Air Force plan to strip generals of authority

U.S. Air Force Capt. Philip Gunn participates in a flyover during the internment ceremony of Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner, Jan. 23, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery. Risner was the Air Force's 20th ace and survived more than seven years of captivity as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. Gunn is a 336th Fighter Squadron weapons system officer assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (Courtesy photo)U.S. Air Force Capt. Philip Gunn participates in a flyover during the internment ceremony of Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner, Jan. 23, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery. Risner was the Air Force’s 20th ace and survived more than seven years of captivity as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. Gunn is a 336th Fighter Squadron weapons system officer assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. (Courtesy photo)
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Senior Air Force leaders have drafted a budget-driven plan that would strip the three- and four-star generals who oversee major commands of their authority to manage their bases.

A draft of the plan obtained by The Washington Times shows that the Air Force is aiming to consolidate support operations under the umbrella of a single center, known as the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center.


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The tricky endeavor would shuffle day-to-day base management issues — such as construction, maintenance and procurement of equipment and supplies — from under the authority of the senior generals who command the bases to the leadership of a two-star general who would run the support center, according to the draft proposal.

The plan was born out of a directive from Air Force leadership last year to reduce headquarters operations costs at least 20 percent by 2019. It cites reductions contained in the Budget Control Act that were implemented by the Obama administration in 2011.

The consolidation would affect the service’s 10 major commands, each of which specializes in areas such as technical training, management of non-nuclear combat air power and global air mobility.

The generals who oversee those commands function as senior executives, ensuring that core programs and missions run efficiently and effectively, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. Base management has included a measure of autonomy.

The proposal is similar to the way the Army and Navy are organized, but the Air Force has long resisted consolidation of support services, noting that bases are more integral parts of their operations than they are to other military branches.

Douglas Birkey, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said budget pressure is so extreme that Air Force officials have had “to come down very quickly on certain ramps to attain certain goals.” That pressure, he said, drives “some pretty aggressive moves” that achieve short-term objectives but “can undermine things in the long haul.”

“Today’s leaders have no other choice,” he said.

General vs. general

Senior Air Force officials say the plan will save money by eliminating redundancies in areas such as personnel. They say in the document that the shuffle will provide the Air Force with “a once in a lifetime opportunity to more effectively and efficiently manage installation resources.”

But one Pentagon official with knowledge of the plan and its potential implementation said it could cause rifts between generals who command the bases and the two-star generals who would be charged with overseeing the assigned resources.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, speculated that such a move could create communications issues capable of obstructing day-to-day operations such as base repairs, training and finance decisions.

Space planning, engineering programs, cyberforce training management and readiness training are just a few of the dozens of the capabilities that will be ripped from the control of the major commanders and realigned under support center management, according to the draft plan.

“I personally don’t think it’s going to work,” the official said, pointing out that the Army’s version of the support service is a command-level unit while in the Air Force it would be placed under an existing command — a structure that could create potential bureaucratic conflicts of interest.

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