Military and "Diplomatic" Ranks?

Watching a rerun of West Wing, I saw Josh Lyman pull rank to get attention at a military hospital. He said
“I work at the White House. I have the diplomatic rank of a 3-star general.”
That got me interested: Is there even such a thing? I did some Googling and decided to share the results here, along with some questions.

The following table shows military ranks from lowest to highest. The columns are: (1st) NATO designation, (2nd) U.S. civil service equivalent, (3rd) U.S. designation, (4th) U.S. or U.K. rank name, (5th) literal translation of Thai police or army rank.

Notes:
[1] The U.S. and NATO officer ranks have an “off by one” problem. Why does NATO collapse 1st and 2nd Lieutenant into a single rank?
[2] Different sources map Military ranks to GS ranks differently; one of the maps is shown in parentheses. I’m guessing that, for example, a Major is considered to have the “importance” or “stature” of a GS-13, but earns the salary of just a GS-12. Is that right?
[3] To view the table, you may need to disable the “Sultan, Please Break CODE” option at the lower left of the SDMB page. Don’t blame me for that!



OR-1    GS-1              E-1     Private           [Force]
OR-2    GS-2              E-2     Private 2         [Regular Ten 3rd]
OR-3    GS-3              E-3     PFC/Lance Corp.   [Ten 3rd]
OR-4    GS-4/5            E-4     Corporal          [Ten 2nd]
OR-5    GS-6(1-4)         E-5     Sergeant          [Ten 1st]
OR-6    GS-6(1-4)         E-6     Staff Sergeant
OR-7    GS-7(1-4)         E-7     Sergeant 1st Cl   [Sgt Ten 3rd]
OR-8    GS-7(5)           E-8     Master/1st Sgt    [Sgt Ten 2nd]
OR-9    GS-7(5)           E-9     Sergeant Major    [Sword; Sgt Ten 1st]
-       GS-8              W-1/5   Warrant Officer
OF-1    GS-9(6/7)         O-1     2nd Lieutenant    [Hundred 3rd]
OF-1    GS-10(8/9)        O-2     1st Lieutenant    [Hundred 2nd]
OF-2    GS-11/12(10/11)   O-3     Captain           [Hundred 1st]
OF-3    GS-13(12)         O-4     Major             [Thousand 3rd]
OF-4    GS-14(13)         O-5     Lt. Colonel       [Thousand 2nd]
OF-5    GS-15(14/15)      O-6     Colonel           [Thousand 1st]
OF-6    SES-5             O-7     Brigadier         [Force 4th]
OF-7    SES-4             O-8     Major General     [Force 3rd]
OF-8    SES-3             O-9     Lt. General       [Force 2nd]
OF-9    SES-1/2           O-10    General           [Force 1st]
OF-10   -                 -       Field Marshall    [Top Force]
--      --                -       Generalissimo


Okay so far, but what about “Diplomatic Rank”? I found two different sources for U.S. special executives about GS-15. Since ‘SES’ is often rendered as just ‘ES’, the two sources number these ranks in the opposite order! What’s that about? The two lists come from
https://www.federalpay.org/ses/level-2


(Most SES job titles don’t map into simple titles like “Assistant Secretary.” The titles shown are just examples.)



SES-5   O-7     Deputy Director, etc.
SES-4   O-8     Asst. Secretary, etc.
SES-3   O-9     Under Secretary, etc.
SES-2   O-10    Deputy Secretary, etc.
SES-1   O-10    Secretary

ES-1-3   O-7     Counselor
ES-4/5   O-8     Minister Counselor
ES-6     O-9     Career Minister
ES-6     O-10    Career Ambassador


What you want to look for is the diplomatic order of precedence. It’s the ceremonial ranking of officials both civilian and military for diplomatic and social events. It starts with the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the former Presidents and Vice Presidents, the Chief Justice, the Secretary of State, various Ambassadors, the rest of the Cabinet, etc, etc, etc. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff only ranks #50 on the list. A lowly three-star general ranks #107, just above a State Senator.

The GS pay scale varies by “steps” which are reached based on performance and longevity. So, GS-12 pay can vary widely from $75,000 to over $98,000. There is no way to accurately compare specific ranks to GS levels. As far as “importance or stature”, yea that’s just about all it comes down to and it also varies (though less so), and it’s pretty much just in the head of GS personnel. No Major is going to say, “…but I’m the equivalent of a GS-whatever, so I deserve such and such”. A GS12, on the other hand, would be quick to point out where he/she thinks his/her stature rates compared to military personnel when the accommodations, or respect aren’t satisfactory.

Indeed. Because those who are elected by the people are considered of higher stature than those appointed by them. For a certain level of thought, all military authority derives - in our system - from elected political leaders whose own authority derives from the will of the electorate. Therefore, military officials are lower on the scale of importance.

On the other hand, the dude from the West Wing saying that is some bullshit. He’s not equivalent of anyone. That’s some expository nonsense. If I recall correctly, he’s not even an appointee. He works in the White House as a political functionary. He has NO official rank of any kind. A deputy undersecretary for paperclip filing technically outranks him if the paperclip guy has Senate confirmation. A Deputy Chief of Staff has no official rank.

On the other other hand. A DCoS has enormous unofficial power and should not be fucked with unless there’s a very good reason. The political guys a President brings to the white house have enormous influence because they’re there because the big guy trusts and listens to them. You gotta be careful pissing those guys off.

But being the equivalent to a three-star? Again, that’s some bullshit.

Except that, at least in the late 1980s, a GS-7 or higher was eligible to stay at a Bachelor Officers Quarters on a military base, where a GS-6 or lower had to stay at a Bachelor Enlisted Quarters.

This is exactly how it works.

There is no direct correlation between military and government pay grades. It’s just nonsense, and the line from the West Wing is gibberish. There ARE sometimes people who will claim some kind of parity, but this is because they are tiny people who demand to know their place in the hierarchy. If anyone actually says, “I’m an X so you have to treat me like Y…” you inmediately know you are dealing with a narcissistic asshat.

The only thing everyone does agree on is that the SES guys get the red carpet treatment.

I’d have interpreted it as a metaphor rather than just bullshit. He’s translating for the gatekeepers of a bureaucracy how badly they don’t want to frustrate him. Three stars, of course, may be exaggerating into bullshit territory, but making the parallel is just translation.

Again, it depends on how you define “rank.” In terms of being able to randomly order “subordinates” around, like Josh Lyman telling a colonel to do his laundry, of course not.

But for matters of protocol, like who sits where in a meeting or who gets the nicer hotel room on a trip, senior White House staff are indeed fairly high up on the order of precedence. If you look at Terminus Est’s cite, Josh Lyman would take precedence substantially higher than the civilian secretaries of the military departments, and way higher than any three star general, but below all elected members of Congress.

And DoD does parcel out its order of precedence with certain offices being binned as one-star, two-star, three-star, etc equivalents. See here. For example, US Attorneys and city managers are considered two-star equivalents. Cardinals are four-star equivalents. But curiously, I can’t find White House Deputy Chiefs of Staff on that particular list, other than as “assistants and counsels to the President” which are actually specific job titles, but are actually in the four-star category.