Security Studies Seminar

The Second Goldwater-Nichols Act

Clark Murdock
Center for Strategic and International Studies

October 26, 2005


This talk presents the findings of a two-year study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on defense reform.

This project has three phases. The Smith-Richardson Foundation funded Phase One, which dealt with the civilian, joint, and service balance, budgeting, national security personnel, and interagency relations. Congress funded Phase Two in an earmark to the 2004 Defense Appropriations Bill. Phase Two looked at force capabilities, regional and functional command issues, military education, defense acquisition and other matters. Phase Three, which is ongoing, is funded out of the 2005 Defense Appropriations Bill. It deals with military command structures and continues to study acquisition, but looks mostly at Guard and Reserve issues. The recommendations included here were extensively briefed at DoD.

We have tried to follow the motto: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." All institutional changes have unintended consequences, so you do not want to suggest them willy-nilly. We also tried to avoid focusing on areas where heavy change in already underway.

Experience counts, so we held a lot of working group meetings full of former high-level officials. We also dealt in the realm of the possible; there is no point in making recommendations with no chance of being adopted. We operated under the belief that responsibility requires capacity; giving authority and responsibility without means to act on it is a recipe for failure.

You can't just suggest that people do there jobs better. The solution is always organizational change. You have change people's incentives. Facilitating action is preferable to incentivizing inaction. And you do not want to incentivize ineffective organizations; you do not want to empower them.

One point that came from military people in Phase One was the idea that we a need a Goldwater-Nichols for the interagency process. But you can't do that in government, where you do not have a chain of command. It is antithetical to our form of government, where you need quarrelling. Conflict is how they do business on the hill.

Advocacy and the competition of ideas are integral, but you need to structure and manage that conflict to minimize wasted effort. Today there is too much redundant national security bureaucracy in the U.S. government. There are tons of staffs in the services, in the administration, and on the hill, which generate reports. They consume their efforts meeting each other's bureaucratic imperatives. The Secretary of Defense needs to constrain the competition to the strategic choices facing him. We need clean structures of advocacy.

One problem is the strength of the Joint Staff versus the civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The Joint Staff has become much more powerful. Moreover, the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System ( PPBS) is a problem; no one thinks it works.

The Phase Two recommendations came out of an extensive vetting process at the Pentagon, with contractors, on the Hill, and with the NSC and services. There is widespread recognition that the interagency process is broken, as shown by the Iraq war. One recommendation is to unify joint effort among agencies through a stronger NSC.

DoD's acquisition process is inextricably linked to the front end capability requirements determination process that addresses what to buy — what you want for the military. Acquisition is also linked to the back-end resource allocation process that funds acquisition programs. Many ills in the acquisition process actually come from these other processes. For instance, programs suffer from “requirements creep,” where acquirers are trying to buy equipment for a moving target while trying to make trade-offs between performance, cost and schedule. Another problem is that too many programs are authorized because of a lack of fiscal discipline, and they must compete for resources, creating funding instability. The underlying incentive structure is dysfunctional in that it encourages the understatement of costs.

The Goldwater-Nichols reforms were designed for a different world with more acquisition. Our acquisition reforms aim to avoid embarrassing mistakes like $600 dollar toilet seats or going into high rates of production before technologies are ready.

Today the world has changed. DoD relies on four or five prime contractors. There are fewer new project starts, but many have become far more technologically complex. Rates of production are lower.

Goldwater-Nichols empowered the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the expense of service chiefs and department secretaries. But service chiefs are now at the center of long-term resource allocation and management. We need to integrate the acquisition and resource allocation processes.

One recommendation is therefore to restore service chiefs' authority and expand and fund a more rapid acquisition process. Service chiefs need more responsibility for acquisition and resource allocation, because the two processes are inseparable. That means taking authority away from OSD civilians.

But that change must be combined with a robust process for determining joint capability needs. Requirements have to be joint; the services should compete only to generate joint requirements. We recommend the creation of a Joint Requirements Oversight Council and creating, in Joint Forces Command, capability for generating conventional forces requirements.

Joint Forces Command should work more directly with regional commanders. We also recommend building more capacity in regional commanders by moving requirements creation out of a service-centric process and creating a combatant commander process to generate requirements that are then worked out jointly in Washington . Regional commands have to identify near term capability shortfalls.

You cannot reform Congress, so that's outside the recommendations.


Clark Murdock, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,, is the lead investigator of a two-year study on Defense Department reform, "Beyond Goldwater-Nichols: Defense Reform for a New Strategic Era." He has served as Deputy Director of the Air Force's headquarters planning function and as senior policy adviser to late House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Les Aspin.

Rapporteur: Ben Friedman

back to seminar schedule, Fall 2005