Sequestration Hits Military Senior Ranks

The Navy will cut or consolidate 35 flag officer positions, while the Army plans to reduce Headquarters staff by 25 percent.
ray odierno.jpg
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Navy officials call it "a tough choice." The Army is more blunt: "The money is gone." Sequestration has hit the senior ranks of the Army and Navy, as both services plan to cut the number of high-ranking personnel.

Navy officials announced plans this week to reduce, eliminate or consolidate a total of 35 flag officer positions. And last week, the Army issued a memo, obtained by Defense News, that said they plan to reduce staff at the two-star level and above by 25 percent.

In the Navy, the cuts will affect the ranks of rear admiral (lower half) (O-7) through vice admiral (O-9). Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson said the cuts were "the right thing to do" and noted that flag officer end strength adjustments will be completed using a phased approach by fiscal year 2017.

"We had to make tough choices but it was the right thing to do - the plan is in line with congressional mandates, OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense] guidance and our changing fiscal environment," Ferguson said. "This plan postures the Navy to absorb future reductions in headquarters and staff due to sequestration. In fact, we plan to submit the elimination of an additional six flag billets with the FY15 defense budget" and "reflects our commitment to working more efficiently and cost-effectively in this resource constrained environment without putting our warfighting capabilities at risk."

In the Army, news of the officer reductions was unambiguous. The memo, signed by Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, reads:

Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities.

The memo went on to warn staff against clever accounting, noting "movement of personnel outside of headquarters to subordinate units is not a legitimate means of achieving savings. Teams should consider consolidation, reductions, and closing organizations."

The memo warned that the Budget Control Act of 2011, which triggered sequestration, "will significantly decrement the Army's budget in the foreseeable future."

"Given these reductions, we must focus on the Army's core missions, sustaining the Army's ability to provide a smaller, more capable Army able to provide ready land forces to meet combatant commanders' global requirements; develop leaders for the 21st century, while maintaining the bonds of trust with Soldiers and Families," the memo said. "To ensure Army readiness at these reduced budget levels, we must make the best and maximum use of every single dollar provided to the Army.

McHugh and Odierno said they want to see proposals for the across-the-board cuts no later than Sept. 11.

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Mark Micheli is the editor of Excellence in Government Online and a special-projects editor for Government Executive Media Group. He also contributes to GovExec, NextGov, and Defense One

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