Discussions over the Army's fiscal 2020 budget request have focused on cutting current programs to fund modernization, but the service also significantly lowered its recruiting goals for the next several years after missing last year's recruiting target by more than 6,000 soldiers.
The Army plans to increase active end-strength by 2,000 soldiers each year over the 2020-2024 Future Years Defense Program, or FYDP. The fiscal 2020 request is 50 percent less than the service's fiscal 2019 budget request for 4,000 soldiers.
The move comes after the service fell short of meeting its active recruiting goal for fiscal year 2018.
"We missed last year; we missed by 6,500 people in the active force," Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told an audience Thursday, a Center for Strategic & International Studies event. "We have reduced our end-strength goal effectively immediately ... and across the FYDP to 2,000 year-over-year."
The recruiting shortfall prompted Army leaders to launch a massive new recruiting strategy that involves adding more recruiters, targeting 22 major cities and rethinking how the Army communicates with America's youth.
"We looked at ourselves and we said we were kind of getting fixed to certain areas of the country, and we said we need to get back to the cities," McCarthy said, adding that the Army hired an outside firm to help with "micro targeting so we can go look at a geographic zip code and understand the demographics."
The Army conducted a pilot program in Chicago, a city where only 4 percent of youth have a propensity to serve, compared to the 11-percent average nationwide, McCarthy said.
"We brought the firm in, did a 100-day study, and they helped us improve leads by 10 percent within the first 100 days," McCarthy said.
Despite the cuts the Army's active recruiting goals, leaders project that the slow growth will get the Army to 488,000 by the end of the FYDP -- growth that is needed for the Army to handle DoD requirements, McCarthy said.
"We want to maintain quality and still be able to grow, because, as I mentioned earlier about demand -- it's not going to go away," McCarthy said.
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Maryland, also attended the CSIS event and said he applauds the Army for the steps it has taken to improve its recruiting strategy.
"I want to commend the Army for not lowering its standards in order to meet a number; I think our superiority is in the quality of the soldiers that we recruit, we train and we retrain and that is our real competitive advantage," Brown said.
Brown also said it may be time for the United States to reevaluate the number of worldwide commitments it places on the U.S. military.
"Why are we in 80 countries in every region around the world?" Brown said. "Do we need to have such a strong military presence around the world, or should we be investing more in our diplomatic efforts?"
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.