The Pentagon later this month will unveil preliminary findings of an ongoing review of its organizational structure, including the effects of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Photo: Pentagon
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Photo: Pentagon

“Preliminary internal findings are expected by the end of March to help shape our forthcoming recommendations to Congress,” he said in a 2017 defense posture statement released to Congress before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning.

Congress passed the Goldwater Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 to streamline the chain of command and help erase interservice rivalries.

“Without prejudging any outcomes, I can say our review is examining areas where the pendulum may have swung too far, as in not involving in the service chiefs in the acquisition decision-making and accountability; or where subsequent world events suggest nudging the pendulum further,” Carter wrote in the statement. Some of the latter areas may include strengthening the capability of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to address transregional threats, further streamlining the acquisition process, reducing duplication between the Joint Staff and Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and figuring out a more agile, effective way to allocate resources among the combatant commands (COCOM).

The last point is “where, from my point of view, I would like to strengthen the role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chairman,” he told lawmakers. “Different COCOMs see different things, and they are all deeply expert in their own regions, but somebody needs to put it all together and give me advice about that, how to synchronize all those forces. I look to the chairman and Joint Staff for that.”

SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been leading a separate review of Goldwater-Nichols, and his committee has held a series of hearings where current and former department and military officials testified on how the Pentagon’s organizational culture could be improved.

Thirty years ago, Goldwater-Nichols was passed to strengthen operational effectiveness, especially the service’s ability to fight together, McCain said in his opening statement. The current challenge is “strategic effectiveness,” or enhancing the department’s ability to confront a wide range of threats—including nation states or terrorist organizations—located around the world.

“Put simply, our competitors are catching up, and our defense organization must be far more agile and innovative than it is,” he said. 

After the hearing, McCain told Defense Daily that he and Carter had been keeping in contact and had met last week to discuss potential changes to the department’s organizational structure. The SASC chairman will be rolling out his reforms in the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, though he declined to disclose what potential language he is considering.

“We’re still working on it. We’re working hard,” he said. “But I assure you, there will be changes.”