Coast Guard working to fill lieutenant openings

The Coast Guard is working to mitigate a higher-than-usual shortage of lieutenants.

After identifying more than 90 open billets at the lieutenant and lieutenant junior grade ranks in late February, the Coast Guard has reduced the number of openings to about 70, and will continue to work through the summer to fill the gaps.

There are 6,000 active-duty officers in the service, about 2,300 of whom are lieutenants.

"Any of these billets that are going to be vacant are staff positions," said Capt. John "Jack" Kenyon, the Officer Personnel Management division chief, explaining that officials intentionally fill openings on the operational side first.

Coast Guard officials work to fill positions from the top down, starting at the captain rank.

Once those positions are filled, lieutenant commanders are moved up to fill any holes within the commander assignments, and lieutenants are brought up to fill any open lieutenant commander openings.

"It wasn't necessarily that we were short lieutenants," said Capt. Chris Glander, OPM assistant division chief, explaining that the top-down approach creates a trickle-down effect with many vacancies falling into "the lieutenant area."

While this contributed to the shortage in part, it also was driven by less billets than anticipated being included in the Coast Guard's budget, and more people leaving than expected.

The service hasn't seen a major change in the percentage of academy graduates leaving after fulfilling their five-year obligation.

Filling vacancies is a balancing act.

Officials make decisions about the numbers of billets needed anywhere from one to three years in advance, and operate off incomplete information.

"We're making decisions for next year right now," Glander said.

Officials must predict federal budget changes, how many people will leave the Coast Guard and the impact the economy could have on people staying or leaving.

On the other end, they need to determine how many people to bring in.

"Now we're bringing in larger numbers to fill anticipated gaps, which might mean we need to have some gaps at the lieutenant level so that we can afford to pay everyone at the end of the day," Glander said.

Officials are instituting a number of short-term fixes, including increased accessions, pulling reserve officers on active duty, recalling recently retired lieutenants and lieutenant continuation boards.

The latter allows lieutenants, who have been passed over twice for promotion to lieutenant commander, to continue to serve on active duty for a two- to four-year period instead of leaving the service.

Longer term, the Coast Guard wants to increase accessions and promote more people.

j.bergman@theday.com

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