Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Reinventing Government: The Case of the Department of Defense

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Reinventing Government: The Case of the Department of Defense

Article excerpt

The Department of Defense (DoD), the largest of federal government bureaucracies in both numbers and budgets has undergone sustained organizational reform since the National Security Act of 1947 and the Key West decision of 1948 which resolved questions about military service roles and mission, brought into existence a separate Department of the Air Force, and began a system of an American Joint Staff and civilian Defense Secretary (Forrestal, 1949; Caraley, 1966). The most important recent development was the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act of 1986 which elevated the war-fighting Commanders-in-Chief (CINC) to positions of prominence, placed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff into the command line, and restricted the military services to the recruiting, training, equipping, and providing forces to the CINCs as required by regional war plans (Hartmann & Wendzel, 1990).

The first major war to be fought using this new organizational structure and procedure was a clear success. But the Gulf War victory in 1991 masked the continuing trauma of massive downsizing, reduced budgets, and new responsibilities. In short, DoD was not allowed to savor that success and rest on its institutional laurels.

It is axiomatic to observe that the U.S. defense establishment is confronted with an unstable external environment. The peaceful demise of the Soviet empire, the spread of ethnic, religious, nationalist, and economic instability, the budget constraints flowing from deficits and debt, the general move to third-party provisions, and the erosion of alliance solidarity constitute but a partial list.

It is against this background that the Congress established the Commission on the Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces and charged it also with suggesting alterations necessary for the post-Cold War period and into the 21st century.

There is virtually no topic more sacroscant, more exquisitely sensitive, and more certain to cause bureaucratic conflict than to attempt to realign military service roles and missions - those broad and enduring purposes set by law and the tasks which flow from those purposes as assigned by the National Command Authority (i.e., the President and the Secretary of Defense).

The last decade is littered with learned, long, and largely ignored studies. But perhaps this commission would be different. It would be the first conducted during the Clinton presidency and would dovetail with the bottom-up review he used to justify even sharper defense cuts than those undertaken by his predecessors (USGAO, 1995). The expectations were understandably high that this commission would recommend real changes in roles and missions. Perhaps even a call for combining the Army and Marine Corps into a single entity for forced entry would be heard. Or perhaps DoD would meld its "four air forces" into one. Or, perhaps even a recommendation of a unitary system without separate military services would be forthcoming.

It was not to be. Those who hoped for major overhaul of roles and missions - and those who feared the same - were either disappointed or relieved. The commission identified no major new problem areas; decided that widely recognized problem areas were in fact nonexistent or grossly overestimated; and, essentially refused to take sides on most existing roles and missions disputes among the services.

But it would be wrong to conclude that the commission lacked innovation or that substantive change may not ensue from its work. There are at least three significant aspects of the commission's work:

* It is a clarion call for a continuation of the military reforms begun by the 1986 Reorganization Act. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his staff, and his powers in planning and procurement are all to be enhanced toward the goal of true unified military operations. Thus, jointness is to seep down from the warfighting level of the ClNCs into the heretofore relatively sovereign realms of the military services in procurement, training, and development of doctrine. …

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