As a retired military officer I note with both interest and alarm that our armed forces are becoming ever more top-heavy and expensive. A USA Today front-page article says that pension benefits are now so lavish that some of the brass are making more in retirement than they made on active duty. The justification for this is retention of expertise. However, an independent watchdog organization, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), points out that,
“for the first time in the more than 200 years that the U.S. has had a standing military, there are fewer than five enlisted personnel for every officer. In other words, today’s military is the most top-heavy force in U.S. history.”
“This progression towards a more top-heavy force is a burden for taxpayers and military commanders. The cost of officers increases markedly with their rank, so taxpayers are overpaying whenever a general or flag officer is in a position that could be filled by a lower ranking officer. The costs involved are more than just compensation for that officer; the subordinate personnel assigned to and overhead associated with a general or flag officer, particularly three- and four-star positions, are the greatest additional expense. Additionally, some military personnel experts say unnecessarily top-heavy organizations with excessive layers of “middle management” hinder military effectiveness as they slow decision cycles. (SecDef Robert) Gates claimed that “in some cases the gap between me and an action officer may be as high as 30 layers,” and this results in a “bureaucracy which has the fine motor skills of a dinosaur.”
How many Generals and Admirals does it take to wage war? I know of no way to quantify an answer to this question but I do know from my own service career that there has always been a clear distinction between “General” officers and “Field-grade” officers. The latter operate in the field where the action is, and the top brass generally (pun intended) set broad strategy, manage resources, and otherwise push paper.
Personally I would have thought that the the brass in the Pentagon would have reached a critical mass of diminishing returns under the Peter Principle a long time ago, but there appears to be no limit in sight. I wonder, will there someday be one General officer for every enlisted person? (Even in my time, over 30 years ago, we in the field referred to the Pentagon as the “Puzzle Palace” for its apparent disconnect from our realities.) Seems to me the situation is redolent of the recent book, Top Secret America which details the explosion without apparent limit of the military industrial complex that General Eisenhower warned of.
POGO calls the phenomenon “Star Creep”, a subset of Brass Creep. (How many Generals and Admirals does it take to catch underwear bombers? Possible answer: a lot fewer than to rebuild hopelessly backward Islamic countries in our own political image.) Will the President address the problem, assuming his re-election and successful withdrawal from Afghanistan? I’ve heard nothing about it, if so. Would any of the GOP nominee field do so? My impression is that only Ron Paul wouldn’t make it even worse.
I submit Star Creep is something the electorate needs to be aware of. George Patton, not to mention the unassuming Ike, would be astounded at what has happened.
- Ike’s Nightmare (my.firedoglake.com)
- The Man Of Peace (huffingtonpost.com)
- Imperial Overstretch: Is A Bloated Defense Budget Weakening the U.S.? (ibtimes.com)