The House Armed Services Committee claims that its new proposal to reorganize the Pentagon is “the most revolutionary reform of the Defense Department structure since the Defense Department was created in the wake of World War II.” It certainly is all of that. It is also one of the most destructive pieces of defense legislation drafted in many a moon.
The objective is “to provide more authority for those elements of the military that operate ‘jointly’ or on a multi-service basis,” according to Rep. Bill Nichols (D-Ala.), one of the sponsors of the measure reported out June 17. “In other words.” Said Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), committee chairman, “it’s a slap at service parochialism.”
To achieve these ends, the committee would weaken the individual military departments, consolidate power in joint structures manned by a cadre of officers specializing in “jointness,” and broaden substantially the charters of the unified and specified commands. The bill still has a way to go before becoming law, and reason may yet prevail.
Three features are particularly harmful.
• “Integrated” Staffs. Each service would fuse its Secretarial and headquarters military staff into a single staff working under the Secretary and his Assistant Secretaries. The present distinction of roles – in which the Secretary makes policy and the Chief of Staff implements it – would disappear. No senior civilian would be subordinate to a military officer. The net effect, as Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger warned Representative Aspin, would be to transform the service chiefs into assistant secretaries for plans and operations. Even that portfolio would be further devalued by a transfer of real operational action to the Joint Staff. And what role would remain for deputy chiefs or staff, except to act as military assistants to the assistant secretaries
The rationale behind this feature of the bill, judging from the committee’s self-congratulatory press release, is to end duplication of staff effort. That won’t hold water, though, because there isn’t that much duplication of the uniformed hierarchy of the military services, thus giving greater advantage to the ascendant joint organizations. No matter how much one espouses jointness, the price the House is asking is too heavy to pay. It would completely undermine the stature and authority of the Chief of Staff as head of his service and squander the operational experience that senior military officers bring to the conduct of service affairs.
• Specialists in “Jointness.” The bill would create a “Joint Specialty” career identifier for officers specifically chosen to train and serve in joint duties. Their promotion opportunities would be protected by law. There would be enough of them to fill perhaps half of all joint duty assignments. Joint experience would be come a prerequisite for promotion to general officer and for nomination to the better military jobs. The Air Force has told the committee that it cannot support the establishment of a “corps of elitists, segregated after one-third of their career for special consideration and promoted based on assignment instead of individual merit.”
Do we really want to draw our top military leaders mostly from the ranks of those who gained early membership in an insulated and exclusive corps and whose demonstrated skills are in staff and coordination jobs As the army said in one of its memos to the committee, the emphasis should be on making successful officers “joint,” officers “successful.”
• The SuperCINCs. A bill produced earlier this year by the Senate Armed Services Committee would give the commanders in chief of the ten unified and specified commands full operational command of combat forces. That isn’t enough for the House Committee, which refused a motion to insert the word “operational” in its bill.
The House bill would give the CINCs full command, a free hand to organize, train, discipline, and employ forces as they see fit. It would also, as Secretary Weinberger has pointed out, “divert the primary focus of our combatant commands away from warfighting and operational concerns and toward the details of initiating programs and budgets and the actual management of support functions.” Other analysts add that it would create “ten little Pentagons,” each contending with the others for budgets and resources.
Ironically, the committee crafted its radical reform at a time when the services are demonstrating unprecedented cooperation and working together more closely than ever before. If additional legislative push is needed to enhance jointness, the earlier Senate bill is abundantly sufficient. It strengthens the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and gives him a deputy who would be the nation’s second-ranking military officer. It vests additional authority in the CINCs. Military effectiveness is built from the bottom up. It begins with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, well-equipped and well-led, trained in the doctrine and tactics of their respective combat arms. Jointness is the exercise of employing these forces in coordination. As important as it is, joint operation is, without quality component forces, nothing but a phrase. It would be incredibly irresponsible to tear down the services individually with the notion that this somehow will make them stronger collectively.