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Senate Panel Sticks With Smaller Army

Friday, May 13, 2016

The House and Senate are moving in different directions on Army personnel strength levels as they work on the 2017 defense budget. The House Armed Services Committee has authorized and the House Appropriations Committee is funding a reversal of planned Army troop cuts. Under the House versions of 2017 policy and funding bills for DoD, active-duty Army strength is set at 480,000 soldiers for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, an increase of 5,000 soldiers over the 2016 limit and 20,000 over the Defense Department’s request. Additionally, the pending House bills authorize and fund 350,000 Army National Guard soldiers, 8,000 more than 2016 levels and 15,000 more than the Pentagon request, and provides for 205,000 Army Reserve soldiers in 2017, a level 7,000 more than authorized this year and 10,000 above the budget request. The added cost of the additional soldiers is paid for by diverting money from the overseas contingency fund, a shift opposed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the White House. The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, stuck with the Pentagon’s plan to keep reducing the size of the Army. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act approved May 12 by the Senate Armed Services Committee does not include the added Army personnel strength. Additionally, the Senate bill calls for significant reductions in flag and general officers. It would cut the number of four-star billets from the current 41 to just 27, and orders a 25 percent reduction in each of one-, two- and three-star grades. “This provision is necessary because the size of the general and flag officer corps has become increasingly out of balance with the size of the force it leads,” the committee said in a press release announcing approval of the bill. “Over the past 30 years, the end-strength of the joint force has decreased 38 percent, but the ratio of four-star officers to the overall force has increased by 65 percent. Especially at a time of constrained defense budgets, the military services must right-size their officer corps and shift as many personnel as possible from staff functions to operational and other vital roles.” The Senate committee also calls for a 25 percent reduction in Senior Executive Service civilians. Differences between the House and Senate approaches will have to be reconciled as the legislative process continues for final authorization and appropriations bills to be passed.