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USAF Nixes Guard-Reserve Merger Proposal

Aug. 28, 2011 - 03:45AM   |  
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The U.S. Air Force will work to standardize the pay systems of the active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve forces, but it does not plan to pursue a proposal to merge the Guard and Reserve, the service's chief of staff said.

The retired generals who propose the merger say it could save billions of dollars and improve U.S. security, but current service leaders say it's too big an undertaking just now, particularly as the service prepares for recapitalization and budget uncertainty.

Instead, the Air Force will work on reforming the pay systems, Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an Aug. 24 interview.

"We think that sort of an approach, which is more business coordinative, is a much-higher confidence path to achieving efficiencies than sort of large, more difficult to execute organizational changes for which there is less apparent benefit," Schwartz said.

Five retired major generals - three Guard, two Reserve - developed the merger proposal over the last few months.

The authors include Thomas Dyches, who in his last assignment was assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Reserve matters; H.H. "Bugs" Forsythe, who served as mobilization assistant to the commander of 9th Air Force; Andy Love, a one-time special assistant to the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command for National Guard matters; Richard Platt, an Air National Guard assistant to the commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and a former adjunct general of Massachusetts; and Frank Scoggins, a commander of the Washington Air National Guard.

The group contends that the Guard and Reserve compete for funding and missions, which is not efficient or fiscally responsible. The plan seeks to eliminate redundancies between the two organizations.

"They offered what they thought might be a path to pursue, and we've talked about it and I don't [think] that a consolidation of the Guard and Reserve is on the cards at the moment," Schwartz said.

The Air Force Reserve has an authorized end strength of 73,651, a number that includes 3,865 civilians. The Air National Guard has an authorized end strength of 106,700.

The retired generals' paper proposes three specific actions. The first is to combine the staffs of Headquarters Air Force Reserve, Air Force Reserve Command and the Air National Guard into two "air reserve component" (ARC) staffs.

The second action is retain the Individual Mobilization Augmentee program - Reservists and Guardsman who supplement the active duty, particularly during surge periods - and the Air Reserve Personnel Center. The two programs would apply to all ARC members.

The last action would be to convert all Air Force Reserve Command field units to "federally funded, dual-mission status organization responsible to both a federal and state chain of command," the paper states. This would make the forces available to governors, as National Guard troops are, in the instance of an emergency or natural disaster.

"Overall, these actions would produce a more effective orchestration of all elements of Air Force power through tighter integration, sharper focus on the warfighting mission and, consequently, a greatly increased return on investment for America," the paper states.

These actions would reduce staff positions, lessen competition between the two components for funding and missions and create a "more agile, adaptive and flexible force," the paper states.

But Schwartz believes "there's only so much bandwidth" to the generals' proposal.

"I think where you can achieve efficiency, this is a question of what's required and the benefit that would result," Schwartz said. "We're making it a choice that there are things that are higher leverage than approaching the recommendation that the 'Gang of Five' made."

Instead, Schwartz championed Air Force Secretary Michael Donley's plan to combine the three pay systems into one.

"I'm not dismissing that as something we might look at down the road, but given all the things that we've got to address here in the next six months, for example, I think that there are higher leverage things, like the pay initiative, that are smarter to address right now," he said.

Asked about reducing the staff sizes, particularly in the Reserves, Schwartz said: "I think all overhead is under a microscope, and that includes mine."

The group contends savings could be achieved through this method, primarily due to duplication. A 1997 Congressional Budget Office study concluded that merging the Army National Guard and Reserve could save more than $500 million annually.

Since the Air Force's reserve components are smaller than the Army's, the saving would be less, but they could still be substantial, the group contends. They urge both the Air Force and the Congressional Budget Office to conduct cost estimates.

Whether anything comes of the paper is yet to be seen. It is making its way through the Pentagon and throughout the command structure of both the Guard and Reserve.

The Proposal

A group of five retired Air Force generals has written a white paper that proposes combining the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve into a single "Air Reserve Component." The paper proposes three specific actions:

Combine the Headquarters Air Force Reserve staff, the Air Force Reserve Command staff and the Air National Guard staff into to air reserve component staffs using the current AFRC model as a foundation.

Retain the Individual Mobilization Augmentee and Air Force Reserve Personnel Center programs and make their functions applicable to air reserve component members.

Convert all current Air Force Reserve Command field units to federally funded dual mission status organizations responsible to both a federal and state chain of command.

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