While many Americans are trimming their tree this holiday season, the Defense Department will most likely be preparing to trim something else.
The 2017 defense authorization bill requires cuts and caps to military and civilian positions, mostly within headquarters elements of the Defense Department and the military services. One 2015 study by the Defense Business Board estimated about one million people were employed in “backoffice” functions.
The bill passed both the House and the Senate by veto proof margins, so it is all but certain the reductions will become a reality.
Senior Executive Service
The NDAA mandates a 25 percent cut of Senior Executive Service (SES) officials by 2019.
The bill also requires that DoD place a limit on the number of SES officials at 1,260 by the end of 2022. Additionally, there will be no more than 200 highly qualified experts on staff.
The Office of Personnel Management’s most recent report on the SES from 2014 stated DoD had 1,208 SES members on the payroll. The bill would require DoD to drop that number down to 906. Minimum pay for SES officials is currently set at almost $122,000 a year.
In July letter to Congress, Defense Secretary Ash Carter “strongly” objected to the SES provision. Carter stated the 25 percent cut was arbitrary.
“The Department supports the elimination of unnecessary and excessive executive positions, and has reduced the size of our SES workforce by 105 since 2010. However, any further reductions to SES positions should be made in a deliberate manner following a review and analysis of the impact of such reductions on each component or agency,” the letter stated.
General and Flag Officers
Congress is pushing back the number of general and flag officers the military employs by 25 percent as well.
The bill asks the defense secretary to conduct a study of general and flag officers to justify each of the officer positions in terms of the overall force. It also asks the secretary to identify an additional 10 percent reduction in the number of positions.
Congress wants DoD to provide a plan to reduce the number of general and flag officers to 110 billets by 2022.
“Despite two decades of Congressional concern the Department of Defense and the military departments have not demonstrated the willingness to implement even the reduction in the number” of officers, the bill conference report stated.
The Defense Department is already on track to make a 25 percent cut in headquarters staff by 2020, but Congress wants more staff reductions.
The bill limits the number of civilians assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense to 3,767. It limits the number of personnel on the Joint Staff to 1,930 and mandates that no more than 1,500 may be active duty military.
The bill cuts the number of general officers assigned to the Office of the Secretary of the Army from 67 to 50 and limits staff to 2,105.
Navy Secretary generals are also cut from 67 to 50 and personnel is limited to 2,866
The Air Force Secretary would go from 60 to 45 generals and drop staff to 2,639.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a series of hearings on DoD waste last year and at the beginning of 2016.
“The growth in Defense infrastructure has been continuous. The tendency has been to add, rather than subtract. As we have added more staff, more layers and more infrastructure, we have slowed the decision process, expanded the number of players and made the overall system more risk adverse, at a time when we need to take more risk and make quicker decisions,” Arnold Punaro, a member of the Defense Business Board, told the committee last year.
Still, Carter objected to the reductions stating “with the ongoing, congressionally mandated reductions, as well as the many other reform efforts the Department has undertaken since 2008, we believe the Department’s headquarters will be right-sized given the tremendous breadth and depth of the Department’s mission.”
National Security Council
Last, the area taking the smallest cut is the organization responsible for advising the president on security matters.
Congress has been critical of the size of the NSC staff over the past year.
The NDAA limits the size of the NSC staff to 150. The reductions must be made 18 months after the bill goes into effect.
Each week, Defense Reporter Jared Serbu speaks one-on-one and in depth with the people responsible for managing the inner workings of the federal government's largest department, and those who know it best. Subscribe to the latest episode on PodcastOne or iTunes.