A rule under consideration by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to encourage diversity among the military’s commissioned officers has sparked legal questions.
Carter is currently reviewing a proposal that would mandate the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to consider minority candidates for key positions that are often launching pads for higher ranks, such as aides to senior leaders. The rule would be akin to the National Football League’s "Rooney Rule," which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for top positions like head coach.
According to a Navy memo obtained by USA Today, the Navy is concerned that implementing the policy would carry "significant risk of litigation." The memo asked for data on the problem to be analyzed and calls for the development of "narrowly tailored efforts" to avoid potential lawsuits.
The plan would order the services to each develop goals for race, ethnicity, and gender among their commissioned officers in order to "reflect the diverse population in the United States eligible to serve in our military," according to the proposal.
"Undertaking the additional effort to identify and recruit a diverse candidate pool will help us build a stronger force and expose more Americans to the opportunity to serve in our military," the proposal states.
"Our ability to attract and develop a highly talented diverse cadre of officers to lead our military is essential to mission success now and in the future," it also states. Under the proposed plan, services would report to Carter by the beginning of May on how to incorporate the policy.
Brad Carson, who recently stepped down as the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness after a short tenure, developed the plan. His other reforms have sparked controversy and criticism from lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a former Navy fighter pilot.
Carter has prioritized policies aimed to encourage diversity, such as ordering the services last December to open up all combat positions to women, including those in the infantry and special operations forces. While the decision has sparked criticism from lawmakers and concerns about possible negative impacts on effectiveness in combat, Carter has defended the move as an effort to recruit from the broadest pool of candidates.
"It goes back to the need to think generations ahead. For us to have the best in the future, [we need to] reach into the largest pool of people," Carter said in February. "I want to be able to reach into all parts of our organization."
The Pentagon also plans to lift its ban on transgender troops in May.