for the post. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., asked for a command climate assessment report of his office before any Senate action is taken, due to leadership complaints forwarded to his office.
No timeline has been offered for a full committee vote on Carson's confirmation.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.