Shrink the Officer Corps
Over the past 12 years, the officer/enlisted ratio in the US military has slipped from one officer for every six enlisted; to almost one officer for five enlisted. It was 1:10 during World War II. Meanwhile, the services complain that intelligent enlisted people leave the service because of micromanagement. Many enlisted have college degrees and become angry that they earn 50% less for doing jobs similar to officers. Officers are supposed to be executives; do we need one executive to oversee every five enlisted? There are proposals to drastically slash the officer corps to 1:20, a level found in many effective armies. While major cuts are debatable, our military should at least return to the 1:6 ratio of 1990, which would require conversion of 60,000 active officer positions to enlisted ranks This will save $2 billion a year once fully implemented. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office already produced a study on this in 2000.
Congressional Budget Office
Options for National Defense
As part of the post-Cold War drawdown in the military, each of the services cut its officer corps significantly. Those cuts, however, were accompanied by a change in the composition of the armed forces. The ratio of enlisted personnel to officers declined from 6.0 to 1 in 1989 to 5.2 to 1 in 1999 because the officer corps was cut by a smaller percentage than enlisted personnel. The percentage of senior officers--those in the general or flag grades as well as the so-called field grades (major through colonel)--increased. The percentage of officers who entered the military through the service academies also rose.
This option would offset those apparent consequences of the drawdown. It would return the enlisted-to-officer ratio and the percentage of general and flag-level officers to the levels that existed in 1989, when the drawdown began. In addition, the percentage of newly commissioned officers trained in the service academies would be reduced. The option would also reduce the number of field-grade officers, restoring the limits on those positions to levels consistent with the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act before the drawdown. Compared with the Administration's budget request for 2000, those changes would save $35 million in outlays in 2001 and a total of $12 billion through 2010.
In carrying out the drawdown, the services tried to protect officers who were already in the force, many of whom had based their career expectations and financial plans on continued military service. The decline in the enlisted-to-officer ratio suggests that those efforts may have created an unbalanced force. The services might argue that the decline was driven by changing requirements as a result of new technologies and military doctrines that have decreased the need for enlisted personnel relative to the need for officers. But some critics see the timing of the shift as suspicious. Moreover, when the drawdown began, none of the services expected that their future requirements for enlisted personnel would fall as much as they did relative to requirements for officers. This option would restore the enlisted-to-officer ratio to the 1989 level of 6.0 to 1 by reducing the size of the officer corps by about 15,900 and increasing the size of the enlisted force by an equal amount.
That reduction would be targeted primarily toward officers in the field, general, and flag grades. The percentage of general and flag officers would be reduced gradually to the 1989 level by restricting promotions into those grades. Reductions in the field grades could be achieved by encouraging officers to leave the service voluntarily, through such programs as the temporary early retirement authority (TERA), voluntary separation incentive (VSI), and special separation benefit (SSB).
Over a period of four to five years, the number of general or flag officers would be reduced by about 200 through attrition, while about 12,600 field-grade officers and 3,100 junior officers (second lieutenant through captain) would be separated. Assuming that field-grade officers with less than 20 years of service would receive TERA and those with 6 to 15 years of service would receive VSI or SSB, the savings in pay would initially be offset entirely by the cost of separation payments. Net savings in pay would amount to a total of $9.6 billion through 2010.
Supporters of this option would argue that the services' actions have resulted in a force that is too senior and contains more officers than needed to lead the remaining enlisted personnel. In their view, much of the expertise and combat readiness that senior officers provide could be obtained at lower cost from highly capable senior enlisted personnel and junior officers. Opponents, by contrast, might argue that separating additional senior officers would constitute a breach of faith because it would cut short the careers of some service members. Moreover, the services' efforts to implement the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the Defense Acquisition Workforce Act of 1990 may have increased requirements for those relatively senior officers.
This option would also return the mix of academy and nonacademy graduates entering active duty to the level that prevailed before the drawdown. Although the number of students in the service academies declined during the drawdown, academy graduates account for 14 percent of new officers now compared with 9 percent in the early 1980s. Under this option, the total number of officer accessions would remain near the level planned by the Department of Defense, but the services would draw more officers from lower-cost commissioning programs--the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and Officers Candidate School/Officer Training School (OCS/ OTS)--and fewer from the more costly service academies. The estimated savings from that action reflect only the costs that would change in the near term, such as operating expenses and pay for faculty and cadets. Those savings would be partially offset by additional costs of about $350 million over 10 years to procure officers from OCS and ROTC to replace those from the academies. As a result, this change would save $75 million in outlays in 2001 and a total of nearly $2.4 billion through 2010. In the longer term, savings might also accrue from changes in the academies' physical plant.
Supporters of changing the mix of new officers might argue that the academies are larger than many successful private colleges and that additional cuts to them are feasible. Moreover, a balanced mix of academy graduates and accessions from other commissioning programs may be needed to maintain good civil/ military relations and ensure that the officer corps reflects the full diversity of U.S. society. Opponents of that change would contend that the service academies are the best source of future military leaders and that academy graduates are well worth the dollars spent on them. Some opponents might also argue that the academies have already reduced their class size to the minimum efficient level.
END OF REPORT_____________________________________
April 30, 2002
This transition will cost no money if implemented over a decade. It is best to implement a plan to convert 60,000 officer position as soon as possible, and then continue the debate about the correct officer:enlisted ratio.
Carlton Meyer editor@G2mil.com