Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James answers a question during a hearing of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force Jan. 9. Looking on is the chief, Air Force Reserves, Lt. Gen. James Jackson. (Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force will deliver its recommendations to Congress this Thursday, putting an end-note on one of the most tumultuous periods in Air Force history.
The Jan. 30 appearances — 10:00 a.m. in the Russell Senate Office Building and 1:30 p.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building — will mark the formal end of work for the eight commissioners, who began the process of tackling deep divides among the active, Guard and Reserve components of the Air Force roughly nine months ago.
The commission was created by the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, following a budget season that focused on battles between the active-duty Air Force and the Air National Guard. Congress sided with the Guard to block cuts that lawmakers said were not fairly apportioned.
Since its creation, relations between the Guard and active components have improved, according to service officials and the commissioners themselves. But the commission remains important, in no small part because its findings will arrive on the desks of Congress roughly a month before the Air Force’s 2015 budget will be unveiled.
At various hearings, the commissioners have hinted at what they may conclude. While a proposal to merge the Guard and Reserve was discussed, it appears unlikely the commission will recommend such a dramatic move; instead, it is likely to suggest a smaller merger of staff across the three branches of the Air Force, as well as the potential movement of active jobs like cyber and ISR missions into the Guard.
Another idea likely to be discarded by the commission is moving to a “tiered readiness” system for reserve units, something that commissioners have been told could work for other services but not the Air Force.
The recommendations that emerge from the commission will likely be implemented at the hands of the recently formed Total Force Continuum (TFC), a permanent office stood up late last year to better integrate the three components of the Air Force.
“We’re going to take the report from the commission, the TFC is going to dissect it, and if there are differences and it’s a better way to implement the findings and recommendations, we’re going to do it,” Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, said in a recent interview.
“If there is a finding or a recommendation that TFC is not working on already, I guarantee we’re going to build an implementation plan to take that.”
Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, the head of the Air National Guard, said the lines of communication between the active and Guard components have greatly improved under Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.
“It’s a natural relationship of give and take and dialogue. Even if you have a bad discussion with someone, that’s better than no discussion at all,” Clarke said during a Jan. 24 interview. “We tend to get it right here on how to have those discussions, the right timing and the right size.”
Clarke highlighted the decision by Air Force officials to include adjutants general from the state level in FY15 budget discussions as a sign of communications.
“Senior leadership, again on the Air Force side, decided to include adjutants general in the discussion, so we’ve had a couple of adjutant generals in some pretty big portions of how we were going to develop the [FY15] POM,” Clarke said. “That’s completely different.”