Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is broadly supportive of the changes to the Pentagon’s organizational structure proposed Monday by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, but expect the Senate to unveil more sweeping changes to the Goldwater-Nichols Act in the defense authorization bill, McCain told reporters on Tuesday.

“We’ve been working together [with the Defense Department] on some of those proposals,” he said, “Ours go a lot further. But certainly they are very good proposals.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

McCain did not detail any of the potential reforms he is considering, but said the bill “will be much more comprehensive and controversial” than the department’s own plan, and could involve changes to combatant commands.

“Wait until we finish,” he said. “It’s got to be agreed to by [SASC’s top Democrat] Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and the minority and the entire committee…That’s what we have markups for.”

The preliminary changes announced by Carter on Tuesday were largely modest in scope, centering around clarifying the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and potential decreases to the number of seats on the Defense Acquisition Board and the number of four-star positions. Ultimately, the department shied away from major reforms that had been proposed during SASC hearings and thinktank events such as inserting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff into the chain of command or consolidating the number of regional combatant commands (Defense Daily, April 5).

McCain on Tuesday also mentioned that he continues to push for a vote on Eric Fanning’s nomination for Army secretary, which stalled after Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) placed a hold on his nomination over concerns on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

Fanning was nominated in September, and SASC in March voted to move his nomination forward.  However, lawmakers cannot bring a vote to the Senate floor until Roberts removes his hold.

“I’m working on it. I promise you I am working on it,” McCain said. “I think that he is qualified and we ought to give him the benefit of a decision of whether we’re just going to continuously hold him or we’re going to move forward. I’m working very hard and working with the White House.”

He has also talked to Senator Roberts “ad nauseam” about the issue, he said. Roberts has said he seeks assurances from the Obama administration that it will not transfer detainees to Kansas, and a spokeswoman told Defense Daily earlier this week that he plans to continue his hold on the nomination until then (Defense Daily, April 4).

“He feels very strongly, obviously, as you know, about Kansas and Guantanamo,” McCain said. “I’ve tried to explain that the secretary of the Army does not have any control over that.”