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Recent months have seen a growing interest in the Congress in addressing what are perceived as structural inhibitors to rational and efficient policy-making within the Department of Defense. Increasingly, criticism has focused on structure as the key problem behind such “newsy” failures as disparate as huge prices for spare parts and the failure of the Desert I attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.
At the direction of the chairman of the committee, the staff has compiled background materials relating to four areas the Investigations Subcommittee is now reviewing: the role and authority of the commanders-in-chief of the unified and specified commands; ways to provide a more joint or unified perspective view within the officer corps of the four services; problems with duplication of effort between the military and civilian staffs at the top of each military department; and weaknesses in the defense agencies.
This document is essentially a collection of comments and critiques by a wide variety of sources, and is intended to give Members of the House Committee on Armed Services a full view of the criticisms that have been made about the existing structure of the Department of Defense. This document also does not address questions of reforming the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the committee reviewed those questions in previous years and reported legislation to the floor that was enacted in the last session and transmitted to the Senate.
This document, it should be noted, is not an effort to present a balance of pro and con views on particular legislation. That will come out in the hearings before the Investigations Subcommittee. The purpose here is to collect the views of many retired military officers, former Pentagon officials and other commentators concerning the scope and scale of the structural problems inside the Pentagon as they view them.
BACKGROUND MATERIAL ON STRUCTURAL REFORM OF
THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
INTRODUCTION: WHERE HAVE WE BEEN? The National Security Act of 1947 was the result of a political compromise made at the dawn of the postwar era. It set in place a system that was not a conventional military structure but one which emphasized the "coordination” of Army, Navy and Air Force. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were set up as a committee and like most committees, they had a chairman who enjoyed only limited powers; indeed, the "chairman” did not even have control over the "joint staff of the committee. The system preserved much of the traditional autonomy of the services and required unanimity for all but the most routine decisions. Like the Security Council of the United Nations, this great power unanimity was required before any significant action could be taken. This inevitably led to log-rolling and a "least common denominator" approach in providing military advice to civilian decision-makers. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) was the only superior that could effectively counteract service autonomy; consequently, the answer to every defense problem over the last forty years was to add functions-and therefore offices and personnel-to the OSD staff.
The 1958 amendments to the National Security Act reflected the fact that civilian centralization was insufficient to solve the operational problems that ensued whenever the forces of one service had to be used in concert with those of another. The unified command structure that was set up after the war had continued to reflect the interests of the single services who dominated those commands in different areas of the world. Thus, the commands were unified in name more than in fact. Recognizing that, President Eisenhower recommended legislation to correct the most serious flaws, and sent the following message to the Congress:
Separate ground, sea and air warfare is gone forever. If ever again we should be involved in war, we will fight it in all ele ments, with all services, as one single concentrated effort. Peacetime preparatory and organizational activity must conform to this fact. Strategic and tactical planning must be completely unified, combat forces organized into unified commands, each equipped with the most efficient weapons that science can develop, singly led and prepared to fight as one, re
gardless of service. Although Congress strengthened the unified command system somewhat (by removing the service chiefs from the chain of command), it stopped short of carrying out President Eisenhower's recommendations in 1958. In particular, the JCS system was left largely intact. Thus, the American military command structure was seriously flawed as it approached the conflict in Vietnam.