A few months ago the Department of the Navy put out a press release stating that they would be changing their 20-year-old Navy FITREP and EVAL System is also known as NAVFIT 98.
As per the press release, one of the objectives for the new navy eval and Fitrep system was to remove forced distribution categories and simplify FITREP/EVAL completion by allowing cloud-based and mobile device input. While these are good objectives as a reporting senior who has reported on hundreds of enlisted and officers I must take a moment to offer a defense of the practice of forced distribution.
The practice of forced distribution is the requirement in the Navy Fitrep / Eval System to force reporting seniors to break people out as #1, #2, #3, #4, etc While It does not take into account the chance that a specific summary group is especially strong or especially week, which we will discuss next, it gives every person a quantitative measurement of how they perform relative to their peers.
The biggest argument against the forced distribution is the hypothetical question of what if my summary group is above average? The Navy Fitrep and Evaluation system has two processes for addressing that question. The first process uses the Commanding Officers reporting seniors average. This average follows the Commanding officer not just through one summary group, but through his entire career. Through placing an individual above, below, or at an average it can signal to the board how this individual fared against all the individuals the reporting senior ranked.
The second process that can address the above concern is the FITREP or Eval writeup. In a case where the summary group is especially strong, a commanding officer can put all the individuals above his or her average and then explain it in the writeup.
While forced distribution does favor length of time at command, it rarely does it to the detriment of the highest performing individuals. Yes, it is true that an average performing new guy will rarely outrank an average performing older sailor; however, average sailors are not of primary concern in the FITREP/EVAL system. Of primary concern are those sailors who are significantly above or below their pack. Those are the sailors that the forced distribution works for.
For example, while head of the pack sailor may receive a disappointing first Navy Eval, their subsequent EVALs will most certainly be ahead of an average sailor when his time at the command is factored. Likewise, that poor performing sailor will reflect consistent below average marks regardless of his length of time at the command. This key, along with a reporting seniors average, allows a Navy ranking board to determine if and when an individual is ready to be promoted.