Sen. Barry Goldwater, the iconoclastic outgoing Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Republican standard-bearer in the 1964 Presidential election, leaves office with grave concerns about America’s national security posture in the years ahead. “We have,” he told this writer, “a major problem, and it is getting worse.” The problem, he points out with a stark sense of déjà vu, “is the same we had in the 1930s.”
Half a century ago, as a young reserve officer, he was deeply worried about the country being drawn into global war without being ready for it. Today, the seventy-eight-year-old Arizonan, who chose not to seek reelection, worries because “we have the same kind of forces working in Congress as then.” The symptoms that he finds so alarming, so reminiscent of the hapless, heedless years just prior to World War II, manifest themselves in a lack of statesmanship and in rampant pork-barreling on the part of the new guard in Congress: “They don’t think of national defense; that is not an important item to them. They think only of getting reelected, of what they can get to be built in their own state or district.”
Sitting in the Committee Chairman’s office that will soon be occupied by his Democratic successor and close associate, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, he, at times, comes across as exasperated: “I don’t know what it’s going to take to get this Congress out of its mood about defense. We simply can’t take any more cuts. If defense has to take another cut this year like it did [in FY ’86 and FY ’87], then there will be only one place left [for economizing], and that’s the troops. And once you start letting the troops go, you are through.”
The Fundamental Problem
The fundamental problem with contemporary Congresses has been that most members tend to forget the basic commitment they make on assuming office. “They put their hands on the Bible and swear that they will defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” But instead of living up to these high principles, many members, he feels, deal with defense issues mainly in terms of currying favor with their constituents. As a consequence, Congress, in the aggregate, siphons off many billions of dollars each year from modernization programs and the military payroll by keeping open no-longer-needed bases and facilities and by foisting unneeded and unwanted weapon systems on the Pentagon, he believes.
Senator Goldwater buttresses this contention with a series of recent examples, including the case of the T-46. “The Air Force Chief of Staff came over personally to tell [the Senate that the Air Force] did not want the aircraft, yet the senators from New York [where the contractor is located] insisted that we buy an aircraft that is unneeded and unwanted.”
Senator Goldwater is equally vocal in his criticism of the US Navy’s “home-porting,” which he portrays as a political gambit. “It’s the fault of the Secretary of the Navy, who cleverly saw a way to get about fourteen senators and a number of representatives indebted to the Navy in perpetuity.” He suggested that, from now on, whenever the Secretary of the Navy “wants something, he has got a base of fourteen senators to go to because of home-porting, which I would say is going to cost this country $12 billion before we get through with it.”
In a reverse twist of congressional pork-barreling, parochial interests are stymieing a pressing Army requirement: “We haven’t had a new 120-mm mortar for our ground forces, I would guess, in [some] twenty years. We could buy [such mortars] in the next fifteen minutes from Israel, France, or Italy. [But the political reality] is that we can’t, because there is an old firearms factory somewhere in New York that some congressmen say could make them. I think this old factory hasn’t made anything but flintlocks.”
He bemoaned the travesty of Congress’s largess in satisfying narrow constituent interests at a time when “we had to take $30 billion out of defense this year and $20 billion last year—and when we haven’t seen the end [of the downward trend] yet.” At the root of the problem, he suggested, is the fact that most of the voters who “are patriotic, country-loving Americans just don’t know what the boys in Washington are doing to their defense.”
The Legislative Track Record
The retiring Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman doesn’t mince words either when it comes to Congress’s legislative track record. “Since the creation of the budget committees [in 1974], the procurement efforts of the SASC have about disappeared.” He explained that “I had my [Committee’s] authorization [bill] ready to go by [the mandated deadline of] May 15, but the Budget Committee said ‘no,’ [even though] we had worked like the devil from the moment we got into session.” Because the Budget Committees came up with ceilings that differed from those that the SASC had to work against, “we had to redo the whole job, [including holding] a new set of hearings. We had to write a new authorization, but by then, we ran into the summer recess and thus, because [of the need for] a conference with the House, we never got out an authorization bill.”
For four years in a row, the Senator complains, “the military had to live under a CR [continuing resolution, a makeshift arrangement to compensate for Congress’s inability to pass authorization and appropriation bills], which is no way to run any part of the government.”
Exacerbating the problem, in his view, is that the House Armed Services Committee “has done as much to destroy the effectiveness of the armed services committees as anything we have done in the Senate.” The outgoing Speaker of the House, Rep. Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., he complains, “ruled” that any issue before the conferees of the two armed services committees that even remotely affects nondefense areas warrants inclusion in the conference of members of other committees with oversight responsibilities for these areas. The purpose of the joint Senate/House armed services committees conference is to reconcile differences between the panels’ proposed bills. The unprecedented inclusion of members from other committees bloated the joint conference and enabled them “to vote for their own selfish interests,” the SASC Chairman charges.
Because of this ruling by the Speaker, the number of House conferees increased sharply from previous years, reaching about ninety in 1985 and some seventy in 1986, Senator Goldwater points out with obvious dismay. “Now mind you, that means [the House brings in voting conferees] from [the] Agriculture [Committee] because we might talk about the foraging of animals [on military land] or from Housing and Urban Development” because the conference might touch on housing issues involving military personnel.
Senator Goldwater takes a somewhat jaundiced view of halfhearted efforts to streamline the process by which Congress funds national security requirements, especially the duplicative and, at times, internecine relationship between the budget, authorization, and appropriation committees of both chambers. The widely held view that a more cohesive, centralized mechanism should be substituted, Senator Goldwater asserts, is correct: “We could come up with [an efficient approach that combines the budgeting, authorizing, and appropriating functions] in an hour or two,” but entrenched parochialism and vested interests militate against such remedies.
He has, the Senator explains, brought the need for reorganizing the committee structure “very forcefully to the attention of the majority and minority leaders” by pointing out “that we are not creating a good condition in this body when we appropriate money by continuing resolutions.” CRs, he says, lead to “Christmas-tree legislation whereby [members] hang billions of dollars worth of junk that we don’t need on a bill that ought to provide only for the defense of our country.”
Moreover, this intertwining of money appropriations for crucial defense needs with frivolous expenditures, in practice, makes it impossible for the President to veto such a defense bill. In order to excise unneeded, unrelated appropriations, the President would have to put at risk indispensable defense funds. In this context, Senator Goldwater reiterates his strong support for legislation that would provide the President with a line-item veto, meaning the ability to seek deletion of specific appropriations without need to gut whole defense bills. Recent attempts at passing line-item veto legislation have been unsuccessful, however.
One of the quirks in the legislative process that visibly irks Senator Goldwater is the increasing tendency by the appropriations committee’s defense subcommittee to usurp the functions of the SASC—by authorizing as well as appropriating defense funds. Last year, for instance, when his committee came back from summer recess, its members discovered that the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee had added about $8 billion for items that the SASC had not authorized, “on things like a marine fleet to be used in Alaska [the home state of the subcommittee’s chairman].”
Growing Personal Staffs
While he defends the size of the small, highly expert staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Goldwater is outraged by senators and representatives who have as many as 100 individuals on their personal staffs. The size of the congressional staff, he points out, has grown since he first came to the Senate in 1952 from about 1,500 to almost 20,000 at present. Worse yet, “these people have nothing to do, so they write amendments and bills all day long.” As a consequence, he fumes, “we are bogged down on the floor of the Senate and the House voting legislation we don’t need and shouldn’t even talk about.” Congress, therefore has to stay in session longer and votes on more bills than ever before. “When I first came to the Senate, we had fewer than 200 votes [a session]; now that number is above 1,000. This is just another addition to the growing impossibility of Congress acting in a way that’s in the best interest of the country, whether this involves military matters or something else.”
Solutions to Congress’s organizational and procedural problems have so far been elusive, even though “one major reform could be done almost immediately, [and that] is for the joint leadership to get together and say, ‘We have too many staff members allowed—we simply have to start cutting down.’
Senator Goldwater finds fault with the Senate’s seniority system, because it tends to keep younger members off committees that they may be most qualified for. “The system simply doesn’t pick up the expertise that is available by making [candidates for critically important committee assignments] wait and wait until they have gone into something else and their expertise is diminished.”
This problem is especially acute in the case of committees responsible for defense oversight, with the result that many of the committee members were picked strictly on the basis of seniority, even though they had never themselves served in the armed forces.
In the case of the Senate Armed Services Committee of the Ninety-ninth (the most recent) Congress, of the nineteen members, “we had ten who never served in uniform.” He hastens to point out that “we were lucky because [these ten] were good people.” Senator Goldwater makes clear that “in my view, there should not be any members of the armed services committees in [either chamber] who have not worn the uniform.” He acknowledges that meeting this standard is becoming more difficult as fewer and fewer members of Congress are veterans.
The Draft and Other Issues
The retiring SASC Chairman sees no compelling military reason for returning to a draft system. “I am not opposed to the draft, but we haven’t had the need for it in the past ten years. [The quality of the force] is a lot better than what we had in World War II. We have today the finest enlisted and officer force that I have seen in my life.”
Precipitous cuts of the defense budget, on the other hand, he warns, might make it necessary to reinstitute the draft system. Cutting troop strength is the “first step” toward conditions that might require a draft system, he keeps warning the Pentagon. So long as there is no military need for a return to the draft, Senator Goldwater favors a system of two years of national service for all eighteen-year-olds, male as well as female. The choice of type of service, he believes, should be left to the individual, so long as the activity benefits the common good.
Senator Goldwater’s relatively ambivalent position on the draft is in marked contrast to how he feels about arms control: “You are talking to a man who doesn’t believe in arms control.” His rationale is categoric. Arms control, theoretically, is “desirable, but so is the elimination of crime or dope. It will never happen.” His fist came down hard on the table when he averred that “the control of arms should be [governed by] what is required to defend the freedom of America, and that’s all. I don’t give a damn what the Russians say, or the Chinese, or anybody else. If I feel—and our President feels—that we need 3,000,000 men [under arms], by God, that’s what I want—and I don’t want to have to talk to anybody else about it.” His bottom line on the issue is that “the sincerity behind arms control is not really there.”
The blunt champion of US aerospace power (who was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross by Air Force Secretary Edward C. Aldridge, Jr., at a gala tribute hosted by the Air Force Association’s Aerospace Education Foundation on December 2, 1986) is also not enthusiastic about legislation that seeks to boost the military’s role in drug interdiction. He cites two reasons.
First, the US military—except for the Coast Guard—is not legally empowered to arrest civilian citizens. Pointing out that he remembers the heyday of Hitler and Mussolini, he avows “I will fight until my dying day to deny the military man the right to knock on our doors.” Second, as an Arizonan who has spent most of his life near the border with Mexico, Senator Goldwater doubts that even the military and its sophisticated equipment could seal the border and stamp out drug smuggling. Even though he believes that the current level of radar surveillance and similar support by the military to law enforcement agencies is basically futile, he is not opposed to such limited show of force.
“Father” of Defense Reorganization Act
“I tell you this very happily—the terrific opposition we experienced at the outset isn’t there any more. . . . I think the Joint Chiefs and the services are resigned to the reorganization and will do their level best to make it work,” Senator Goldwater, the driving force behind the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, told AIR FORCE Magazine. He concedes readily that “as in the case of any legislation, there will be need for improvements in some places. In some cases, we may have gone too far, but as we live with it year after year, we’ll find these places, and Congress will make the corrections.”
He is adamant that the reorganization act did what was needed by creating the new post of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he is extremely pleased that Gen. Robert Herres, at this writing Commander in Chief of NORAD and US Space Command, will be the first officer to fill this newly created slot.
One of the big problems the Committee unearthed “in our study of the Pentagon structure is that the Joint Chiefs don’t act to help their nation in a joint way. It gets down to ‘I am Air Force, and you are Navy. I want something, and you want something, so we scratch each other’s back.’ “As a result, he charges, the Chiefs “were getting too parochial and were defending their turf instead of that of the military [in a joint fashion].”
Senator Goldwater is impatient with the contention that the Vice Chairman, an Air Force officer, “might work in collusion with the [sitting] Air Force Chief and, thus, have a leg up on everything we do.” The answer is, “No. That man has no veto, has nothing until the Chairman is out of town or is performing the new duty we handed him.” The new duty assigned to the Chairman by the 1986 reorganization is that of “military advisor to the President,” which, during a crisis, he suggested, becomes a full-time job.
Senator Goldwater also rejects the widely held view that the legislation entails a diminution of the role of the service chiefs while building up the civilian service Secretaries: “We have been [functioning] under the civilian superiority concept for 200 years, [and] I don’t think the [new arrangement] is any different from what we had.” The service Secretaries, “when they are any good—and most of them have been pretty good—actually help the Chief more than they hinder him. I can’t remember, offhand, any Secretary, regardless of administration, that didn’t try to have good relations” with his service chief.
Turning to the Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition (USDA) that the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act creates and the official, Richard P. Godwin, who is its first occupant, Senator Goldwater pointed out that he “comes from the same corporation [Bechtel] that the Secretaries of State and Defense come from. But he happens to be a man of whose work I have known, and I think he is well adapted to this particular phase.” In a generic sense, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition “has to have an industrial background to understand general procurement practices, to understand the determination of [product] quality, and to constantly promote competition.” These traits, he pointed out, “are the basics that we worked into the legislation. Eventually, we might have to come up with some other ideas.”
Dealing With Duplication
Another key purpose of the reorganization act is to eliminate duplication in what the services do and buy. While he emphasizes that the military does not “succumb” to pressures from industry, they are exposed “to people who want to sell them something.” The legislation creates the position of USDA in part to provide a central authority to determine why, if one service has developed a given weapon system, another one needs to invent a similar system that does essentially the same job. “If we learn to think along practical rather than political lines, then we will see some sense coming into the Pentagon.”
The outspoken retiring SASC Chairman, in this context, calls attention to “my fetish,” meaning his perception “that we have four tactical air forces, three navies, and two armies and that we are training pilots in the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, and the Marine Corps.” He considers it a plus that the Army and the Air Force train their helicopter pilots in a joint program at Fort Rucker, Ala., but is vexed that the Navy won’t join in this training effort on grounds that “we fly over water.” As a seasoned helicopter pilot, Senator Goldwater suggests that the Navy’s argument is not sound: “It doesn’t make any difference what you fly over so long as those things [the rotor blades] keep turning.”
He is not sanguine about the services’ willingness to change what he considers wasteful duplication, because “this has become a matter of pride—of defending one’s turf, if you will.”
While Senator Goldwater is concerned about industry at times fostering parochialism on the part of the services, he rejects the notion of a collusive military-industrial complex, including the validity of the term itself. “Ike’s [President Eisenhower’s] ghostwriter created [that term], and I got onto Ike on the first day about it. He said he didn’t write the term and did not believe in it. Still, it’s being thrown at us all the time.” He suggests that it is fully consonant with the American enterprise system for industry to try to sell “instruments of war, [which entails] talking to the services” and possibly getting advice from retired military experts on how to succeed in such sales efforts. But he cautions that such sales campaigns must not degrade to industry “buying presents for members [of Congress], sending them on long trips, or entertaining them lavishly. That, I think, is going too far.”
The Pentagon, however, should maintain a closer rapport with industry as well as Congress to get as precise a picture as possible of what a proposed weapon system can and can’t do. “For example, is the Ml tank capable of [going to war] in sandy terrain? We do know that it’s going to do well on the grassy plains of Europe. We have already found out that the C-5 will not land just anyplace, even though that was one of its [selling] points.” He harkens back to the importance of the new USDA position: “If he does his job right. . . Congress ought to be able to depend [on his recommendations] for what the armed services really need.”
As he passes the reins of the Senate Armed Services
Committee to his Democratic successor, Senator Goldwater is surprisingly optimistic about one central area—the prospects for a steady, bipartisan defense strategy. “We are far closer to that than most people realize.” During his tenure as Chairman, he asserts, politics “practically never” entered into the debates of the Committee, even though “real political people,” such as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.), and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), were among them: “When it comes to the defense of the country, they are all right.” On the House side, he suggests that his opposite number, Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, “has the same desires I have—to get decent defense for this country at the best cost.”
One of the most vexing, hoary questions that plagues the relationship between Congress and the Pentagon is “line-item management,” meaning the tendency of the legislative body to take over the Pentagon’s management function under certain conditions, both in a budgetary and programmatic sense. Here, too, Senator Goldwater believes that the reorganization act will go a long way toward removing Congress’s incentive to manage individual elements of the Five-Year Defense Program. “The last thing we [ought] to do is to micromanage. That is the job of the Pentagon.” But if the Pentagon does “such a bad job that they invite our oversight, that is their fault,” Senator Goldwater points out. He also concedes that “you can never stop members of the armed services committee from [probing specific programs or] inspecting specific [facilities].”
One way by which the Pentagon could forestall congressional micromanagement is to improve program management by making this function a separate career field. “Procurement of weapon systems today is almost as important as operations. We have to have people who are experts and who like this field [rather than] picking pilots who love their job, bringing them into the Pentagon for three or four years where they can’t wait to get back into the field, and by the time they have become proficient in program management, [then sending them] back to an operational assignment. I think we can find a sufficient number of operational people who would like to come back to the Pentagon [or another headquarters] and spend their careers in management,” Senator Goldwater says.
The retiring SASC Chairman, for more than thirty years one of the most stalwart supporters of the Air Force on Capitol Hill, distilled the lessons he learned in a pithy message to the new members of the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Maintain a constant, informal liaison with the Pentagon. In other words, keep in touch, make field trips, get to know the enlisted people and the junior officers.”
The Senator leaves Congress with the same uncompromising, unabashedly exuberant commitment to old-fashioned values that marked his proud and brilliant career. As he so ringingly put it in his campaign for the Presidency: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And. . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” His creed will not be soon forgotten; the void he leaves will not soon be filled.