After reforming the Pentagon’s acquisition process in this year’s defense authorization bill, John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, next plans to overhaul the military’s organizational structure and chain of command.
Over the past year, McCain has held a series of hearings revisiting the landmark 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, with a primary focus on reining in the giant bureaucracies at the geographical combatant commands.
“While the world has changed profoundly since 1986, the basic organization of the Department of Defense, as well as the roles and missions of its major civilian and military actors, has not changed all that much since Goldwater-Nichols,” McCain said. “It must be asked, is a 30-year-old defense organization equal to our present and future national security challenges?”
The Goldwater-Nichols Act, which was intended to fix problems caused by inter-service rivalries, transformed the military’s traditional chain of command by empowering combatant commanders to report directly to the defense secretary, bypassing their service chiefs.
The main criticism of the combatant commands is they no longer are responsible for the task they originally were established for — fighting wars. Instead they concentrate on their peacetime roles, reported Politico.
“They no longer fight wars themselves, but must create new joint task forces to accomplish that mission,” Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, told the Armed Services Committee. “The regional combatant commanders have evolved into political-military ambassadors who focus heavily on peacetime engagements.”
Some former military leaders have proposed consolidating the six regional combatant commands. In advance of McCain’s initiative, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has launched an internal review of organizational issues related to the Goldwater-Nichols Act.
McCain’s effort also is looking at the size of the civilian workforce, decision-making processes and whether the military is performing commercial functions that would be better handled by private contractors, according to Politico. McCain’s proposals would be incorporated into next year’s defense authorization bill.
The series of 10 congressional hearings held so far by the Armed Services Committee has generated a variety of suggestions. Several witnesses mentioned the redundancy associated with service secretaries and the uniformed service chiefs each maintaining their own headquarters staffs. One witness recommended the civilian workforce should be cut “in half or more.”2 comments