Improving Military Coordination:
The Goldwater-Nichols Reorga-
nization of the Department
THOMAS L. MCNAUGHER
WITH ROGER L. SPERRY
In 1986 Congress reorganized the Department of Defense. The Goldwater‐ Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-433) touched almost every facet of the department's operations, from budgeting to strategy making to planning. 1 At the core of the reorganization, however, lay changes in the nation's military command structure, concern for which had given initial impetus to the overall defense reorganization effort. The act enhanced the power of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) relative to the three service chiefs and the commandant of the Marine Corps. The chairman alone, rather than the JCS as a whole, was made principal military adviser to the president. He was also given greater control over the selection of officers to work on the joint staff, and greater power over the selection of issues they would examine. Meanwhile, commanders of the nation's combatant commands, like the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and the Central Command (CENTCOM), most of which deploy components from two or more military services, were given substantially greater authority over service elements within their commands. Against the history of congressional efforts to organize an effective joint military structure out of the nation's separate military services, these were truly significant changes.
Equally significant was the manner in which the 1986 reforms were passed. Historically, Congress had been wary of legislation that consolidated power in an executive branch agency, preferring instead to create divisions in such agencies that could be exploited to retain legislative control.