By NICK SCHWELLENBACH
Yesterday, riding the D.C. Metro red line to Union Station, I and some my of colleagues at POGO noted the strange situation we anticipated at the Senate hearing we were about to watch (POGO's Ben Freeman was one of the witnesses who testified on the number of general and flag officers). “So Senator Webb is going to ask a bunch of three- and four-star generals whether there should be as many of them?” one of us asked. “I wonder what their answer will be.”
The answers we were about to hear from generals and admirals were more-or-less a variation of the Air Force’s view as laid out in their written testimony: “Ultimately, we believe that we have the correct mix of military officers and civilian executives to provide the Air Force with the best senior leadership team.” (The Navy did write, however, that it “anticipates additional review to reduce or merge flag officer positions.”)
But what I saw in the Senate hearing room yesterday belies the claim that the size of the senior officer corps is justified. It has often been observed that generals and admirals who testify usually have a large entourage of other officers, sometimes even other generals and admirals and often colonels and lieutenant colonels, tagging along with them to the congressional hearing.
My rough conservative guess is each general and admiral – five total – who testified at the hearing yesterday had at least three individuals in their entourage. Some of these were also general and flag officers (I saw some one stars).
Most of the generals and admirals who testified, except for one, spoke on the second panel. So that means they and their entourages spent roughly an hour and a half actually at the hearing. Let’s assume they spent another hour commuting to the hearing and traveling back. So over a dozen senior military officers spent about a third of an eight-hour work day at this one Senate hearing, and most of them just watched the hearing.
I would never argue that there is no need for congressional witnesses to have some of their staff present since some of those staffers are the real experts on the issues their bosses are testifying on. But it is astounding when you add it all up.
One final anecdote: when many of the generals and admirals who were testifying arrived with their entourages, they filed straight into the Senate hearing room while the rest of the people waiting to watch the hearing patiently stood in line. Many of the members of the entourage were then kicked out by Senate staffers (there is a limit on how many individuals accompanying witnesses can grab seats before the seating is opened up to the public, i.e. those waiting in line.) Those officers then proceeded to cut in front of almost everyone else in line.
Nick Schwellenbach is the POGO Director of Investigations