7 July 2016 Legislative News Update

7 July 2016 Legislative News Update


AUSA’s president told lawmakers this week that while he agrees the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 should be tweaked, lawmakers should also proceed with caution.

Goldwater–Nichols, signed by President Ronald Reagan, fundamentally reworked the command structure of the United States military and is most responsible for the current military and defense institutional organization.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Carter Ham, USA, Retired, said, “Let’s be sure the changes to the law are likely to improve military effectiveness, not simply change things.”

He outlined how the law had allowed him to be exposed to joint educational opportunities such as the College of Naval Command and Staff and the Air Force War College which Ham said set him on the path that led to multiple joint command assignments.

The Secretary of Defense and both chambers of Congress have expressed their belief that changes to Goldwater-Nichols are warranted.  The most common theme is the current view that the world has changed in the 30 years since the law was enacted.  Instead of the Cold War and one clear threat, the United States faces a security environment that’s dramatically different from the last quarter-century and many agree that the law must be reviewed and changed to reflect the new national security challenges.

In an April 2016 speech, Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlined his vision of how the Department of Defense should look.  Carter’s approach, however, is more gradual than the House and Senate Armed Services Committees want.  Both chambers passed defense policy bills containing provisions that go much further than Carter’s plan.

Areas all parties agree need to be updated include clarification of the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reform of how the Pentagon buys its equipment, a reduction of the Pentagon’s military and civilian senior staff and a broadening of the definition of a joint duty assignment.   

What reforms will be made to Goldwater-Nichols won’t be unveiled until after the House and Senate conferees meet to hammer out a final defense policy bill.  While informal negotiations have begun, it is unlikely that it will be finished before Congress departs for its extended summer recess. 


There are seven legislative days remaining before Congress heads for the door.  Just five weeks are left on the congressional calendar before the Oct.1 start of a new fiscal year.  Only one of 12 spending bills is even close to passage (Military Construction-VA) and it is facing many hurdles in the Senate. 

It’s pretty clear that Congress will pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running past Oct. 1.  How long that CR will last is the question of the day.

Capitol Hill chatter indicates that some House Republicans are contemplating a CR that would last until March 2017, when the new president is in office. 

What would that mean for the defense department?  Nothing good according to Sen. Richard Durbin, the Senate’s Minority Whip and the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. 

“Try to run the Department of Defense on a CR.  You know the bottom line or top dollar number, but to put into each one of your agencies, sub-agencies, the same amount of money as last year, is not a good way to govern and it’s certainly not a good way to respect the taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

House appropriators are not keen on the idea.  Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he would prefer shorter CR while Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho said, “There are some real consequences to doing a CR, and I don’t know that everybody understands that.”

Simpson would rather see a short CR and then passage of a catchall package by the end of the year to wrap up fiscal 2017 spending.

Our take:  We would like to see Congress pass all 12 spending bills.  Since that seems to be slipping away quickly, a short-term CR would be preferable.  An extended CR would be extremely detrimental to the Army, national security and the economy. 

The inefficiency created by a CR wastes significant amounts of taxpayer money.  Further, a long-term CR increases the risk to soldiers because it reduces the Army’s flexibility to respond to pressing operational needs.  Finally, it reduces American global stature when we repeatedly demonstrate governmental dysfunction instead of regular order.

Stay tuned.