Defense Fellows Program

CRS Report for Congress
Defense Fellows Programs
Lloyd DeSerisy
National Defense Fellow
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Each year, over one hundred commissioned military officers and Department of
Defense (DOD) civilians participate in diverse programs outside DOD aimed at
professional education of the individual and enrichment for the services and the host
agency. Over the years, the general process of assigning DOD personnel, and especially
military officers, outside of the Department has drawn public scrutiny. With U.S. forces
involved in numerous military operations around the world and experiencing a high
degree of personnel tempo, many have raised concerns that assignment of military
officers to Defense Fellows Programs may detract from war-fighting efforts. Thus, it
appears likely there will be ongoing congressional interest in and oversight of these
programs. This report will be updated as events warrant.
For 40 years, commissioned officers of all military services and Department of
Defense (DOD) civilians have participated in diverse programs outside DOD aimed at
professional education of the individual and enrichment for the service and the host
agency. Each year, DOD selects over one hundred officers and/or civilians to spend
approximately one year on assignment outside the department with universities, defense
“think tanks,” corporations, and on congressional staffs. The sponsoring institutions are
carefully matched with high quality, experienced fellows who bring a unique perspective
to their organizations. The fellows serve as an informal conduit between the organization
and the respective service. The goal is for both organizations to gain from the unique
educational experience. Although the program has operated under strict guidelines, it has
become the focus of attention in the last fifteen years due to the individual actions of some
officers employed in high visibility positions outside of DOD. Thus, it appears likely that
there will be ongoing congressional interest in and oversight of these programs.
Over the years, the general process of assigning DOD personnel, and especially
military officers, outside of the Department has drawn public scrutiny. In 1986, the
prominent role of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair while
he was on assignment with the National Security Council, raised questions as to why
DOD had military officers working outside the department and under what some

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

considered limited oversight. In 1997, DOD’s legislative liaison program came under
scrutiny for insufficient monitoring of fellows’ activities to prevent their involvement in
partisan political matters; assigning fellows without department approval; and for other
direct violation of regulations. A 1997 article alleged that military officers loaned to a
leadership office had worked on partisan political issues and legislative strategies.1 DOD
responded to Inspector General recommendations by revising governing regulations in
April, 1998.2 In late 2001, as Congress marked up the annual appropriations bill, a DOD
audit identified 450 officers and DOD civilian employees working outside the department
in some type of liaison capacity. Some believed this number was too high. Congress took
action. With DOD support, Congress wrote into the fiscal year 2002 Defense
Appropriation Act a 250-person cap on department liaison assignments.3
With U.S. forces involved in numerous military operations around the world and
experiencing a high degree of personnel tempo, many inside and outside DOD have raised
concerns that assignment of military officers to Defense Fellows Programs may detract
from war-fighting efforts. In short, concern over the costs, scope, and appropriateness of
some of the fellows programs augur continued congressional oversight.
DOD Fellows Programs
The Defense Fellows Program is codified in Title 10, U.S. Code.4 It allows a
member of the Armed Forces to accept a fellowship for scientific, literary, or educational
purposes if the benefits are “in recognition of outstanding performance in his field; to
undertake a project that may be of value to the United States; or for development of his
recognized potential for future career service.” It further stipulates that in return for this
fellowship the individual must extend his/her service commitment “for a period of at least
three times the length of the education or training.”
A DOD directive defines the eligibility requirements for both the potential fellows
and their sponsors.5 It makes ineligible any business groups operating “for profit and
political organizations.” The directive requires that fellowship awards be competitive; and
that the education, training, or research satisfy a DOD requirement or contribute to
recipient’s career potential, or be a project valuable to the United States. It allows
participation by not only the active duty military and DOD civilians, but affords Active
Guard/Reserve personnel and reservists not on active duty the opportunity to compete. It
directs the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy (under the Under
Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness) to maintain program oversight.

1 Tranette Ledford. “Congressional Fellowship Program Gets Revamp.” Army Times. September

29, 1997.

2 Department of Defense Inspector General Report No. 97-186, Military and Civilian Personnel
Assignments to Congress, July 14, 1997.
3 National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2002 (P.L. 107-248), Title VIII, Sec 8098.
4 U.S. Code, Title 10, Subtitle A, Part IV, Chapter 155, Section 2603, Acceptance of Fellowships,
Scholarships, or Grants.
5 Department of Defense Directive 1322.6, Fellowships, Scholarships, and Grants for DOD
Personnel, February 24, 1997.

Each military department is required to establish processes to review and select
personnel, ensure required training, and maintain regulatory compliance. Each service
executes its directed processes and provides fellows with specific program guidance.
Fellowship programs are separated into two distinct entities for administrative purposes,
the Senior Service College (SSC) Programs and the Legislative Fellows Program.
Senior Service College Fellowship Programs. The SSC Fellows Programs
provide a select group of approximately thirty senior officers, with eighteen to twenty-two
years of service (O-5s and O-6s), from each military department (Army, Navy including
Marine Corps, and Air Force) opportunities to gain an improved understanding of national
security policy and the intricacies of decision making at the highest levels. DOD annually
reviews and approves institutional participation in these programs. Some institutions
request specific educational and/or operational backgrounds and experience. DOD
fellows serve one-year tours at selected institutions commencing each summer. During
their tenure, the fellows are expected to pursue intellectual analysis and write at least one
analytical paper on a DOD-approved topic. In addition, as ambassadors for their services,
they promote and explain DOD policies, programs, and military strategy to nationally
recognized scholars, foreign dignitaries, and leading policy analysts. In return, they gain
insight into significant developments and emerging views on defense and foreign policy
issues. The program’s intent is to provide an educational experience and special subject
matter expertise not available at the senior service colleges. Since 1994, officers
complying with fellowship requirements receive senior service college credit upon
completion. Fellowships do not provide joint professional military education (JPME)
certification.6 DOD sends fellows to over 25 host organizations participating in the SSC
Program, including Brookings Institute’s Center For Public Policy Education, Harvard’s
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and John F. Kennedy School of
Government. Additionally, the Secretary of Defense awards Corporate Fellowships to
selected Fortune 500 companies.7 DOD selects corporations based on their reputation for
insightful long-range planning, organizational innovation, and technological adaptation.
Legislative Fellows Program. The Program seeks to educate DOD personnel
on the workings of the legislative branch of government. It exposes approximately twenty
mid-career officers (O-4s) from each military department to the operations, organization,
and legislative processes of Congress. It is designed to provide the fellows with broad
insight into a wide range of issues while providing Congress with on-site experience on
defense-related issues. Fellows work for one year assigned to either a Member’s personal
staff or a congressional committee. Fellows are encouraged to join offices with defense,
intelligence, or foreign relations interests. Each military department maintains fully-
staffed legislative affairs or liaison offices in Washington, D.C. Service legislative liaison
offices process congressional sponsor applications through DOD and provide central

6 In accordance with the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986
(P.L. 99-433), military curriculum at senior and intermediate military education schools is
reviewed and revised to strengthen focus on joint matters in preparation for joint assignment.
Joint duty is a prerequisite for promotion to brigadier general officer or rear admiral (lower half).
7 Information abstracted from Army Regulation 621-7, Army Fellowships and Scholarships,
August 8, 1997, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Instruction 1500.72E, Navy Federal
Executive Fellowship and Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellowship Programs, May 17, 2001,
and Air Force Instruction 36-2301, Professional Military Education, June 27, 2002.

oversight and guidance for fellows while assigned to the legislative branch. Regulations
place numerous restrictions on DOD personnel regarding partisan political activities.
Legislative fellows receive mandatory orientation training to encourage compliance.
DOD and service component supervisors are tasked to maintain oversight to ensure
professional ethics are not compromised. Non-resident distance learning opportunities
make intermediate service school and JPME attainable for legislative fellows through
their respective service college correspondence courses. This lessens the potential for
non-DOD service to jeopardize promotion and career development. Fellows graduate to
headquarters or joint staff assignment.8
Issues for Congress
Cost/Benefit of Defense Fellowship Programs. Weighing the costs and
benefits of the Defense Fellows Program is somewhat subjective. The cost to the
individual military departments is a constant. They lose a high quality officer from their
ranks for the duration of the fellowship while they continue to provide normal pay and
allowances. In many cases, the additional cost includes paying for the officer to move
twice and supplemental overhead in the form of university tuition, books, and travel. The
benefits must transcend the individual and carry over to the service and the sponsor for
the programs to retain support. First, the programs have to meet regulatory guidelines and
provide an educational experience not available through the DOD education structure.
Individuals must value the experience both professionally and personally enough to keep
the program supported by qualified applicants. The services must accrue sufficient return
on their investment through open communications with sponsor organizations during the
fellowship or post-fellowship contribution to maintain individual fellowship support. In
most instances, the sponsor organization also incurs some cost through administrative
support, educational workload, and/or research oversight. Does the technical,
organizational, and operational knowledge brought to the sponsor outweigh the burden
of support? For DOD, a specific benefit is the extended service commitment of the
participating officers. In the end, much of the benefit for all is often intangible; however,
most participating officers and institutions clearly support these voluntary programs.
Defense Fellowship Programs Impact on End-strength. Primary DOD
arguments for reducing or eliminating fellowships hinge on the issues of operations and
personnel tempo of U.S. military forces. The concern is that these DOD fellows might
better serve their country operating within their respective services. When considering
this issue, one can examine the impact of the fellowships on the services. For Senior
Service College-equivalent officers the fellows represent less than .3% of the active-duty
individual service O-5 and O-6 populations. When the Active Guard and Reserve, and the
DOD civilian participants are excluded for the initial calculations the percentage is lower.
Legislative Fellows represent less than .2% of their respective populations. It may be
argued many fellows represent critical career specialities from fighter pilots and destroyer
captains to battalion commanders or other operationally-stressed fields. One may also
consider that these resident service school candidates, with all likelihood, will be pulled
from their career tracks to attend professional military education, whether it be a

8 Information abstracted from Army Regulation 1-202, Army Congressional Fellowship Program,
May 26, 2000, Bureau of Navy Personnel Instruction 1560.2, Legislative Fellows Program, and
Air Force Instruction 90-403, Air Force Legislative Fellows Program, January 17, 2001.

fellowship or National/Service War College.9 The impact on operational end-strength
therefore appears moot.
Politicization of Defense Fellows. Some argue that joint ethics regulation and
DOD directives cannot adequately insulate Defense Fellows from politics, especially
within Legislative Fellowships. By nature and design, the program favors some offices
and committees with defense-related responsibilities, interests, or oversight to those more
centered on domestic policy. Fellows and sponsors tend to aggregate around the Armed
Services Committees and Defense Appropriations subcommittees and their members. As
members of a House or Senate personal staff, fellows have to balance requests from their
superiors with strict regulatory guidelines. During election campaigns, research on issues
today may become partisan policy tomorrow, and differentiating between the two can be
difficult. Advocates of legislative programs suggest politics are part of the legislative
process. They, also, believe that Fellows’ exposure to the process makes them better
prepared to facilitate communication and collaboration between the executive branch and
Congress. Critics argue that by positioning mid-career officers in potentially
compromising situations, the training is at best counter productive, and at worst partisan,
and could jeopardize careers of the very officers meant to lead tomorrow’s military.
Optimizing Professional Military Education. Because a military career can
be as short as 20 years, optimizing the point in a structured military career when an
officer receives professional military education, including fellowships, is difficult but
important. Senior service colleges take officers who have already had extensive
experience in their own service and focus them on national security, military policy
formulation, and force transformation issues in both a joint and multinational setting.
Senior service fellowships tend to concentrate on the same issues in an academic or
interagency environment. In many cases, cross-service and multinational exposure is lost
in the fellowship, but many officers have completed JPME and joint or international
assignment by this juncture in their careers. Senior service colleges award master’s
degrees upon graduation. Senior fellows do not receive degrees. While almost all senior
fellows have advanced academic degrees, acquisition of institutional certification of
programs arguably would validate to DOD the importance of their contribution and add
credibility to individual institutional programs. Intermediate service colleges are
proponents for education in the operational art of war and developing staff officers and
future commanders. The schools are JPME-accredited and many of the graduating
officers receive a follow-on joint assignment. Legislative fellowships take a different
tack, relying on non-resident programs to fill the void in the educational experience. The
program provides hands-on staff experience and attempts to make up in depth for what
it may lack in breadth. Some have suggested that a formalized educational union of
service legislative programs, possibly in the form of weekly seminars sponsored through
a local university/institution, may bring JPME-accreditation and bolster program support
inside DOD.

9 Directorate for Information Operations and Reports, Military Personnel Statistics, DOD Active
Duty Military Personnel by Rank/Grade, August 31, 2002. O-6 End-strength by Service - Army
(3,570), Navy and Marine (4,109), Air Force (3,803). O-5 End-strength by Service - Army
(8,729), Navy and Marine (8,914), Air Force (10,604). O-4 End-strength by Service - Army
(14,295), Navy and Marine (14,018), Air Force (15,544).

Options for Congress
As military transformation unfolds in the midst of continuing national and regional
crises, efforts to ensure flexibility within DOD and interagency communication and
coordination may never be more relevant. Congress has endorsed the Defense Fellows
Programs as a means to open avenues of professional interchange and provide credible
career-enhancing experience for mid-level officers. Concerns have been raised, however,
about improper use of their time and skills and placement of Fellows in organizations not
sufficiently relevant to DOD interests. Congress, through oversight, controls program
execution and long-term maintenance. Audit of service fellowship programs, testimony
of graduates, and day-to-day insight gleaned from the legislative fellow interchange,
provide insight to program viability.
First, Congress may consider these programs as it monitors DOD during its
transformation efforts. Personnel programs, to include professional military education,
have a long-term impact on departmental health. Ensuring non-partisan experience with
sufficient breadth/depth of experience is key to preparing mid-career officers for future
positions of leadership. With increased operational stress, assessing the cost/benefit of
individual programs is increasingly important. Many sponsors stand ready to enlarge the
programs, but at what point is the return negligible, and might that manpower be better
utilized elsewhere?
Additionally, periodic audit ensures programs stay on track. Internal audits by DOD
inspectors remain the most common method for oversight. GAO has also served as a
valuable source of data to ensure personnel mandates are meeting pre-determined
requirements. Insight acquired through these methods attune leadership to overall
program objectives and keep costs constrained.
Finally, Congress may legislate the shape and size of the Fellows Programs. In the
National Defense Authorization Acts for both FY1997 and FY1998, Congress “right-
sized” DOD headquarters staff, directing reductions in staff positions by 25 percent.10
The FY02 Defense Appropriations Act dictating overall non-DOD billets caused internal
reflection within DOD and the individual services.11 The act, discussed earlier, capped
department personnel liaison activity. Additionally, Congress has directed professional
military education through legislation like the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that reshaped
the joint military landscape.12 Congress has grappled with personnel issues and programs
in the past with marked success. In that light, Congress may continue to examine the
Defense Fellows Programs.

10 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (P.L. 104-201). National Defense
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998 (P.L. 105-85).
11 National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2002 (P.L. 107-248).
12 The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-433),
commonly known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act, is considered landmark legislation as it
reorganized DOD into a more unified military structure. It defined educational requirements for
joint service and directed curriculum at military service schools.