Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher (R-08-WI) wrote a letter to Vice Admiral John Nowell opposing the use of photographs when making decisions about promotions in the Navy. Gallagher and five other members of Congress wrote the letter because he believes that basing a decision about giving a naval officer a promotion on their headshot is not a good criterion.
Nowell, the vice admiral, is encouraging the Navy to consider reinstating the practice, saying it will help enhance diversity. According to the Daily Caller, Nowell said, “As you look at diversity [in the Navy], it went down with photos removed.”
Nowell said, “We’re very clear with our language to boards that we want them to consider diversity across all areas. I think having a clear picture just makes it easier.” According to the Daily Caller, the Navy had stopped showing photographs on promotional review boards in 2016 and then reinstated the process in 2018.
Photographs were again banned in 2020. “Then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper banned promotion boards in all military branches from including photos in applications in July 2020.” Nowell recently made comments implying that he would like to bring back the process requiring photos on promotional review boards to increase diversity.
One of the issues that the letter brought up was how utilizing photographs to increase diversity and not selecting members based on qualifications could pose problems and seems to exhibit bias.
Gallagher’s letter said, “Yet, our understanding is that promotion selection boards are supposed to be devoid of bias and by their very nature, represent meritocratic values that ensure the most qualified officers are selected to lead our Navy.”
Gallagher and the others who signed the letter said that they have concerns about the back and forth taking place regarding the use of photographs and the mixed message it may be sending. The letter said, “We are concerned that the back and forth on this issue may be causing officers in the ranks to question whether the Navy’s true goal aspires to meritocratic values or whether these values may be juxtaposed against the political vicissitudes of the day.”
They asked Nowell to clarify his position on the use of photos for the review boards.
“We were also not sure if you were thinking out loud when you made your statements at the symposium or were signaling future intent as a senior Navy leader. As Members of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, we would like clarification on the Navy’s latest policy regarding photographs on officer selection board,” the letter says.
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