WASHINGTON: In a remarkably non-partisan moment amidst the current strife over budget cuts and Chuck Hagel, Ronald Reagan’s Navy Secretary and George W. Bush’s Chief of Naval Operations told a Republican-helmed committee that the Navy’s real problem was not the Obama administration’s budget but decades of creeping bureaucracy that have eaten every budget’s buying power.
“I hate to say anything particularly in praise of this administration’s defense policy,” said John Lehman, Navy Secretary from 1981 to 1987 and national security advisor to Mitt Romney in 2012, at a hearing of the seapower panel of the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Randy Forbes. But, Lehman went on, a recent report by the Defense Business Board really shows “how to get at the bureaucracy and the overhead.”
The chairman of that study, retired Marine general Arnold Punaro, told AOL Defense at the time that its recommendation for the Pentagon procurement system was, in a phrase, “put a match to it.”
Goldwater-Nichols is often seen as a response to the lack of joint warfighting capability exposed by the serious problems in the 1982 invasion of Grenada, and a few other incidents. It gave us our current joint structure of regional Combatant Commanders (formerly the regional CinC’s), and strengthened the Office of Secretary of Defense, and largely limited the role of the service heads in the realm of current operations. Whereas the CNO used to be the Chief of Naval Operations, he is today really the chief of buying stuff and training sailors. CNO is no longer in the operational chain of command.
But the CNO, despite being the guy in charge of buying stuff, isn’t trusted to decide what to buy. Virtually all major acquisition programs are centrally managed via the OSD.
Theoretically, the system for procurement is rather simple. But in practice, the procurement system, like so much of government, emphasizes process over product. By the time a program manager is assigned, there’s assumed to be a valid need for the program. And the program manager is evaluated on how well his program moves through the process, not on whether the product is useful, efficient, or even really needed. That’s how you wind up with the LHX helicopter program running for a quarter century, going from a program for a cheap replacement for the Huey, Cobra and Kiowa, to the RAH-66 Comanche stealth scout helicopter that would have been the most expensive helicopter in the world by far. And it took the SecDef to cancel it, even though everyone knew it was busting the Army’s entire procurement budget, not just aviation, and it had no real role to fulfill in the force structure.
I don’t have a sure answer for fixing procurement. But I’d start by devolving procurement authority further down from OSD toward the services, with each service having virtual autonomy in certain functional areas. OSD would still maintain its role in assuring interoperability.
I’d also take a long hard look at the COCOM structure. Do they really all need to be four-star slots? The force deployed today in Afghanistan would have been a two-star job in World War II. At least some of the COCOMS should be two star, or at most, three star slots. If more horsepower is needed when a region is an actual theater of combat, it’s easy enough to bump it up. But just keeping a stable of four stars and their multitude of subordinate three and two star component deputies is wasteful.
Split the world in half. Pacific Command and Atlantic Command (or whatever you wish to call them). Make them the regional 4-star COCOM, and specific regional commanders under them can be lower grades.
At any event, Goldwater Nichols needs to be replaced by a more efficient structure.