When Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government the Constitutional convention delegates had approved, famously answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” And he wasn’t the only one to see the risks.
Keeping it would prove to be a major challenge. Many of the Founding Fathers, including our early presidents, recognized how fragile our newborn country was. That is why the Constitution requires that each President must take an oath of office to defend it “… against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This meant then, as now, defending our country against foreign powers wishing to extend their influence and control as well as homegrown demagogues, mob rule, or any other attempt to usurp or overthrow our Constitutional republic’s government.
Defending our republic also raised some issues and questions about military forces and how they could be best created and used without the unwanted consequences that had plagued Europe and impoverished so much of its population.
Societies and governments have pondered the role of the military when not actually at war ever since the time of the ancient Greeks. Still, there were no guidebooks to answer questions about how to govern and preserve a republic of free citizens. We had to find our own way.
Two recent reports on the U.S. military remind us that these questions are still with us. There were two interesting reports on military issues released recently. Both raise some interesting questions about the structure of the U. S. Military force and its relationship to the civilian economy.
Both reports are from the RAND Corporation and one concludes that Army company commanders are overworked. The other concludes that we may be overpaying our military forces.
The report on workloads, entitled, “Reducing the Time Burdens of Army Company Leaders” examined the work done by the Army’s leadership positions — the commanding officer, executive officer and sergeants — to find out, in the words of Richard Scarry’s book, “what do people do all day.”
What they found wasn’t totally surprising, but it is important. According to the report, “Their jobs are burdensome in part because of the number of requirements imposed on them by higher headquarters.” That phenomenon hasn’t changed much in at least a hundred years of our own history, and probably since armies first existed.
What is disturbing about this report, though, is that so much of the burdensome demands have little or nothing to do with readiness. The report’s conclusions noted that:
• “Company leaders are focused on mitigating job demands.
• There is overtasking by higher echelons.
• There are competing taskings from multiple higher echelons.
• Senior leaders lack understanding of time requirements.
• There is a hyper focus on details rather than substance.
• Company commanders are reluctant to report honestly.”
Even to a reader with no experience in military service this doesn’t sound like a combat-ready team. It sounds like an organization being devoured by its own bureaucracy. Probably the most worrisome conclusion is the last one, for operational readiness is dependent on accurate, honest reporting.
The second RAND report isn’t very reassuring, either. Entitled, “Setting Military Compensation to Support Recruitment, Retention and Performance,” it looks at the existing pay structure and examines how well it conforms with what we ask of it.
As we might expect, the report is as complex as the pay system, but the first of the key recommendations is clear. It states, “Assess whether the 70th percentile of the civilian pay for civilians with similar characteristics to military personnel continues to be the right benchmark for setting the level of military pay.”
Comparisons of pay scales of military members are almost always inaccurate and misleading, just as are comparisons between civil service and private sector workers’ pay. Members of the uniformed military services have very different tasks and responsibilities. Comparisons of pay scales, then, are bound to be faulty from the start. Providing a bench mark, currently 70th percentile of civilian pay, is a comfortable way to structure a pay scale, but it is unlikely to do its job properly.
The RAND report on compensation has it right. The military pay scale has to be evaluated on the basis of whether it fits the recruiting, quality and retention of the service members needed at the force levels necessary to defend our nation from all foreign enemies — and there are plenty of them out there.
The RAND reports are, in many respects, time studies and management audits. The force levels needed have to face not only the enemies but also the cold reality of economics. Military pay is a significant factor in federal budgeting, and so is efficient, goal-driven management. Military forces are expensive, and we need to obtain the most effectiveness from the money spent. Our future depends on it.