The first Army Talent Alignment Process marketplace closed Dec. 6, matching more than 6,500 of the nearly 14,500 officers to their first job choice in a preliminary match process.

That means about 45 percent of officers matched to units that also preferenced them for the summer movement cycle. Barring extraneous circumstances, like that of an officer who is matching to jobs alongside their spouse, those soldiers should receive their first choice.

“It is a fundamentally different way of assigning people,” said Maj. Gen. J.P. McGee, director of the Army Talent Management Task Force.

“The brigade commander or above picks his or her entire slate of officers," he added. "It is all based on preferences of the individual moving officer first — which is weighed more heavily — and then the unit second to that.”

The ATAP marketplace has been “the largest effort to date” to implement the Army’s 21st Century talent management push, Army Vice Chief of Staff Joseph M. Martin said in a note announcing the numbers.

Revamping the way soldiers are assigned to jobs will help the service better retain talent and better match soldiers to the roles that need them, service leaders say. Nevertheless, there are always concerns with new systems.

“Nepotism is one that comes up frequently,” McGee acknowledged.

The ATAP marketplace empowers subordinate commanders to make hiring decisions, but it’s also entrusting them to exercise that duty responsibly. However, during an experimental pilot program called Green Pages, which matched soldiers to jobs in the engineer corps, leaders made hiring choices that surprised even themselves, according to McGee.

“What we have found is that unit commanders enter into the marketplace thinking that they are going to hire people that they know," McGee said. "But when they find the totality of the officers available, they make very different hiring choices.”

Officers competing for jobs are able to see all positions that are open. Units, meanwhile, get to see every officer who is available for the move to their open role.

“It is not just their own Rolodex of people. ... They see everybody who is available in the Army,” McGee added. “And they make different matches based on the talent sets that are available that they weren’t even aware of.”

McGee said that it’s hard to know how much nepotism actually exists within the service today, but the ATAP marketplace provides a data-rich environment to double-check that commanders are conducting fair hiring practices.

“We are going to check and make sure that has happened," he said. "And if not, then we will see what regulations we need to put on this whole system in order to do this.”

There are checks built in already. Although commanders at the brigade level are making hiring decisions, they have to run their slate of choices through a two-star division commander, McGee noted.

As the ATAP marketplace is used more and more, the Talent Management Task Force will likely have to develop better software to help the process from the unit’s perspective.

“We have now learned a tremendous amount about what improvements need to be made in order to make this certainly easier for units to be able to cull through all the different candidates,” McGee said.

All active-duty officers at the rank of captain and above participate in the new marketplace. Some subgroups of officers are excluded from the system, though. For instance, there are questions about whether it is legally permissible for a commander to hire their own judge advocate, because uniformed attorneys operate under a different chain of command that traces back to the judge advocate general of the Army.

Additionally, lieutenants coming out of commissioning sources are still slotted for jobs the traditional way.

For officers matched in this first cycle, Army Human Resources Command will review the assignments and begin to process requests for orders at the end of January. The ATAP marketplace is expected to open for the fiscal 2020-2021 manning cycle in April 2020.

Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.

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