The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) recently proposed a 25% reduction across the board for general officers. The bill would cut the number of four star officers from 41 to 27, representing one of the largest reductions in modern history.
A summary of the committee’s bill states the drawdown in general officers also applies at the three, two, and one-star levels. The majority staff reasons, “Over the past 30 years, the end-strength of the joint force has decreased 38 percent, but the ratio of four-star officers to the overall force has increased by 65 percent.”
A litany of aides and other staff officers accompany each general officer, significantly bloating the number of military personnel in administrative roles. The growth in the number of administrative roles relative to the fighting force concerned the committee, who want to “shift as many personnel as possible from staff functions to operational and other vital roles.”
Getting rid of a large number of generals is not a new idea. Then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed cutting the number of generals by 20%, but was not in office long enough to achieve his goal. Secretary Robert Gates, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, once proposed reducing the number of generals by 50 as a cost cutting measure.
Slate, examining then Secretary-Gates proposal, found that salaries for America’s generals represented nearly $200 million alone in 2010 U.S. military expenditures. Given the number of aides and staff officers that accompany each general, Slate estimated each cost the U.S. taxpayer nearly $1 million.
“The reason the 25% HQ and other budget/staff cuts was directed came partly as a result of the Pentagon’s inability to get at bureaucratic overhead and civilian bloat using a scalpel,” Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute wrote to The Daily Caller News Foundation over email.
The proposal met significant pushback from some senators on Capitol Hill. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia suggested to Military.com the proposal was ill considered, going so far as to say the committee “pulled out of thin air” the 25% number.
Chris Brose, majority staff director of SASC, strongly pushed back against the criticism to TheDCNF, saying “The final outcome is not a mindless salami slice 25 cut on each grade,” and that while he was happy to debate the merits of the cut, his committee’s proposal was “certainly not ill considered.”
Eaglen echoed Brose’s sentiments to TheDCNF saying, “This was not a number pulled out of thin air, contrary to Sen. Kaine’s comments.” Eaglen explained “while there have been smaller, sporadic efforts to reduce the flag and general officer ranks in recent years—particularly below the 3-star level—Congress clearly thinks it was not enough nor happening quickly enough.”
The bloated number of general officers may even be hindering America’s fight against the Islamic State. In March, The Daily Beast reported there may be as many as 21 U.S. generals leading the war effort against the terrorist group. The idea is that each of these generals represent bureaucratic hurdles for war-fighters to jump through, making routine authorizations complex procedures.
Phillip Lohaus, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, described the war effort against ISIS to TheDCNF as, “rife with sluggishness.”
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