Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986


The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 is the most important legislation affecting U.S. national defense in the last 50 years. This act resulted from frustration in Congress and among certain military officers concerning what they believed to be the poor quality of military advice available to civilian decision-makers. It also derived from the U.S. military's perceived inability to conduct successful "joint" or multi-service operations. The Act, passed after four years of legislative debate, designated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the principal military advisor to the President and sought to foster greater cooperation among the military services. Goldwater-Nichols marks the latest attempt to balance competing tendencies within the Department of Defense, namely centralization versus decentralization and geographic versus functional distributions of power.


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