September 24, 2020 In the News

Bias in U.S. Military Promotions Cited as Senators Offer Measure

By Josyana Joshua and Daniel Flatley
September 24, 2020

Two senators on the Foreign Relations Committee introduced a measure aimed at reducing bias in military promotions by withholding some identifying information from the boards that decide on them.

In an effort to reduce biased choices tied to race or gender, Senators Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, and Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, want the Pentagon to exclude information including a candidate’s name, gender, age and race. Photographs would also be banned.

“Removing bias and prejudice from the force is critical,” Young, a former Marine, said Thursday. “By removing information such as race and gender from promotion materials, we can ensure that promotion boards would assess and evaluate officers based purely on their merits and accomplishments.”

Shaheen said the legislation would help “ensure we have the best and brightest at the helm.”

Their measure would expand and make permanent actions already taken by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who in July issued a military-wide ban on the use of photos of candidates by promotion boards. He also ordered that hairstyle and grooming policies should be reviewed for evidence of “racial bias” and changed accordingly.

Although General Colin Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, it took until this year for an African-American to become the head of a military branch. General Charles Brown became Air Force chief of staff in June.

The issue of bias in officer promotions has taken on a deeper significance as the U.S. wrestles with ongoing protests over the killing of Black people by police officers.

The issue was highlighted last month in a New York Times article about a Black Marine Colonel who was passed over three times for promotion despite having all the qualifications the Marine Corps says it looks for in a general.