Army looks to pare soldiers’ administrative tasks: They’re ‘not humanly doable’

This Army-centric edition of Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook is part of our coverage of last week’s Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C. 

 

In recent weeks, we’ve written about a couple of Air Force initiatives intended to scale back on ancillary tasks that have questionable connections to the core business of warfighting, and now it appears the Army is doing much the same — looking for ways to stretch declining budgets by ceasing at least some activities that have been layered onto units over the years.

Eric Fanning, the secretary of the Army (who, perhaps not uncoincidentally was previously the undersecretary of the Air Force), said last week that he’s ordered a new initiative designed to reduce time-consuming requirements directed by Department of the Army headquarters, particularly with regard to training.

“We essentially made a decision that if it’s Army-directed — which, unfortunately, a lot of it is — then we’re going to leave it up to the commanders to figure out how to get their soldiers trained, rather than have them walk through the mandatory PowerPoints we create at headquarters and send out to you in the field,” Fanning said last week at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington. “We need to do that, because we have a number of new warfighting requirements. The continuing resolution that was just signed extends a budget we submitted two years ago, before everything was happening with Russia, before ISIL emerged, before the Chinese became more provocative. So there are a lot of new stressors on the force, and we need to push more authorities and flexibility down to the garrison commanders.”

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Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, said the problem of excessive tasking isn’t just a Pentagon problem, but rather a cumulative one generated by each echelon of the Army’s leadership structure, down to the level of an Army company.

“At the end of the day, the last document I saw was 12 pages of single-spaced, nine-point type listing all of the activities a company commander and a first sergeant have to do, mandated by us. It’s nuts. It’s insane,” he said. “What’s happened over the years is that everyone who has a computer thinks they’re Leo Tolstoy and they want to put 50,000 requirements out there. Their staffs are large, but the company commander has no staff. It’s not humanly doable, and it has a lot of second-and-third order implications.”

Although he did not offer examples, Milley said Army leaders would try to thin out those demands by exercising what he called a “line-item veto” over existing requirements imposed by Army officials at the Pentagon, Army Forces Command or other higher headquarters.

“We are going to delete, in a very deliberate way, any task that is not directly associated with combat readiness and preparation for war. We have to cease fire on all this stuff,” he said.

Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, the service’s top enlisted soldier, said there’s an additional reason the Army needs to free up service members’ time from compulsory computer-based training and administrative compliance: as the Army reduces its reliance on contractors, it’s going to expect soldiers to take over many of the home-station tasks it outsourced while troops were busy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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“That’s part of the way we’re going to reduce our spend and make sure we’re still supplying essential services, and you’re already seeing some of that as soldiers have taken over duties like gate guard,” he said. “That may seem like that’s a detractor to training, but I can tell you that being a gate guard is a way to apply discipline and training to our soldiers. We have to look at opportunities like that where we can balance commanders’ needs on their installations with the needs of individual soldiers for training and readiness.”

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