Summary: The great expansion of the US military, begun by Reagan and boosted by GW Bush after 9/11, has shifted into retreat due to the lack of threatening great powers and the end of our mad occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Now begins the equally fierce papers war to determine what gets cut in our vast armed forces. Experience suggests that our dysfunctional military will cut muscle, not fat.
This is the second in a series about the leadership of the US military, the people who will determine the effectiveness of our military in the ago of 4th generation war. (1st of 2 posts today.)
“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
— Opening sentence of “Parkinson’s Law“, C. Northcote Parkinson, The Economist, 19 November 1955. He describes Britain’s creation of “a magnificent Navy on land” to replace its fleet.
Parkinson wrote using data from long ago. Let’s shift forward to today, with a recommended reading about our billion-dollar-per-year national defense system: “Pentagon bureaucracy grows as troops are cut” by Tara Copp (Washington Examiner, 25 January 2015). To understand this strange but sad phenomenon we have an analysis by a guest author with experience in these matters..
“Why does the force continue to grow?
Because the tail wags the dog.”
By Danny Hundley (Colonel, USMC, retired).
During the 8 years I worked in Manpower (Officer Assignment Branch) at Headquarters Marine Corps I helped develop the Joint Duty Assignment Management Information System. I know that if the military did not have some of the best Manpower processes in the world, the bureaucracy would be much worse than it is now.
So how is the tail is wagging the dog? Manpower is being cut by the bureaucrats without regard to mission. The services attempt to take into account the mission requirements when making cuts but the Congress does not. It just says cut. Also, the Congress continually legislates new requirements that necessitates growing staff to answer the mail. For example, when Goldwater-Nichols became law, the Congress had many requirements for annual reports.
These reports were never required before. To make matters worse, many of the reports required the services to keep data that it had never been required to keep before. Goldwater-Nichols was many years ago but the politics and off-the-cuff requirements still come faster than any physical capability to react. Anyone who understands what is required to maintain proper personnel requirements to meet mission, knows the ability to do a mission is easily destroyed when manpower cuts are required without sufficient time to determine impact to mission.
We can tear down proper manpower structure for military organizations much more quickly than we can build it, especially when we do not properly consider standing down mission requirements as we cut.
The statement in the article, “it would make sense that as active duty forces drawdown, so would the staff managing them”, can only make sense if the work load for the staff has decreased accordingly. I really doubt that it has. Actually, I would be very surprised if their work-load has not increased significantly.
How many additional bureaucratic reports are now being required of the staff that is to be cut? What additional work is the staff trying to accomplish to realign quickly changing structure so missions can be accomplished? I could write a book about all of the dominoes that fall when trying to accomplish this very fuzzy mission of saving money through Manpower cuts – especially when there is inadequate time to consider mission impacts. Bottom line – mission is supposed to determine manpower not the other way around.
The article stated that the “GAO found that the Pentagon doesn’t have a requirements process to determine whether its headquarters personnel levels are appropriate, and it doesn’t periodically reassess personnel to see if staffing levels are correct.” Whomever from the GAO made this statement needs to explain it. What do they mean when they say “the Pentagon”?
All of the services have a significant amount of structure at the Pentagon and I know all the services have such processes. I’ve worked with them. Also, one does not “reassess personnel to see if staffing levels are correct.” To determine if staffing levels are correct, one reassesses the mission.
The statement that, “on the civilian side, unless significant personnel cuts are made, the Pentagon will have to keep taking sequestration savings from its procurement and modernization accounts”, illustrates some fact but it mostly illustrates a huge lack of understanding.
- Some cuts in procurement comes from the fact that less equipment is needed because there are fewer people to use it.
- The cuts will often result in mission realignments or changes that will cause cuts in procurements and possibly changes in when and where the procurements need to be made.
Focus must be on mission. Requirements for procurements must be made based upon mission. We’re cutting manpower, so what mission is being cut? We’re cutting procurements so what mission is being cut? Also, do the procurement cuts match the manpower cuts? Of course, there are times when Congress people will require the services to buy equipment for which they have no requirement. In other words, the service has no mission for the equipment. Thus, the service must use resources to maintain non-mission equipment. I can only guess why our politicians do this. I can’t imagine a reason that could be legitimate.
Any organization, government or private, messes up in a big way when the drive is to cut people without properly addressing the mission of the organization. The only Manpower that should ever be cut is that which is not needed to successfully complete the organization’s mission.
Since Manpower is the biggest cost for many organizations, leaders seeking success should invest in capabilities that will ensure that they have, at all times, the appropriate Manpower and corresponding training requirements to complete mission. When I worked at Headquarters Marine Corps I defended my structure (which was just a few positions) by aligning my structure to the mission. When someone came and said you have to cut personnel, I gave them the list of people and their impact on the mission. They could not make the decision then on cutting mission.
The ultimate desire of our leaders is to spend less. The actions being taken, however, will ultimately result in more spending than any savings recouped via the sequestration.
About the author
Danny Hundley (Colonel, USMC, retired) spent almost eight years working at Headquarters Marine Corps in the Manpower Department. Later, he served as the Director of Reserve Affairs at the Marine Corps Systems Command where he facilitated the development of processes to ensure procurement of equipment for the Marine Corps Reserve. Colonel Hundley also served many years later as the Senior Manpower, Personnel & Training Analyst for Information Systems and Infrastructure at the Marine Corps Systems Command.
He is a certified acquisition professional with certifications from the Defense Acquisition University in Acquisition Logistics, Systems Planning, Research, Development, and Engineering (SPRDE), Program Management and Information technology.
Other posts in this series
- How officers adapt to life in the Pentagon: they choose the blue pill.
- Why does the military continue to grow? Because the tail wags the dog. By Danny Hundley (Colonel, USMC, retired).
- Overhauling The Officer Corps. By David Evans (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired).
- The cost of too many generals: paying more to get a less effective military.
- William Lind looks at our generals, sees “rank incompetence”.
For More Information
(a) Hundley provided a comment with some links to more useful information about this topic.
(b) See “The Pentagon’s Growing Army of Bureaucrats“, Mackenzie Eaglen (American Enterprise Institute), op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 29 January 2015 — “Since 2009, the military’s civilian workforce has grown by about 7% while fighting forces have been cut by 8%.”
(c) About the US officer corps:
- The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders.
- The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it.
- About military leaders in the 21st century: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”.
- Preface to Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions.
- Training of officers, a key step for the forging of an effective military force.
- Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century.
- Leadership in action: when resource constraints meet conspicuous consumption, we just ignore the problem.
- Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired).
- How bad is our bloat of generals? How does it compare with other armies?
- A step to getting an effective military. We might need it soon.