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Research Questions

  1. Does the G/FO position meet the structure and organization criteria for a G/FO requirement?
  2. Does the G/FO position meet the position-by-position criteria for a G/FO requirement?
  3. Was the G/FO position identified during the forced-choice exercise as a priority three- or four-star requirement (relative to other positions)?
  4. Would elimination of this G/FO position potentially worsen the health of the position pyramid?
  5. How does integration of the results of these four approaches present opportunities to eliminate, downgrade, or convert (to civilian) G/FO positions?

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness asked RAND to conduct an independent study of general and flag officer (G/FO) requirements. The goals of this effort were to develop a methodology to assess active component G/FO requirements and authorizations; use the methodology to identify opportunities to eliminate, downgrade, or convert (to civilian) G/FO positions; assess the adequacy of existing statutes and policies to provide G/FOs to meet requirements; and recommend changes, if needed. With that in mind, the authors developed and employed a rigorous, adjustable, transparent, and repeatable analytic methodology to review G/FO positions. This included an examination of the functions performed by G/FOs within and across organizations; a position-by-position review in which all 1,113 G/FO requirements were evaluated against a defined set of criteria; the development and administration of a forced-choice exercise to identify priorities for how four- and three-star G/FOs should be used; and an evaluation of how positions affect development of G/FOs within functional areas. The combined results of these assessments were used to identify opportunities to eliminate or downgrade G/FO positions and assess implications of reductions. RAND's methodology offers the Department of Defense a more systematic and analytic foundation with which to justify its G/FO requirements.

Key Findings

Management of G/FO requirements across an enterprise the size and diversity of the Department of Defense is a complex and dynamic undertaking

A reliable methodology identifies whether or not G/FO positions meet combined criteria for a G/FO requirement

  • There is considerable variation in how similar positions in different organizations were filled, and there are internal inconsistencies within single organizations.
  • A number of G/FO positions did not meet any of the key criteria for a G/FO requirement.
  • Of the 1,113 requirements reviewed, 615 positions meet G/FO requirement criteria, and 132 do not. Results were inconclusive for the remaining 366 positions, either because of conflicting findings or because a set of positions was deemed subject to policy decision.
  • Of the 132 positions that did not meet the criteria, 35 positions were in position pyramids where the elimination would worsen the health of the position pyramid.
  • Further investigation of the 132 positions that did not meet the combined criteria for a G/FO requirement is needed to determine why these positions need to be filled by a G/FO and whether alternatives might be used to fill the requirements.
  • The 366 positions with inconclusive results are another area for departmental investigation.

Once positions are identified for possible downgrade, elimination, or conversion, it is prudent to evaluate the implications of the proposed decisions


  • Establish a philosophy for using all available workforce talent to fill Department of Defense leadership requirements — active and reserve component general and flag officers, senior civilians, and officers at the grade of O-6 or below.
  • Issue overarching policy guidance related to G/FO leadership roles and requirements.
  • Establish a standing central body for vetting G/FO requirements in accordance with Secretary of Defense strategic guidelines and with up-to-date and on-the-shelf data.
  • Conduct targeted reviews of G/FO positions to determine the need for G/FO requirements and provide guidance to clarify apparent inconsistencies in the use of G/FOs within each group.
  • Facilitate management and review of G/FO requirements; maintain updated, well-defined position descriptions; assign standardized job titles and position identifiers; and compile and maintain a repository of organization charts with standardized nomenclature for defining organizational relationships.
  • Adopt a systematic approach to identifying leadership needs for organizational changes in response to emerging requirements so they are well understood before changes are adopted.
  • Evaluate whether to seek lower joint pool floors and the elimination of joint pool ceilings to ensure the right balance between service control in joint positions and flexibility in managing G/FOs — in particular, flexibility in developing G/FOs and ensuring that qualified G/FOs are available to serve in joint positions.

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy and the Joint Staff, Director for Manpower and Personnel, J1, and 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 Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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