Congress wants US Air Force to better explain reorganization plans

by Vern Evans

Lawmakers want to hear more from the Department of the Air Force about its plans for its biggest reorganization in decades.

The department in February announced a sweeping shake-up of the Air Force and Space Force to better prepare them for a potential conflict with China, which the department calls a “reoptimization for great power competition.”

The changes would include the creation of an Integrated Capabilities Command, led by a three-star general, which would take charge of identifying the Air Force’s future requirements. The Air Force would also revamp some existing organizations such as Air Combat Command as well as Air Education and Training Command; shift how airmen, units and equipment deploy; and improve training.

But in a summary of the compromise version of the fiscal 2024 Defense Appropriations Act, publicly released Thursday, lawmakers said the Air Force hasn’t thoroughly explained why the reorganization is necessary, how the service would implement it and what budget is required. Lawmakers say they need such information to properly assess the department’s plans.

The bill would require Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to explain any organizational changes to congressional defense committees, 30 days before they go into effect. Lawmakers would also want Kendall to explain how such a change would differ from the existing structure; a breakdown of the phases of the reorganization; what each phase would cost; a description of the new offices, commands or centers it would require; how this would affect service members and civilian employees; and the programmatic effects of the planned change.

When asked for comment, the Air Force said it plans to keep lawmakers informed about its reorganization.

“As the Department of the Air Force develops implementation plans, leaders will continue to share information with congressional staffs,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email to Defense News.

The Government Accountability Office would also have send the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees a report within six months on the Air Force’s planned reorganization. This report would have to detail factors and analysis the service considered for the revamp, what feedback combatant commanders offered, how much it might cost, how long it might take to put into place and how the reorganization might be deemed a success.

GAO would also have to describe how recommendations from the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Commission were taken into account, and how the reorganization might affect joint and coalition forces.

Kendall told reporters at a budget briefing earlier this month that the revamp would likely not cost a great deal of money.

“What we’re talking about with the re-optimization is creating some new organizations, but they will be created out of pieces that we already have,” Kendall said. “We’re not talking about big manpower increases, and we’re going to minimize, [to] the extent we can, the movement of people … the acquisition of real estate, and so on.”

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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