DOPMA stands for Defense Officer Personnel Management Act. It has been the guideline for officer personnel management since December 1980. It was designed to help modernize management practices and correct problems with officer management that emerged in the post-World War II era. Its notable achievements include:
- Creating uniform promotion rates.
- Standardizing career lengths across the services.
- Regulating the number of senior officers as a proportion of the force.
- Creating reasonable and predictable expectations regarding when an officer would be eligible for promotion.
DOPMA has been criticized for creating a system with high turnover rates, frequent moves, and shorter military careers. It is often referred to as “up or out” and is the reason why LCDRs can only stay 20 years, CDRs 28 years, and CAPTs for 30 years.
In addition, the Medical and Dental Corps are “DOPMA exempt” when it comes to our promotion zones. This is why it is easy to predict when Medical Corps officers are going to be in zone. Our promotion zones are not reliant on how many senior physicians left the service.
The Nurse and Medical Service Corps are not DOPMA exempt. Their promotion zones vary from year to year depending on how many senior nurses or MSCs get out of the service.
For example, a Commander MSC friend of mine was stuck waiting for promotion to O6 until one of the CAPTs in his community retired. That would not happen to a physician or dentist because we are DOPMA exempt.
DOPMA has been under fire recently and is getting some attention toward revising it, which you can read about here: