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Research Questions

  1. Does the current system of general and flag officer authorized strength, including exemptions, provide for a sufficient quantity of RC G/FOs?
  2. Are the military departments appropriately managing and accounting for RC G/FO requirements, authorizations, authorized strength, and inventory?
  3. Are there candidate positions that should be considered for elimination, downgrading to a lower rank, or conversion to senior civilian positions?
  4. To what extent should the need to provide developmental experiences for RC G/FOs drive requirements?

Increased use of the reserve component, particularly since September 11, 2001, and an expectation that this role will continue and possibly increase in the future has renewed interest in the question of the appropriate number of reserve component general and flag officers (RC G/FOs). RAND researchers conducted a review of requirements and authorized strength for RC G/FOs and determined that the services are working within the statutory limits and have relatively solid requirements processes, have a sufficient number of general and flag officers to meet mission requirements, and are able to provide ample opportunity to develop future officers. After examining the validity of current RC G/FO positions, a small number of candidate positions were identified that could, after review by the services, be considered for downgrading or elimination, but the vast majority of positions are well justified.

Key Findings

Authorizations Are Sufficient

  • The services report that RC G/FO authorized strength and exemptions are sufficient for the effective management and leadership of the reserve component.
  • Exemptions to the basic authorized strength are appropriate in both structure and number.

Services Are Appropriately Managing and Accounting for RC G/FO Positions

  • The services' current requirements and authorizations processes work but would benefit from a systematic, comprehensive review process.
  • The number of RC G/FO requirements exceeds the authorized strength.
  • The services' methods for ensuring compliance with RC G/FO authorized strengths are adequate but would benefit from a consistent tracking and reporting method used by all the services.
  • Authorized strength should not be tied to fluctuations in end strength or the use of RC G/FOs in times of war or national emergency.

There Are Potential Opportunities to Eliminate or Downgrade RC G/FO Requirements

  • A small number of candidate positions could, after review by the services, be considered for downgrading or elimination but the vast majority of RC G/FO positions are well justified.
  • Positions described as mobilization assistants or National Guard assistants are the requirements category that raises the most questions.
  • There are few opportunities to convert RC G/FO positions to senior-level civilian positions.
  • RC G/FO requirements that have emerged since 9/11 broadly reflect the needs of the past 15 years, but should be reviewed as operational requirements change.


  • Congress and DoD should maintain the current system of basic authorized strength plus individual exemptions.
  • Develop guidelines for evaluating and validating RC G/FO requirements.
  • Institute methods for DoD-wide tracking of reserve component general and flag officer authorized strengths.
  • Resist attempts to link RC G/FO limits to total service or component end strength.
  • The services and joint organizations should review the positions identified in our analysis to ensure these remain valid RC G/FO requirements.
  • OUSD(P&R) should assist the services and the Joint Staff in establishing overarching guidance on how RC G/FO IMAs should be used and the roles they should play.
  • OUSD(P&R) should assist the services in establishing guidance regarding the overall nature of positions described as mobilization assistants or National Guard assistants.
  • The services and joint organizations should review RC G/FO requirements established during the last 15 years.
  • Future reductions in general and flag officer requirements or authorizations should not disproportionately affect those positions that are viewed as developmentally crucial.
  • Best practices, ideas, and insights from current leader development efforts in the services should be shared to catalyze further experimentation and innovation in leader development.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. It was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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