Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., center, speaks with Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June. Webb is on a Senate panel studying why the military has so many admirals and generals. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
A Senate panel studying why the military has so many admirals and generals is now turning its attention to the Defense Department's Senior Executive Service ranks.
The personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee is looking at two issues involving the SES: why there are so many high-ranking civilians and why the armed services have different policies for deciding when to assign a civilian or when to assign a flag or general officer to a job.
It is unclear where all of this is headed because the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said Sept. 14 that he was still trying to understand the service policies and had not made up his mind what to do. "This is not intended to be an adversarial hearing," he said. "This is an area we are just beginning to get a look at."
Webb's eye has been focused on so-called "star creep," where the services continue to add more generals and admirals although the number of people in the military is declining. There are about 964 flag and general officers today, down from 1,017 at the end of the Cold War. The total force, however, has dropped by 600,000.
The 30 percent drop in the overall force but 15 percent drop in flag and general officers has created "star creep," said Ben Freeman of the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, who endorsed the idea of also studying the growth in civilian senior executives.
"The average general and admiral has nearly 500 fewer uniformed personnel under their command today than they did in 1991," Freeman said at the hearing.
The Pentagon's top personnel official, Clifford Stanley, said cuts are underway in the top ranks but the Pentagon intends to keep some fat as a cushion in case of emerging needs that could require quick changes in capabilities and commands.
In total, 103 flag and general officer positions will be eliminated, 50 in the next two years and the remainder tied to reductions in overseas contingency operations, said Stanley, DoD's undersecretary for personnel and readiness.
Webb and Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, said that as they look at star creep they also intend to look at SES positions.
"This idea of a top-heavy force is something we should be concerned about," said Graham.