But the manpower reductions only go so far. While thousands of NCOs and lower-ranking officers left the service (and were never replaced), the Air Force was expanding its senior leadership cadre. In fact, the USAF has added 44 new general officer billets over the past seven years, as detailed by Scott Fontaine of Air Force Times.
While the Times hasn't posted Fontaine's piece on its website, the Project on Government Oversight blog has extraced some nuggets from the article; read it and your blood will boil:
These totals are even more amazing when you consider that outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has railed against "brass creep"--the steady (and presumably, unnecessary) expansion of flag-rank positions while other billets are being slashed. But the Boys (and Girls) in Blue managed to pull it off. And with Mr. Gates riding into the sunset, the service may see new opportunities for more general officer billets under the new SecDef, Leon Panetta.
We haven't seen the Air Force's justification for more generals. But the service has long proved adept at preserving its "flag class." Almost 20 years ago, then-Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill "Tony" McPeak launched a re-organization of wing-level organizations, putting a brigadier general in charge of most. McPeak said the move was justified by the "size" and "mission" of a typical flying wing. Never mind that Colonels had been leading those same units, in war and peace, for more than 30 years. Putting a one-star in charge of a wing preserved a number of brigadier general billets.
But that was just the start of the preservation game. McPeak and his minions added more groups below the wing commander, saving a lot of O-6 positions. The Air Force also added new "mission support squadrons" (MSS) in the operations group, putting such functions as intelligence and weather under the charge of a rated officer (usually a pilot).
Officially, the service claimed the new organizational scheme made support elements more responsive to the operational mission. That claim was dubious at best, but another benefit was abundantly clear. MSS leadership billets preserved slots for pilots who needed a squadron commander tour in order to advance.
For his next project, we'd like to see Mr. Fontaine tackle a companion issue. Over the past decade, there has been even greater growth in the number of senior civil servants working for the Air Force (grades GS-14, 15 and the SES ranks); in fact that number dwarfs the increase in general officer billets.
True, a brigadier general with 24 years of service earns more than $180,000 a year in pay and benefits. But a GS-14 with a little experience (and locality pay) pulls down $100,000 annually, and pay rates for SES and comparable Senior Level (SL) positions command salaries ranging from $119,000- $179,000 a year.
How fast are the civilian ranks expanding? Consider this example: Wright-Patterson AFB, the largest single employer in the state of Ohio, will add more than 900 civilians to its workforce this year. Obviously, those new employees aren't starting off at the SES level. But the service hires more than a few civilians at the GS/GG-13 and 14 levels, putting them on track to compete for SES positions in the future.