At various times and for sundry reasons, the Navy Civil Engineer Corps (the CEC) has gone through periods where it experienced difficulty in acquiring the necessary number of officer candidates in order to operate at maximum efficiency. For example, an overall drawdown in the size of all military forces in the U.S. meant that the number of officers in the CEC was reduced by about 36 percent between 1968 and 1978. Even with this reduced roster, however, the Corps was finding it difficult to fill necessary positions, in large part due to a far fewer number of graduates from Officer Candidate School headed to the CEC, which was itself due to the country’s general antiwar, antimilitary attitude following the conclusion of the Vietnam war.
To attract greater numbers of high-quality officers into the Corps, the CEC initiated two new officer-accession programs. The first was called the Direct Appointment Program, in which Navy Recruiting Command would pinpoint graduates of engineering colleges and offer them commissions as ensigns in the Naval Reserve. Rather than making them complete the four-and-a-half-month training regimen at the Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) before receiving their commission, the CEC instead sent these potential officers to Officer Indoctrination School (OIS), which lasted just six weeks. Upon successful completion of this reduced officer-training school, the candidates received their commissions and were obliged to serve three or four years of active duty.
Three years after the 1977 introduction of the Direct Appointment Program, the Secretary of the Navy approved a new plan to garner more highly trained officer candidates. The CEC Collegiate program identified students who were majoring in engineering and would be graduating within twelve months. If chosen, the future engineering grads would receive a monthly stipend to pay for living expenses while they completed their degree programs; after graduation, they would attend OIS and then receive their commission in the CEC.
Such moves alleviated officer shortages in relatively short order, and by 1985 the rules were changed so that all CEC officer accessions involving private universities would have to attend the OCS rather than the much shorter OIS.
But the economic growth of the 1990s and the subsequent demand for engineering graduates in the private sector caused CEC to once again turn to incentives to acquire the best and brightest candidates. It reintroduced the CEC Collegiate Program, but expanded it so that engineering majors could not only commit to a career in the CEC as early as the start of their junior year, but also receive the monthly stipend, active-duty benefits, and earn active-duty credit for every day they spent completing their undergraduate education. Effectively, this translated into just 18 years of true active-duty service rather than 20 before becoming eligible for full military retirement.
A second initiative called the Bachelor Degree Completion Program was even more enticing, which was basically the same as the CEC Collegiate Program, but offering all the benefits at the start of their sophomore year—and making retirement possible after just 17 years of service following graduation from college.