Airmen, put down your pencils—possibly forever.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said March 4 she is “hopeful” the service will finally transition to digital testing for the Weighted Airman Promotion System in 2022, a longtime goal for leadership.
Bass, speaking at the AFA Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., stopped short of guaranteeing the change to WAPS testing. But she did say the Air Force will continue to press forward with changes to the enlisted evaluation system.
“I am hopeful that we are actually going to [digitize] WAPS testing. Like, it is 2022, if we can’t get out of taking a No. 2 pencil into promotion tests, something is wrong,” Bass said, before offering a joking apology to Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. “Sorry, boss. We have got to modernize some things.”
Bass’ comments follow on remarks she and Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, made during a June 2021 Coffee Talk on Facebook, during which Bass called the use of paper testing “embarrassing,” and Kelly said it “makes all of us as senior leaders absolutely crazy.”
“That’s one of the things on my ‘things to do’ list,” Bass added. “Please hold us to the fire on that one.”
The move to digital testing would eliminate the possibility of losing paper tests in the mail. There have been several such incidents in recent years, costing some Airmen a shot at promotion.
It would also help usher the promotion process into the modern era, something Bass said at AWS is crucial for cultivating and retaining Airmen.
“I’m focused on how do we retain the talent that we need in 2030? Well, it’s not going to be because of policies and processes from the 1990s and the early 2000s,” Bass said. “We’ve got to change and get after all of those things, so that’s a focus there.”
However, the shift to online tests could put additional strain on the Air Force’s network, the speed of which is already a frequent source of frustration for many Airmen. The problem is so widespread that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s remark at AWS that the network “sucks” drew applause from his audience.
Improving the underlying network is a priority too, Bass promised, saying she has also experienced the same frustrations.
“Our Airmen always say, ‘I wonder if our leaders know, I wonder if our leaders understand the challenges we have.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, we do, and we share those challenges, right?’” Bass said. “Like, we’re frustrated with the IT systems that we have, I mean, beyond belief. As many times as you have to add in your PIN, I have to do that too. I mean, I send stuff home to my phone or my whatever so that I can actually watch whatever I need to watch, because I can’t do it on my work [computer].”
On that front, Bass said, senior leaders are committed to addressing the fundamental issues concerning rank-and-file Airmen.
“Where I’m encouraged is, we’ve made a stance on ‘Here are some foundational things that we have got to make sure that we are funding,’” Bass said. “Cyber and IT is one of those things, Airmen programs is one of those things. We have to start to fund the foundation of what makes our Air Force move out, because we can’t modernize if the foundation is not where it needs to be.”