WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2011 — The nation’s military services will reduce their general and flag officer ranks by 103 by the end of 2014, senior Defense Department officials told Congress members yesterday.
Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, led the witness slate for a two-part hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee on general and flag officer requirements. He was joined by Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, and Benjamin J. Freeman, a national security fellow for the Project on Government Oversight Location.
Stanley and Gortney led a study group tasked by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to identify at least 50 active-duty general or flag officer positions to be eliminated as part of Gates’ efficiency initiatives launched in 2010, Stanley said.
“In addition, the secretary directed that we seek every opportunity to eliminate bureaucracy, reduce overhead, and develop policies to better manage future general and flag-officer growth,” he added.
The study group reviewed the 952 authorized one- to four-star active-duty flag and general officer positions across the services authorized in 2010, Stanley said, and it recommended that 110 positions be eliminated.
Gates approved 103 for elimination, 23 for reduction to a lesser grade, and 10 to be reallocated to joint organizations such as U.S. Cyber Command, he said.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who succeeded Gates, has accepted the policies put in place by his predecessor, Stanley said.
The eliminated flag-officer positions will remain authorized, which gives DOD flexibility to meet emerging requirements, the undersecretary said.
Similarly, Stanley said, the military departments have identified positions they can eliminate or transfer to the senior executive service, the civilian equivalent of flag officers, to gain that same flexibility.
“We refer to this as a service buffer,” Stanley said. “This buffer serves as a shock absorber against new requirements, allowing an offset position to be eliminated without negative impact on the mission or personnel caused by ill-timed action.”
Gortney said weeks before the study group set to work, the services evaluated their general or flag officer positions as “must have, need to have, good to have, and nice to have.”
The study group included members of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and representatives from each service’s general and flag-officer management offices, the vice admiral noted.
“The study group went after growth, and the majority of the growth was in overseas contingency operations,” he said.
Gortney noted that of the 103 positions approved for elimination, 47 are from overseas contingency operations including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Freeman testified on the Project on Government Oversight’s investigation of general and flag officer numbers in the U.S. military.
“In the decade since the war in Afghanistan began, higher ranks grew at a much faster rate than lower ranks,” he said. “The top officer ranks … have grown faster than enlisted and lower officer ranks, and the three- and four-star ranks have increased faster than all other components of the DOD’s force structure.”
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., assistant Marine Corps commandant, and the service vice chiefs of staff, Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Navy Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III, and Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, made up the panel for part two of the hearing.
As operations in Iraq and Afghanistan draw down, Chiarelli told the subcommittee, Pentagon leaders “recognize the military services will be required to make reductions to end strength to include within our flag and general officer ranks.”
By 2014, the Army will reduce the number of its internal general officers by 11 and its joint pool from 102 to a minimum of 82, Chiarelli said. The Army’s general officer end strength, he added, will then be 301, one less than the number in place from 1995 to 2008.
“We believe this projected end strength will be sufficient to meet our need [for] senior leadership, both internal to the Army and across the Department of Defense,” Chiarelli said. “That said, any further reductions or acceleration of planned reductions would jeopardize our ability to effectively meet those requirements.”
Ferguson said the Navy will change some 25 positions, for an end strength of 149 flag officers assigned to the service and 60 in the joint pool.
“In addition, we downgraded 50 officers,” he said. “Flag positions were converted to senior executive service. We fully support these reductions and believe that we’re appropriately sized for our current tasking.”
Dunford said the Marine Corps will reduce its joint general officer pool from 26 to 21 by 2015, and has already eliminated one senior executive service position.
“The current mix of Marine Corps general officers represents the proper balance to support Marine Corps operating forces in supporting element demands across the globe, and we’re satisfied with our joint representation,” he said.
Breedlove said the Air Force has targeted 39 general officer positions and nine SES positions for elimination.
When the reductions are complete in 2014, the Air Force will have 261 general officers and 188 senior executive service positions, he said.
“Ultimately, we believe that we [will] have the correct mix of military officers and civilian executives to provide the Air Force with the best leadership team,” Breedlove said.
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