Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The most important defense news you're not watching

Forget buying new ships and aircraft, the most critical part of modernizing our military is to update the framework it is built around, the Goldwater–Nichols act of 1986.

A product of a different age with a few significant flaws, we are well beyond the need to update it. Slowly, there is progress - at least in keeping the topic alive.

Via John Gould's interview with Michael Herson at DefenseNews;
Q. Spending aside, there are some fairly aggressive provisions in the policy bill, overhauling Goldwater-Nichols, aimed at acquisitions reform. What’s the industry view of provisions that promote outside-the-Capital-Beltway firms versus traditional firms?

A. With the first Goldwater-Nichols, the services were very resistant to Congress coming in and making any changes. But that was a time when Sens. Sam Nunn and Barry Goldwater and others spent years studying the problem and survived changes of control of Congress and they came up with a bipartisan solution, studying the problem so they knew what kind of solutions to offer. And it worked and it saved lives.

Q. But that is not the process this time around. Could you argue the most aggressive reforms are a Hail Mary from Sen. John McCain as the sun potentially sets on his tenure in Congress, if not as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee? What does industry think?

A. I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily John McCain. It has been Congress’ approach ever since Goldwater-Nichols that everything has got to be quick. We see a problem, we put a commission together. The commission looks at it for six months at best. If we can put a commission together and they got legislation passed, problem solved and we walk away. And the problem’s not solved. What McCain’s done is float a lot of ideas. I don’t think John McCain’s going anywhere. I think John McCain is going to win reelection. Regardless of whether we have the majority in the Senate or not, he is going to be a very powerful influential force on the Senate Armed Services Committee going forward. Thornberry is taking a very measured and thoughtful approach to acquisition reform. He’s got six years as chairman so every year he is going to be doing something else. It’s smart because change in Washington tends to be slow and incremental. But at the same time while he is chairman, he can see what the effects are of what they’ve done in the early years and they can have time to modify it and change it and fix it if necessary prior to the end of his chairmanship.
Of the many reasons to support Captain McCain ... errr... Senator McCain's re-election is this; no one else that I see could help push reform of Goldwater-Nichols on the Senate side.

There are some, like Justin Johnson over at WOTR who are much more cautious;
It’s time to pump the brakes on Goldwater-Nichols reform. Both House and Senate versions of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have sections aimed at improving the effectiveness of the Defense Department. And, yes, the intent is laudable. But neither Congress nor the Pentagon has a clear sense of what problem the proposed reforms would solve. Without a clear understanding of the problem, major reforms can end up doing more harm than good.
The current debate about the Goldwater–Nichols reform has invoked a wide range of topics —from the Pentagon’s strategy development process to the department’s organizational structure to the roles and responsibilities of the National Security Council. But, it has yet to clearly define distinct problems.

Certainly, the debate has not produced clear examples of systemic failure. Though there has been no shortage of American defense and foreign policy failures over the last decade, it is by no means clear that they have arisen due to organizational or systemic dysfunction. National security failures in the last decade and a half have largely been the result of bad decisions and bad leadership — individual problems unlikely to be fixed by systemic change or overhaul. Bad decision-makers produce bad results, no matter how good the system may be.

While Congress can adjust many of the national security systems and organizations, with the Senate playing a crucial role in ensuring that qualified people are placed in important positions, Congress cannot guarantee better national security outcomes simply by mandating processes or organizational designs.
Congressional Action on Goldwater–Nichols

Unfortunately, lack of a clear problem statement isn’t slowing down Congress. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R–Texas) suggests that, since threats “have become more trans-regional, multi-domain, and multi-functional, …[it] compels Congress to build” Goldwater-Nichols reforms into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) says his reforms are aimed at what he perceives as a lack of “strategic integration.”

While their analysis of global threats may be correct, the lack of specific examples of U.S. national security failures makes it hard to determine whether the lack of “strategic integration” is an organizational problem or the result of bad decisions by senior leaders.

No comments: