Is joint reform worth the cost?
By Robert Kozloski Best Defense department of jointness Since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 countless practitioners, scholars, and elected officials have written on the positive and negative aspects of this watershed legislation. However, there is a crucial gap in the current literature — an assessment of the total cost of ...
By Robert Kozloski
By Robert Kozloski
Best Defense department of jointness
Since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 countless practitioners, scholars, and elected officials have written on the positive and negative aspects of this watershed legislation. However, there is a crucial gap in the current literature — an assessment of the total cost of joint reform followed by a determination if the benefits have outweighed the costs of implementation.
The military’s quest for jointness actually represents an inefficient compromise between two schools of thought dating back to WW II: On one hand, complete unification of the military, and the other, maintaining a service-centric structure. Much of today’s joint organizations and processes are layered on the existing overhead of the services.
It is important to consider the conditions which led up to the passage of Goldwater-Nichols. A series of disappointing military operations and out of control defense spending resulted in a 1982 closed session of the House Armed Service Committee. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Jones, USAF, told Congress that the system was broken and that despite his best efforts, he was not able to reform it-congressional action was needed.
Has it worked? That was the question the primary architect of Goldwater-Nichols, the Honorable James Locher III, asked in 2001. To answer this fundamental question, he assessed the nine objectives of the act:
- Strengthening civilian authority – Grade B minus
- Improving the military advice to the president– Grade A
- Placing clear responsibility on the commanders of the unified and specified commands – Grade A
- Improving the authority of commanders of unified and specified commands – Grade A
- Increasing attention to strategy formulation and contingency planning Grade C
- Providing for the more efficient use of Defense resources – Grade D
- Improving operational effectiveness – Grade A
- Improving joint officer management policies – Grade C Plus
- Improve defense management and administration – Grade D
While joint reform has made some improvements, any serious defense analyst today would be hard pressed to give such high scores considering the events of the past decade. There are two exceptions – those dealing with the Combatant Commanders. However, changes in the geopolitical environment since 1986 raise a question about the effectiveness of these expensive organizations.
As Ambassador Edward Marks observed, "In today’s world, military engagement programs with other countries can only be seen as part of the overall engagement activity of the U. S. government. The . . . ‘nexus’ of security challenges-terrorism, narcotics, smuggling, international criminal networks, etc.-can no longer be managed as single agency programs but must be integrated into ‘whole of government’ programs. Unfortunately the character of the geographic commands militates against effective whole-of-government engagement programs and therefore coherent foreign policy."
DoD should now reap the benefits of its extensive investment in 25 years of joint reform and transition to maintaining jointness rather than compelling it. This will result in a significant savings of defense dollars. A three phased approach is recommended:
First, leverage joint training and education to maintain the joint culture. This would include creating joint ROTC units and fully incorporating joint matters into the curriculum of the service academies and war colleges. Congress should then eliminate the requirement for all officers to complete joint duty for promotion to General and Flag Officer rank.
Next, reduce joint billets and organizations. If all officers began their careers in a joint environment, the need to maintain over 13,000 joint billets to facilitate joint officer development would not be needed to the extent it does today. This would include completely reorganizing the outdated unified command structure for a leaner organization model. A secondary benefit is the elimination of a significant portion of the joint General and Flag Officer billets from the joint structure.
Finally, reduce the roles and missions of the joint staff. Over the past few decades jointness has been largely viewed as a panacea. For instance, the cumbersome JCIDS and JROC processes were implemented to control acquisition problems. These efforts have been costly failures. Congress should descope the roles and size of the joint staff and refocus the joint staff on key operational planning considerations.
Today, the more relevant question is not has joint reform worked, but rather, was it worth the cost?
Robert Kozloski is a program analyst with the Department of the Navy. The views expressed are his own and not those of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy, nor even those of Pumpsie Green. He is the author of Building the Purple Ford: An Affordable Approach to Jointness that appeared in the latest Naval War College Review.
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