Mechanism Design meets Priority Design: Redesigning the US Army's Branching Process
Army cadets obtain occupations through a centralized process. Three objectives – increasing retention, aligning talent, and enhancing trust – have guided reforms to this process since 2006. West Point’s mechanism for the Class of 2020 exacerbated challenges implementing Army policy aims. We formulate these desiderata as axioms and study their implications theoretically and with administrative data. We show that the Army’s objectives not only determine an allocation mechanism, but also a specific priority policy, a uniqueness result that integrates mechanism and priority design. These results led to a re-design of the mechanism, now adopted at both West Point and ROTC.
All opinions expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not represent the opinions of the United States Military Academy (USMA), United States Cadet Command, the United States Army, or the Department of Defense. We are grateful for excellent research assistance from Kate Bradley and Robert Upton. Eryn Heying provided superb help with research administration. The Army's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis provided administrative branching data for this project to Kyle Greenberg as part of a restricted use agreement with USMA and MIT that specifies that data can only be stored, accessed, and analyzed within USMA's information system. Any parties interested in accessing this data must make a direct application to USMA. We are grateful to Scott Kominers for helpful conversations. Pathak acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation for this project. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.