Why civilian military secretaries are no longer needed – The Washington Post

The four military services in the Defense Department differ in their roles, missions and skills — which are good reasons to retain their separate identities. But as the duties of the uniformed service chiefs have converged with those of the civilian secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, the latter have become redundant appendages. Eliminating those positions would save money and streamline management, a good example for the rest of government. In today’s climate of fiscal austerity, cutting overhead is better than cutting defense programs.

Reciprocal loyalty between a civilian secretary and a military service chief represents the best relationship. The secretary can present the service’s case to the defense secretary and Congress while shaping the military organization to fit better into national strategy. In principle, the secretary provides an extra layer of civilian oversight and political insulation. But typically, that person is little more than a mouthpiece for his military subordinates; otherwise, the military goes around him to the media or contractors who have the ear of lawmakers. Any political insulation is undercut by the provision of law granting the military chiefs direct access to Congress.

via Why civilian military secretaries are no longer needed – The Washington Post.

I’ll have to cogitate on this one for a while. But my immediate reaction is to think that instead of eliminating the service secretaries, reduce the scope and power of the Office of Secretary of Defense.

The first SecDef to really use OSD to control the individual service bureaucracies was McNamara, in the early 1960s. And arguably, ever since, procurement management and operational management have become ever more sclerotic.

To be sure, a certain level of “purple” oversight is needed to keep the services in alignment for joint warfighting. But the need for the services to justify every procurement through OSD leads very long periods of time spent merely defining a platform, and a large part of the process isn’t defining what the service wants the platform to do, but jiggering the requirements to ensure it will pass OSD muster.

Like every system, overcentralization leads to a lack of agility.

Your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Why civilian military secretaries are no longer needed – The Washington Post”

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with the way things were when we had a Secretary of War and a Secretary of the Navy. The unified regime has led to all of DOD getting into things that just the Navy and Marines were involved in before, and we’ve become just a bit ham handed in the way we handle a number of things as compared to the time period between the two Roosevelt administrations.

    Traditionally, the Navy was seen as belonging to the President, while the Army belonged to Congress and, through them, the people. The War Department didn’t get involved unless there was a declared war (with the exception of Lincoln’s War). Maintaining the dichotomy would allow you to eliminate SecDef and all his hangers on, and the JCS could be maintained as it was before Goldwater-Nichols, which has been something less than an unalloyed blessing.

    There is quite a bit that could be unraveled that has come about because of unification. A lot could be left behind if we didn’t keep intervening where we have little or no vital interest. Placing USAF back under the Army and deleting their separate logistics system is one source of a big savings (I’d still spin off what used to SAC and MAC as Strategic Command and make it a joint command).

    Just making the majority of pilots Warrant Officers, as it is in the Army, would achieve a huge savings too. Same with the Navy and Marines. The Marines used to have Warrant Officer pilots at one time. In the late 70s the Silver Eagle* was a Marine Warrant Officer who flew C-130s.

    I think there are numerous ways we could save a lot of money in the military establishment if we unwound unification. It would also do away with a lot of the political pressures, not to mention ability, to intervene by jumping in with both feet in the way we have since the Reagan administration.

    * The Silver Eagle was the senior Naval Aviator. I don’t know if the recognition still exists or not. It used to be a big deal in “Naval Aviation” when the baton was passed, rating an article about the baton passing.

  2. QM, good to see you here. Lots of good ideas in your post.

    Navy culture may not be accepting about Warrent Offiicers as pilots. And the Marines are quite autonomous these days. I hear they dislike being a Department of the Navy. Marines are the Navy’s Men’s Department, as the old joke goes.

    DOD has some strengths, but too much effort is required to get anything through. Procurement is absolutely broken. A lot of reform is required.

    Good service secretaries can help, but it’s been a while since we had any.
    A smaller, more focused DOD, with procurement under the Service Secretaries, less joint requirements for personnel to allow for expertise in own field, and a culture of purple working together may help.

    I’m not hopeful, as I can imagine the fight to try and downsize SESers to GS-13s. Too many senior grades clogging up progress, but they are all justified. Just ask them.

    It’s the Grey Eagle for senior Aviator, by flight status time. Naval Flight Officers have the Grey Owl Award, and the Coast Guard has the Ancient Albatross Award. SWOs have the newbee award Old Salt Award.

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