HQDA Staff Officer's Guidebook
Headquarters, Department of the Army
SECTION I - SOME HELPFUL HINTS
ROLE OF A STAFF OFFICER
An officer assigned to the HQDA Staff must understand the direction and priorities of the Army
leadership much as one is expected to know the commander's intent in a tactical unit. The major
difference between staff actions at this level and subordinate levels is the magnitude of their impact. Staffs
actions at DA level affect the Total Army and, often, U.S. and allied defense efforts.
The specific role of a staff officer is job related and will vary by agency. No particular agency can
be considered a microcosm of the overall headquarters. Some positions will call on an officer to
develop detailed plans or devote full attention to one highly specialized area. In other cases, responsibility
will be extremely broad, with a large part of the day devoted to expediting staff work.
Generally speaking, the role of a staff officer is to get things done by not waiting to be told what to
do, actively seeking areas that need attention, and not hesitating to stand up and be counted.
As a professional, the staff officer seeks ways to achieve a more professional Army, such as
assigning priority to those actions which should provide the maximum payoff to the Army in terms of success
in combat, staff efficiency, and improved procedures and not devoting an inordinate amount of attention
to areas which are unrelated to the Army mission. A staff officer researches an area carefully and
ensures that the recommendations he/she provides the decision-makers are founded on fact and stated
The final test of completed staff work is this: If you yourself were the commander, would you be
willing to sign the paper you have prepared? Would you stake your professional reputation on its being
right? If your answer would be "no," take the paper back and rework it, because it is not yet completed
Learning a new job always presents some difficulties. There are doubts and uncertainties as to
how best to proceed. How you start tends to influence the degree of final success.
Over the years, you undoubtedly have developed your own techniques for rapidly coming to grips
with new responsibilities. What works for one officer may not work for another. Following are a few
points you might consider in getting started.
- Recognize that officers on their first assignment in the Pentagon are not expected to be experts
on the full range of their responsibilities and have a total picture of their role in a complex staff
environment. The officers around you who appear so capable were no better equipped than you now
are when they first were assigned to the HQDA Staff. They have had the benefit of time to
develop techniques and to establish the personal contact requisite to carrying out their duties. Your
contemporary action officers, like you, are continually learning.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions of your predecessor if you have the opportunity to overlap.
Also, ask questions of your fellow action officers and immediate supervisors.
- Review any SOPs that may exist.
- Familiarize yourself with staff directives that govern your activities.
- Become familiar with what is in the office files. This is a good way of learning the
peculiarities associated with the various types of staff actions handled by your office.
- Identify those individuals in your own agency and in other agencies with whom you can expect
to deal on a frequent basis. Get to know them. Cooperate with them; they will expect a high
professional level of cooperation from you.
- Review documentation, as time permits, that will serve to build rapidly your expertise in your
- Make no recommendations regarding change of organization or procedures until you are
fully grounded in your new duties.
GUIDELINES TO CONSIDER
Become fully familiar with staff relationships.
- Staff relationships in Washington are complex and staff officers often find themselves operating
in several different arenas, such as Army Staff and Office, Secretary of Defense, on the same day.
- Procedures and policies vary. Sometimes there will be heavy involvement with Joint Chief of
Staff actions. The sooner you "learn the terrain" the better able you will be to discharge your
- Initiate and maintain liaison with your counterparts in Office, Secretary of Defense (OSD).
- You are expected to maintain an awareness of actions being taken at OSD level, which impact
on your functional responsibilities.
- Similarly, you are expected to respond quickly to OSD requests for information and keep your
OSD counterparts informed.
- Such actions, judiciously taken, can lead to improved integration of DOD activities. Informal
information exchange is essential and does not violate command channels.
- Be diplomatic and pleasant in your dealings with others.
- This is always a good rule. The staff is made up of individuals, and maintenance of
harmonious relationships will make your assignment to the staff more enjoyable and productive.
- In most staff jobs you will have some cause to deal with members of other Services, OSD
personnel, and even the general public. How they view the Army will be tempered by the attitude
Do not write when you can telephone, e-mail, or discuss a matter personally.
- Nothing uses up a staff officer's time more quickly than writing memoranda. Quite often,
such memoranda are unnecessary.
- Learn what telephone or personal contact can accomplish and develop a list of contact
personnel with telephone numbers and e-mail addresses to use in handling actions.
- Caution: Do not trust your memory when handling actions informally; keep a simple record of
whom you contacted and the outcome.
Suspense dates are not inflexible.
- Given good reasons, suspense dates often can be extended. When an action is received,
immediately evaluate the time allowed to complete it.
- When time is obviously insufficient, submit a prompt request for extension. Do not wait until the
last minute to do thisit may not be possible to extend the suspense (e.g., OSD and
Before initiating an action, ask yourself this questionis it really necessary?
- When slack periods develop, do not use time to generate unnecessary paperwork. The number
of papers you can produce does not judge your value to the Staff or expertise as a staff officer.
- A common failing, when slack develops, is to rewrite directives that do not need rewriting or
to generate some new requirement or report.
- Consider the impact on organizations in the field or other HQDA agencies. Efficient administration
is achieved by minimizing paperwork not by creating more.
- Ask yourself if there is a better way to accomplish or streamline the task. Automation is a great
tool if applied properly.
Always use the proper media and procedures in preparing a staff action.
- At HQDA level, staff actions can follow any of several formats. To communicate your
recommendations effectively, you need a solid working knowledge of the various types of media.
- When dealing with written communications, concentrate on substance, not word play.
- One syndrome commonly associated with a staff environment is the tendency to spend an
excessive amount of time writing and rewriting papers.
- Staff papers need to be well organized and written clearly, but they do not need to be literary
masterpieces. Substance is the essential element. Write to express, not to impress.
- While professional writing ability is not a requirement, you will be expected to submit papers
that use proper spelling, grammar, and administrative procedures. You should use the active voice
in your writing.
Handcarry Important actions!
- Message centers and record rooms, based on the volume of paperwork processed, and are
not always able to make prompt delivery. Of necessity, their priorities may differ from your own.
- It is always better to handcarry important staff actions personally to the agency concerned,
remembering security requirements in the process.
- Handcarrying the action also places you in the position of being able to tell your superior
exactly where the staff action is. Also, it may allow for on the spot clarification of any questions related
to the action at the time you deliver it, thus avoiding unnecessary wheel spinning.
Integration and coordination are essential.
- Horizontal integration of effort based on a shared understanding of the Army's direction and
priorities between all areas of HQDA, to include the Army Staff, Army Secretariat, and their
subordinate staff support and field operating agencies, is essential. As an action officer, you must recognize
your specific duties and responsibilities in the context of the Army as a whole entity. This will require
an active role while developing and coordinating your actions and a proactive role when providing
in put for someone else's action. If you maintain a passive role with a narrow view of your
specific area of interest, you will do yourself and the Army a disservice by failing to contribute fully.
- When you go to another agency or echelon for a "chop" (concurrence/sign off), make sure you go
to the right person. Not everyone is authorized to chop for an agency. The safest course of action is
to deal through your counterpart to determine the proper point of contact.
- Coordination will be accomplished by the quickest and most informal method appropriate to
the action and its classification.
- Perform as much coordination as possible during the draft stages. This will preclude major
revisions on the final copy. Make sure the individual you are coordinating with clearly understands what
the agency is being asked to chop.
- Remember the staff process is a two way street. The action you help expedite today may help
you move yours tomorrow.
Always follow through.
- Every directive must be accompanied by positive provision for follow-up to ensure that it is obeyed.
- You can crank out tons of paper, but unless you have your hand on the pulse and have a way
of positively checking the results achieved you may be wasting your time and the Army's resources.
- Track each action until it closes. This will also make it possible for you to keep your
supervisor advised of its status.
- Do not turn your desk into a filing cabinet.
- Once an action is complete, make sure the record copy is placed in the office files. Do not
sandbag such cases in your desk. The same applies to papers obtained from the office files, library and
Have a sense of history.
- While the Modern Army Record keeping System (MARKS) provides for the systematic
maintenance and disposal of records, only sound judgment will preserve records of continuing value and
eliminate all others. Many officers find it difficult to determine what is record as opposed to
off-the-record material. In addition, action officers often find it necessary to keep working paper files even
though the record copy is sent to the office files.
- Therefore, before your departure for a new assignment, contact your agency's Records
Management Officer to review your working papers for record copies. In addition, the Center for
Military History will be happy to send a representative to review remaining documents for any that may
be valuable in writing the history of the Army.
Hold to a normal duty day to the extent possible.
- The 12 to 14 hour day can be avoided. After 8 to 10 hours of continuous staff work,
productivity begins to drop significantly, often typified by having to reread the same paper two or three times
to understand it.
- Normal hours keep you fresh, thus tending to increase your level of efficiency. It will also allow
you more time with your familya factor of importance to the Army.
- Regular work hours also help conserve resources in a number of ways. Electricity for lighting
is saved and you are better able to use public transportation or a car pool, thus conserving fuel.
- There is one last consideration. If you work long hours, your subordinates may interpret this as
a requirement to stay as well, even when there is no work to be done.
Respect the opinion of your colleagues.
- From the standpoint of background and experience, civilian professionals will often have
much more knowledge of a given subject area than their military associates can expect to acquire
during a normal tour of the HQDA Staff.
- Conversely, military professionals will usually have the advantage of recent field experience
and technical training.
- The Staff operates as a teameach person complementing the ability of others.
Remember the mission.
- Avoid tunnel vision. Sure, your job is important, but think in terms of the basic Army
missionsuccess in combat. View your assigned responsibilities in terms of that mission and those
agency functions that support it.
- This is the Hallmark of a Professional Staff Officer.
Be security conscious.
- Action officers often must review or originate highly classified information. This frequent
exposure, plus an environment of haste and urgency, can tend to cause carelessness and security
violations. Be sure that classified records are secured promptly, classified waste is destroyed without
delay, and office safes are locked and checked before you leave the area.
- Never leave classified documents, notes, and other materials unattended, in your desk, or in a
box subject to being buried. Don't retain any classified paper you don't absolutely have to keep.
Screen classified files regularly to weed them out.
Reinforce good performance.
- When employees do a good job, let them know it. This will serve to promote further
improvements. Don't be overly critical. Remember that "abilities wither under faultfinding, blossom under
Maintain a point of contact list.
- A record or list of your points of contact and counterparts in other agencies not only assists
your coordination efforts, but is a valuable aid to other action officers who may, due to circumstances,
be required to pick up one of your actions on short notice.
- It also will be extremely useful to your replacement and save headaches, time and grief after
Keep a personal set of key directives.
It will pay to study and learn certain regulations from cover to cover. Your personal reference set
of directives should, as a minimum, consist of the following:
- AR 10-5 covers HQDA organization and functions.
- DA Memo 10-7 prescribes relationships, between the Army Staff and Army Secretariat.
- DA Memo 25-52 is the action officers' bible when it comes to processing staff actions.
- DA General Order 10 prescribes the duties and responsibilities of the Army Secretariat.
- Army Handbook for Joint Actions prescribes precise procedures for JCS.
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