MILLINGTON, Tenn. (NNS) — As part of Sailor 2025 personnel modernization and transformation efforts, a recent nuclear limited duty officer (LDO) board was conducted virtually, Navy leaders said Jan 31.
“The virtual board is an important improvement in the delivery of a modern, streamlined selection process for current and future naval leaders,” said Rear Adm. Rick Cheeseman, assistant commander, Navy Personnel Command for Career Management.
Charged by the chief of naval personnel to test the feasibility of conducting a virtual board, the NPC Submarine/Nuclear Officer Career Management Division (PERS-42) decided in July that the Fiscal Year 2020 Nuclear LDO In-Service Procurement Board conducted in November would be its target board for their test. The team spent that time developing solutions and creating procedures for the virtual board. This consisted of creating methods for existing software systems to work together, and creating redundancies and fail safes for each step of the process. Prior to the LDO board, five mock boards were conducted to assess their system.
“We wanted to get our virtual board as close as possible to the real thing,” said Cmdr. Carlos Martinez, head nuclear submarine executive officer detailer. “We provided each board member a redacted copy of the Sailors’ records they would be reviewing as well as a mark-up tool we developed based on (slide presentation) software.”
The team effort required the use of a variety of tools including the Defense Collaborative Services (DCS), secure file sharing services, encrypted email, as well as the software solutions created in-house by the PERS-42 staff.
“Protecting (Personally Identifiable Information) was a major concern in this process,” said Capt. Andrew Miller, deputy director, PERS-42. “In addition to the secure file sharing, we redacted names and other PII from the records and password protected each file. After the board members received their files, they were provided the passwords only for those records they would be reviewing.”
“The process was a little slower,” Miller said. “It was slower than our mock boards – one member had technical issues that slowed things down considerably; however, in the end we proved that the process is achievable.”
Although the PERS-42 team encountered some technical issues – for which they had backup processes in place – the entire board was conducted in a combined time of about 18 hours. In comparison, a conventional board entails a day of travel on the front and back end as well as the time it takes for the board itself. By conducting the board virtually, they also saved travel expenses for the nine board members.
“The financial savings is a good selling point,” Miller said, “but by conducting a board virtually, that’s one less board competing for physical space in the board spaces.”
Lessons learned from the pilot board reinforced many of the notions the team had going into the planning process. Currently, there are many challenges with using disparate systems, Miller said.
“We have a civilian information technology professional in our office – Walter Mathis – without whom none of this would have been possible,” Martinez said. “He’s the one who developed the software solutions, he wrote the code, created the markup tool, integrated the voting tool within DCS with other software systems, and more.”
A major takeaway, Miller said, is that to make virtual boards a permanent reality, a dedicated software suite would need to be created and operators trained.
“If we’re going to be serious about making this process a reality, we’re going to have to provide some resources to do it right,” Miller said. “We had full autonomy to make this happen. We would not have been able to get this done without it. Especially not in the timeframe within which we had to work.”
The PERS-42 team has debriefed the pilot board results and recommendations and has begun preparing for their next board.
“Every time you do this you learn something new,” Miller said. “We are looking at what can be done better. This time we tried to make the board as close to as possible to the ones conducted here physically, but with the virtual boards there may be better ways to conduct it. We’re looking for opportunities in the processes.”
Another virtual board is planned in the spring by PERS-42.
“Conducting boards virtually is just one of the many things we’re working on in this transformation effort, but it’s something that makes a lot of sense and will, in the long term, save everyone time and money. Our PERS-42 team has made great strides in making this a reality, and we’re looking forward to future virtual board pilots,” Cheeseman added.