We did cut generals, Pentagon responds

Pentagon officials on Tuesday said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta never abandoned a plan to cut the ranks of flag and general officers, rejecting a recent allegation by one budget watchdog. Ben Freeman, of the Project on Government Oversight, said on Monday that Panetta “abandoned” Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to cut the ranks. Freeman ...

Mark Wilson/Getty Image
Mark Wilson/Getty Image
Mark Wilson/Getty Image

Pentagon officials on Tuesday said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta never abandoned a plan to cut the ranks of flag and general officers, rejecting a recent allegation by one budget watchdog.

Ben Freeman, of the Project on Government Oversight, said on Monday that Panetta “abandoned” Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to cut the ranks. Freeman was asked to name what Panetta would be leaving undone when he departs the job, as expected, in the next administration.

Elieen Lainez, a DOD spokeswoman, explained to the E-Ring that the efficiency program is on track to “eliminate” as planned 102 [general and flag] officer positions and “reduce” 23 additional positions to a lower rank. Of the 102 to be cut, 74 were to be slashed by March 2013. To date, Lainez said, DOD has eliminated 68 of those 74. Another 28 positions were related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be eliminated “as conditions on the ground warrant.”

Pentagon officials on Tuesday said that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta never abandoned a plan to cut the ranks of flag and general officers, rejecting a recent allegation by one budget watchdog.

Ben Freeman, of the Project on Government Oversight, said on Monday that Panetta “abandoned” Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to cut the ranks. Freeman was asked to name what Panetta would be leaving undone when he departs the job, as expected, in the next administration.

Elieen Lainez, a DOD spokeswoman, explained to the E-Ring that the efficiency program is on track to “eliminate” as planned 102 [general and flag] officer positions and “reduce” 23 additional positions to a lower rank. Of the 102 to be cut, 74 were to be slashed by March 2013. To date, Lainez said, DOD has eliminated 68 of those 74. Another 28 positions were related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be eliminated “as conditions on the ground warrant.”

DOD contends that rate shows Panetta has not dropped the ball on the General/Flag Officer Efficiency working group recommendations made to Gates in 2011. DOD counts the number of positions, Lainez said, instead of people on payroll because the latter includes retirees awaiting their departure or officers in between jobs.

“We are eliminating the positions as the incumbents depart, and reducing personnel through normal attrition processes (retirement, etc). Additionally, the services are simultaneously reducing their promotion selection rates to reflect the lower number of future authorizations,” she wrote in a follow-up email.

But Freeman stuck by his claim on Wednesday, calling the Pentagon’s pushback a case of apples vs. oranges — or positions vs. actual people getting government paychecks.

“We’ve heard all this before, and it’s fuzzy math. They’re counting positions, I’m counting taxpayer dollars,” he said. “The primary goal of this initiative was to save taxpayer money and create a more efficient force structure. Gates was less concerned with positions than he was with eliminating waste. A general ‘between jobs’ is still on the payroll. He may not have all the chefs, drivers, and string quartets he’s accustomed to, but he’s still on the payroll.”

Freeman said the Pentagon’s rolls, as listed online, show they have not reduced the number of people they should have, by now.

“If they have dropped below 900 G/FOs, it’s hard to imagine they would have not only kept quiet about it, but actively stopped updating their rosters. If they are in fact below 900 G/FOs and had made that information public, I would have been the first to commend the military for streamlining its top-ranks,” he said.

“So, again, my question for them stands: how many generals and admirals are on the DOD’s payroll right now? And, why haven’t they been reporting that number?”

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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