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Remarks on "Goldwater-Nichols at 30: An Agenda for Updating" (Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Thank you, thanks very much, John, for that warm introduction, but more importantly, for many, many years of friendship, of guidance, and wonderful service to our country over so many years – not to mention your leadership of this institution.

It is a pleasure to be at CSIS this afternoon.  Since it was founded over 50 years ago, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has come to be considered one of the preeminent security-focused think tanks here in our nation’s capital.  You provide important ideas and scholarship on pressing issues ranging from matters of defense strategy and budget, to America’s strategic future in the Asia-Pacific, to the growing threats we face in the domain of cyberspace, to reviewing the Goldwater-Nichols Act that makes up much of DoD’s institutional organization.  And it’s because of that last piece of scholarship that I wanted to come here today.

As many of you know, I recently issued my posture statement for the Defense Department for fiscal year 2017 – the first to describe how we’re approaching five strategic challenges: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism.  It is in this context that I want to speak to you today about some key long-term strategic management questions that DoD will be detailing and discussing with congressional defense committees in the very next coming weeks.

As a learning organization, the U.S. military and the Defense Department has a long history of striving to reform our command structures and improve how our strategies and policies are formulated, integrated, and implemented.  Indeed, even while World War II was still being fought and before the Defense Department was even established, military leaders and policymaking officials were discussing how the military services could be unified, and exploring ways to develop stronger policy processes and advice.  The result was the National Security Act of 1947 and its amendments, which, among other historic changes, established the position of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Council.  Later reforms, particularly Eisenhower-era changes, helped strengthen the offices of the Defense Secretary and gave new authorities to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

But it was the Goldwater-Nichols Act, enacted 30 years ago this fall, that’s most responsible for today’s military and defense institutional organization.  With memories of Vietnam and the tragic Desert One raid still fresh, officials in defense and policymakers again considered reform.  And after nearly four years of work – not to mention some strong opinions by my former boss, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger – the resulting transformation was what we now refer to as Goldwater-Nichols.  It solidified the chain of command from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the Combatant Commanders.  It affirmed civilian control of the military by codifying in law that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is outside the chain of command, in order for him to be able to provide vital, objective, independent military advice to the Defense Secretary and the President.  At the same time, it also strengthened the Chairman’s role, created the position of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and centralized the role and voice of the Combatant Commands.  And it reinforced the concept of jointness, especially with respect to the careers of senior officers, by requiring them to gain professional experience outside of their service in order to advance further in their careers.  All senior officers know these policies today, for they are integral to career advancement and achievement, and they reflect the reality of how our servicemembers train and fight every day as a joint force.

Now, right around this time, albeit unrelated to Goldwater-Nichols, important changes were made to reform defense acquisition.  These were based on the recommendations of the Packard Commission, led by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Dave Packard.  As it happens, implementing the Packard Commission’s recommendations was another one of the first challenges I worked on early in my own career.

As a whole, all these changes were overwhelmingly beneficial – a credit to the work of not only the members of Congress who passed the legislation, but also their staffs, John Hamre being one among them, I should say.  What they put into law has given us generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who’ve grown accustomed to operating together as a joint force – overcoming many inter-service frictions of decades before.  And it’s enabled our nation to draw greater benefit from the advice of many valued Chairmen – from General Colin Powell during Operation Desert Storm, to General Joe Dunford today.

This year, as Goldwater-Nichols turns 30, we can see that the world has changed since then – instead of the Cold War and one clear threat, we face a security environment that’s dramatically different from the last quarter-century.  It’s time that we consider practical updates to this critical organizational framework, while still preserving its spirit and intent.  For example, we can see in some areas how the pendulum between service equities and jointness may have swung too far, as in not involving the service chiefs enough in acquisition decision-making and accountability; or where subsequent world events suggest nudging the pendulum further, as in taking more steps to strengthen the capability of the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs to support force management, planning, and execution across the combatant commands, particularly in the face of threats that cut across regional and functional combatant command areas of responsibility, as many increasingly do.

With this in mind, last fall I asked DoD’s Deputy Chief Management Officer, Peter Levine, and Lieutenant General Tom Waldhauser of the Joint Staff, to lead a comprehensive, department-wide review of these kinds of organizational issues – spanning the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the combatant commanders, and the military departments – to identify any potential redundancies, inefficiencies, or other areas of possible improvement.  And I’d like to discuss that review’s preliminary recommendations with you today. 

Over the coming weeks, we will execute some of these decisions under our own existing authority.  For others, where legislation is needed, we will work with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on implementation as they consider this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.  Of course, both Committees have their own important reviews of this issue underway as well – making this area ripe for working together, something I’m pleased to report we’ve been doing effectively, and will continue to do on this topic.  I applaud Chairman McCain, Senator Reed, Chairman Thornberry – each of whom I was able to speak to earlier this morning – and also Congressman Smith.  And I look forward to continuing to work closely with all of them and their committees.  Because when it comes to these fundamental matters of our national security, that’s what we have to do – work together.

Now, let me begin with transregional and transfunctional integration and advice – an imperative considering that the challenges we face today are less likely than ever before to confine themselves to neat regional or functional boundaries.  Our campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat is one example; as we and our coalition partners have taken the fight to ISIL both in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and where it’s metastasizing, our combatant commanders from Central Command, European Command, Africa Command, and Special Operations Command have had to coordinate efforts more than ever before.  Increasingly, I’ve also brought Strategic Command and Cyber Command into these operations as well, to leverage their unique capabilities in space and cyber to contribute to the defeat of ISIL.  Beyond terrorism, we also face potential future nation-state adversaries with widening geographic reach, but also widening exposure – something we may want to take into account in order to de-escalate a crisis and deter aggression.  And in other cases, we may have to respond to multiple threats across the globe in overlapping time frames.

In an increasingly complex security environment like this, and with a decision chain that cuts across the combatant commands only at the level of the Secretary of Defense, we’re not postured to be as agile as we could be.  Accordingly, we need to clarify the role and authority of the Chairman, and in some cases the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Staff, in three ways: one, to help synchronize resources globally for daily operations around the world, enhancing our flexibility, and my ability, to move forces rapidly across the seams between our combatant commands; two, to provide objective military advice for ongoing operations, not just future planning; and three, to advise the Secretary of Defense on military strategy and operational plans, for example, helping ensure that our plans take into account in a deliberate fashion the possibility of overlapping contingencies.

These changes recognize that in today’s complex world, we need someone in uniform who can look across the services and combatant commands and make objective recommendations to the department’s civilian leadership about where to allocate forces throughout the world and where to apportion risk to achieve maximum benefit for our nation.  And the person best postured to do that is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  We will pursue these changes in line with Goldwater-Nichols’s original intent, which is to enable the military to better operate in a seamless way, while still preserving both civilian control and the Chairman’s independence to provide professional military advice outside of the chain of command. 

Some have recommended the opposite course – to put the Chairman into the chain of command – but both Chairman Dunford and I agree that would erode the Chairman’s objectivity as the principal military advisor to the President and the Secretary of Defense.  And we appreciate that CSIS reached the same conclusion in its own review of Goldwater-Nichols.

The second area where we need to make updates is in our combatant commands – adapting them to new functions, and continuing to aggressively streamline headquarters.

Adapting to new functions will include changes in how we manage ourselves in cyberspace, in accordance with the emphasis I placed on cyber in my posture statement, and that the President made in his fiscal year 2017 budget.  There, I made clear that in each of the five challenges facing DoD, we must deal with them across all domains – not just the traditional air, land, sea, and space, but also cyberspace, where our reliance on technology has given us great strengths and great opportunities, but also some vulnerabilities that adversaries are eager to exploit.  That’s why our budget increases cyber investments to a total of $35 billion over the next five years, and why we should consider changes to cyber’s role in DoD’s Unified Command Plan.

As some of you may know, DoD is currently in the process of reducing our management headquarters by 25 percent – a needed step – and we’re on the road to accomplish that goal thanks to the partnership of the congressional defense committees, which once again we deeply appreciate.  We can meet these targets without combining Northern Command and Southern Command, or combining European Command and Africa Command – actions that would run contrary to why we made them separate, because of their distinct areas of emphasis and increasing demands on our forces in them.  And indeed those demands have only further increased in recent years, with each command growing busier.  So instead of combining these commands to the detriment of our friends, our allies, and in fact our own command and control capabilities, we intend to be more efficient by integrating functions like logistics, intelligence, and plans across the Joint Staff, the combatant commands, and subordinate commands, eliminating redundancies while not losing capability, and much can be done here.

Additionally, in the coming weeks the Defense Department will look to simplify and improve command and control where the number of four-star positions have made headquarters either top-heavy, or less efficient than they could be.  The military is based on rank hierarchy, where juniors are subordinate in rank to their seniors; this is true from the platoon to the corps level, but it gets complicated at some of our combatant and component command headquarters, where we have a deep bench of extremely talented senior leaders.  So where we see potential to be more efficient and effective, billets currently filled by four-star generals and admirals will be filled by three-stars in the future.

The next area I want to discuss today is acquisition.  Thirty years after the Packard Commission’s recommendations led to the establishment of an undersecretary of defense for acquisition, service acquisition executives, and the roles of program executive officers and program managers, it’s clear we still can and must do more to deliver better military capability while making better use of the taxpayers’ dollars.

Six years ago when I was Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, DoD began what I called the Better Buying Power, an initiative to continuously improve our acquisition system.  And under the current Undersecretary, Frank Kendall, we’re now on the third iteration, Better Buying Power 3.0.  And while we’re seeing compelling indications of positive improvements, including in areas like reduced cost growth and reduced cycle time, there’s still a constant need for improvement – particularly as technology, industry, and our own missions continue to change.

One way we’re improving is by involving the service chiefs more in acquisition decision-making and accountability, consistent with legislation Congress passed last year – including giving them a seat on the Defense Acquisition Board, and giving them greater authority at what’s known as “Milestone B,” where engineering and manufacturing development begins; that is, where programs are first defined and a commitment to fund them is made.  As I’ve discussed with the service chiefs, with this greater responsibility comes greater accountability – the chiefs themselves, and their military staffs, will need to sharpen this skillset, which in places has atrophied over the years, to be successful in discharging their new acquisition responsibilities.  And I also expect them to leverage the many lessons they’ve learned over the last 15 years as operators – many of them in war, where speed and agility are crucial – to help our acquisition professionals deliver even better capabilities to our warfighters.

Another way we’ll seek to improve is by streamlining the acquisition system itself.  This will include evaluating and where appropriate reducing other members of the Defense Acquisition Board – it’s currently composed of about 35 principals and advisors, each of whom is likely to feel empowered as a gatekeeper for acquisition; reducing these layers will both free up staff time and focus decision-making energy on overcoming real obstacles to program success rather than bureaucratic hurdles.  And we also intend to reduce burdensome acquisition documentation – just for one example, in cases where the defense acquisition executive serves as the milestone decision authority, the current process dictates that 14 separate documents be coordinated within the department.  Reducing these paperwork requirements in a meaningful way, and pushing approval authority lower down when a program is on the right track, will eliminate redundant reviews and shorten review timelines – ultimately getting capabilities fielded to our troops sooner, which our service chiefs and our combatant commanders desire and deserve.

The last major area where we need to update Goldwater-Nichols is in making changes to joint personnel management as part of what I call the Force of the Future – an endeavor I began last year to ensure that our future all-volunteer force will be just as fine as the one I have the privilege of leading today, even as generations change and job markets change.  We’ve taken several steps already – building on-ramps and off-ramps so technical talent can more easily flow between DoD and America’s great innovative communities; opening all combat positions to women who meet service standards to expand our access to 100 percent of America’s population for our all-volunteer force; and doing more to support military families to improve retention, like extending maternity and paternity leave, and giving families the possibility of some geographic flexibility in return for additional commitments.

Now, one of the hallmarks of Goldwater-Nichols is that it made joint duty required for all officers who wanted to rise to the highest levels of our military.  In so doing, it led to great advances in jointness across the military services – such that almost all our people know why, and how, we operate as a joint team – and it’s also significantly strengthened the ability of our Chairmen, our Joint Chiefs, and our Combatant Commanders to accomplish their joint responsibilities.

As we’ve learned over the years what it takes to operate jointly, it’s become clear that we need to change the requirements for joint duty assignments, which are more narrow and rigid than they need to be.  Accordingly, we’re proposing to broaden the definition of positions for which an officer can receive joint duty credit, going beyond planning and command-and-control to include joint experience in other operational functions, such as intelligence, fires, transportation and maneuver, protection, and sustainment, including joint acquisition.  For example, while a staff officer in a combatant command would get joint duty credit, an officer in a combined air operations center coordinating with servicemembers in all different uniforms to call in airstrikes against ISIL might not.  In another case, take two cyber airmen working at a combatant command – one does cyber plans and gets joint credit, the other does cyber targeting and doesn’t.  And while a logistics planner at a combatant command doesn’t receive joint credit, their operational plans counterpart does.  So what we’re proposing will fix these discrepancies and fulfill the true purpose of Goldwater-Nichols, which was to ensure meaningful joint experience.

Additionally, we’re also proposing to shorten the amount of time required to accumulate joint duty, from three years to two years, so top personnel have more flexibility to take on command assignments and other opportunities to broaden and deepen their careers.

Now, going forward, it’s important to make all these updates under the guiding principle of ‘do no harm.’  Goldwater-Nichols took four years to write, and it’s been incredibly successful over three decades – to the credit of the reforms it put in place, we are not driven today by a signal failure like Desert One.  To the contrary – I’m deeply proud of how our people have operated in Iraq and Afghanistan over the 15 years.  So we come at this from a different direction, and the updates we make now must not undo the many positive benefits that Goldwater-Nichols has had for DoD.  Instead, they must build on them.

Let me close today on why we’re doing this – why it’s important that we deal with all the pressing challenges and threats we have to deal with every day, and that as we do that we take a moment to address the topic of DoD’s organizational structure.  We do this because our servicemembers, and the nation they protect, deserve the best Defense Department and military we can give them – because they’re giving their best day in and day out, all around the globe.

It’s our job here – on both sides of the river here in Washignton, and both sides of the aisle – to come together as Barry Goldwater and Sam Nunn did 30 years ago to give our men and women in uniform what they need to succeed: from the right experience, to the right capabilities, to the right leadership structure, to the right strategic thinking.  As long as we do, I’m confident that they will continue to excel in defending our great country and making a better future for our children.

Thank you.