Reorganization Plan: What’s Proposed for the Pentagon?

Jan. 1, 1961

The Democratic Party platform, on which Mr. John F. Kennedy ran and was elected, had this to say about the organization of the Department of Defense:

“A first order of business of a Democratic Administration will be a complete reexamination of the organization of our armed forces.

“A military organizational structure, conceived before the revolution in weapons technology, cannot be suitable for the strategic deterrent, continental defense, limited war, and military alliance requirements of the 1960s.

“We believe that our armed forces should be organized more nearly on the basis of function, not only to produce greater military strength, but also to eliminate duplication and save substantial sums.”

As the first step in this “first order of business” Mr. Kennedy asked Senator Stuart Symington to head a committee to examine the problems involved in reorganizing the Pentagon and to come up with a recommended plan. The Symington committee included, as reported in our December issue, the following:

Clark M. Clifford, Thomas K. Finletter, Roswell L. Gilpatric, Fowler Hamilton, and Marx Leva. All these men share a background of expertise in defense administration, Finletter and Gilpatric with the Air Force, Clifford and Leva with the Navy and Department of Defense, Hamilton as general counsel to the Senate Subcommittee on Airpower in 1956.

The report of the Symington Committee, which Mr. Kennedy has accepted but to which he has not, at this writing, reacted, follows.—The Editors

In any appraisal of the US military posture one salient factor stands out above the rest. That is the threefold significance of reaction time at this stage in history:

• First is the unprecedented strategic value of time —the ability to react instantly against aggression in this nuclear-space age.

In World Wars I and II our country had at least eighteen months to build and mobilize its defenses.

If there should ever be a World War III, we would be fortunate to have eighteen minutes to react.

• Second is the crucial time element in the United States vs. Soviet arms race—the need for early selection among alternative weapon systems and for shorter lead times between conception and use.

• Third is the effect of time on defense cost. Re­gardless of how much the people of this country spend, they cannot buy time. Yet we tend to forget the costly effect of building weapons which have become obso­lescent as a result of delay.

Only by giving full recognition to these all-important time factors can the defense establishment of the United States be strengthened in a really meaningful way.

Background of Committee Recommendations

The existing structure of the Department of Defense is still patterned primarily on a design conceived in the light of lessons learned in World War II, which are now largely obsolete.

The piecemeal amendments to the basic legislation effected in 1949 and 1958 and the “reorganization” of 1953 did not alter the essential character of the US military organization, deployed on the basis of whether a military man travels on land, sea, or air. Hence it can be truly said that since 1947 there has been no fundamental change in the scheme of organization of our armed forces.

Yet, during this period of nearly a decade and a half, the whole state of the art in military science has been revolutionized, as epitomized in the transitions to the jet, nuclear, and space ages.

No longer is the prime mission of the military forces of the United States to prevail in a World War II-type of open warfare; now it is to ensure the defense and survival of the nation in the current era of cold war and protracted conflict, with always the possibility of nuclear attack.

Changes of comparable magnitude have taken place in the international political conditions which constantly accentuate the military risks to which the United States is now subject.

Although two partial reorganizations of the Defense Department since 1952 failed to bring the organiza­tional structure of the Department into line with the requirements of today’s military conditions, the neces­sity for modernizing the defense organization has been widely recognized; and both the Administration and the Congress have been repeatedly urged to take fur­ther measures.

In 1958 the Rockefeller Brothers Report recom­mended major changes in the military establishment to remedy those central weaknesses in its structure which have contributed to the lag in US weapon systems de­velopment versus that of the Soviets.

In 1959 Senator Cooper proposed a bill designed to make improvements in the administration and control of the Defense Department; and in 1960 Senator Symington introduced amendments to the National Security Act which would have effected further reor­ganization of the Defense Department.

It was in the light of such bipartisan moves that the Democratic Platform for 1960 called for a “complete examination of the organization of our armed forces,” as a first order of business of the next Administration, and that Senator Kennedy asked this committee to pro­duce for him “a concrete program with specific pro­posals in the clearly defined field of its responsibility.”

Throughout all proposals, past and present, to make more effective the Defense Department organization has run one central theme—the clarification and strengthening of the authority of the Secretary of Defense over the entire United States military estab­lishment.

There are some who believed, even prior to the 1958 amendments to the National Security Act, that existing legislation provided ample basis for the Secretary’s authority. Others took a contrary view. It is the conclusion of this committee that the doctrine of civilian control will be compromised as long as any doubts exist on this vital point.

Besides resolving any such remaining doubts, there are three major objectives to be sought in modernizing the present Defense Department structure:

• First, there must be a shortening of the time factor in bringing new weapon systems from concep­tion to utilization without duplication and wasted effort. Under the existing multilayered structure it is only possible to reduce administrative—i.e., decision-­making—lead time by crash procedures set up for key programs such as the Special Projects Office of the Navy now in charge of the Polaris program and the Ballistic Missile Division established by the Air Force to expedite the ICBM program. This ad hoc streamlining of weapon systems management inevitably slows up progress in other areas.

Furthermore, for today’s advanced weapons, such as missiles, and tomorrow’s possible new ones, such as space vehicles, there is no longer any validity in sepa­rating the development and production cycle into two parts. This has been the practice with World War II-type and other conventional weapons which, when de­veloped, can be manufactured by production-line techniques.

With the present need for concurrency in many stages of weapon systems management, and with the relatively limited number of any given advanced weapon that will be produced, rigid distinctions be­tween research and development and procurement and production organizations are no longer needed, and their performance should be more closely coordinated in the interest of economy in time, money, and motion.

• Second, the predominance of service influence in the formulation of defense planning and the perform­ance of military missions must be corrected. At present, defense planning represents at best a series of compro­mised positions among the military services. Action by the Joint Chiefs of Staff takes place, if at all, only after prolonged debate, coordination, and negotia­tion between the .staffs of the three service chiefs in preparing them to represent the points of view of their services in the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

No different results can be expected as long as the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retain their two-hatted character, with their positions preconditioned by the service environment to which they must return after each session of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nor can the Joint Staff become fully effective in developing the basis for clear military judgments unless the present degree of influence exercised by separate service thinking is sharply reduced.

In short, there is a clear need for defense interest rather than particular service interest.

• Third, there must be more effective utilization of human effort and material resources in the defense establishment. This can only be achieved through a flexible organization conforming to the present-day nature of military missions instead of traditional serv­ice concepts. Such a change in organization would tend to minimize the duplication and delay growing out of the present multiple layers of control and the overlapping among military programs and operations caused by steadily increasing interservice rivalry in an effort to fulfill common missions.

No longer can this nation afford the luxury of letting each service strive to develop in itself the capability of fighting any future war by itself. The national re­sources available for our country’s defense effort are in limited supply, and we cannot afford such waste of either manpower or funds.

Recommendations for DoD Reorganization

In order to accomplish the objectives mentioned above, the committee recommends the elimination of the present departmental structure of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, but would preserve the military services as separate organic units within a single Defense Department. Such a step would do away with the present departmental service secretaries and their under- and assistant secretaries, fifteen in all.

Certain of the defense reorganization proposals that contemplate this change, such as the bills introduced during recent sessions of Congress by Senator Cooper (S. 2728) and Senator Symington (S. 2957), have made provision for replacing the present service secre­taries with three new Undersecretaries of Defense for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The committee (in­cluding its chairman) now believes, however, that, by perpetuating separate service secretariats, it will be more difficult to subordinate service interest to national interest. The committee therefore considers that it would be wise to discontinue what is now a dual sys­tem of civilian control as a result of interposing between the Secretary of Defense and the services them­selves a set of secretaries identified with each of the services.

Vesting directly in the Secretary of Defense the administration of the services would be consistent with the functional scheme of military operations already now reflected in the unified commands, would concen­trate civilian control in the Department of Defense at one level instead of two, would reduce the delays incident to obtaining separate service department coordination, and would facilitate effective civilian direction of defense policy as distinct from military operations.

Since the 1958 amendments of the National Security Act, the chain of command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense, and, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the commanders of the unified and speci­fied commands. The only change in this operational chain of command contemplated by the recommenda­tions of the committee would be to substitute the Chairman of the Joint Staff for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thus, orders to commanders of unified and specified commands would be issued by the Secretary of Defense (or by the Chairman of the Joint Staff by authority and direction of the Secretary of Defense). These com­manders, in turn, would continue to have full opera­tional control over the forces assigned to them.

Under the new structure proposed by the committee the military services would retain their existing respon­sibilities for administrative and logistic support of the military commands. The chain of command for such purposes, as distinguished from operational direction of the military commands, would run from -the Presi­dent to the Secretary of Defense to the chiefs of the services rather than to the military departments through their secretaries as at present. The effect of this one change in the chain of command for nonopera­tional functions would be to shorten the chain—again, reduce delay—and to place the chiefs of the separate services (who would no longer serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff) in direct line of command with the Secretary of Defense from whom their orders would issue.

The end result should be to accomplish what the committee believes to be a major objective in any change of the defense structure, namely, to make the Secretary of Defense the civilian official in the Depart­ment of Defense with unquestioned authority and con­trol over all elements of the Department of Defense at all levels.

Specific Recommendations

A. Strengthening Civilian Authority.

1. The military services would be retained, but the present departmental structure of the Army, Navy, and Air Force would be eliminated. This in turn would do away with the present positions of service secretaries, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries. The services would remain separate organic units, albeit within a single department (as is the case today with the Marines), and subject to the direction, authority, and control of the Secretary of Defense.

2. There would be created two new Undersecre­taries of Defense, one for Weapon Systems and one for Administration. Together with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, they would comprise the planned statutory appointees in the Department.* In addition, the Secretary of Defense may designate such civilian assistants as he deems necessary.

The seven existing offices of Assistant Secretary of Defense (in addition to the fifteen service secretarial offices) would be abolished. Their functions would be absorbed by Directorates set up under the two new Undersecretaries. This Directorate organization would be subject to change by the Secretary of Defense and should not be frozen into a pattern fixed by legislation.

3. The Undersecretary of Defense for Administra­tion would be responsible for activities such as finan­cial management (comptroller), personnel, legal, trans­portation and communications, legislative, congres­sional liaison, public information, and health and medical.

As rapidly as possible all military personnel would be subject to similar recruitment practices, rules for training and length of service, pay for comparable responsibilities, and flexibility of assignment and trans­fer within and among the services and the service schools and academies.

There would be unified direction and responsibility for all service schools and other military educational institutions.

4. The Undersecretary of Defense for Weapon Systems would be responsible to the Secretary for the complete cycle of weapons development, procurement, and production; and also for construction and installa­tions, including bases, housing, and depots.

These activities would be managed through three Directorates, namely:

a. The Directorate of Research and Engineer­ing, which would take over the functions now carried on by the present Director of Defense Research and Engineering, and in addition would be responsible for the following activities now located in the Office of the Secretary of Defense:

(1) The Science Advisory Board (formerly the Strategic Missiles Evaluation Com­mittee).

(2) The Research and Development Policy Council.

(3) The Defense Science Board.

(4) The OSD Ballistic Missile Committee.

The functions heretofore exercised by the Ad­vanced Research Projects Agency would be absorbed in the new Research and Engineering Directorate.

b. The Directorate of Procurement and Pro­duction, which would be responsible for all procurement and production functions.

c. The Directorate of Facilities, which would be responsible for all activities regarding facili­ties and installations, including responsibility for the planning and construction of facilities for re­search and testing of weapons, industrial-type facilities for weapons production and mainte­nance, facilities for weapons operation and use—such as missile and space vehicle launching installations—and noncombatant facilities such as on- and off-base housing.

5. There would be created a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Arms Control who would serve as the defense liaison in that area with the State Department; and also with other agencies as designated.

B. Command of Military Operations.

6. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would be reconstituted so the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (to be redesig­nated Chairman of the Joint Staff) would be the principal military adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense.

The Chairman would preside over a group of senior officers from all services to be known as the Military Advisory Council. Each of such senior officers would be appointed by the President and would no longer have any functions or responsibilities in the service from which he came and to which he would not return.

In addition, the Chairman would direct the Joint Staff, enlarged commensurate with the added respon­sibilities of the Chairman.

7. Each of the services would have a chief who would not serve on the Joint Staff or the Military Advisory Council; and who would report directly to the Secretary of Defense.

8. There would be established the following unified commands, the commanders of which would report directly to the Chairman of the Joint Staff:

a. A Strategic Command, responsible for all strategic missions.

b. A Tactical Command, responsible for all limited and conventional defense missions.

c. A Defense Command, responsible for all continental defense missions.

Each of the above unified commands will include all of the personnel, equipment, and weapon sys­tems required for the performance of its respective missions.

To the extent that any regional or area specific com­mands would be required in addition to the above-listed unified commands, their commanders would also report directly to the Chairman of the Joint Staff. Such commands would be composed of units assigned from the unified commands.

9. There would be established a unified command in charge of the National Guard and Reserve elements of all of the services. In addition to its other functions, this command would be responsible for civil defense, and would report directly to the Chairman of the Joint Staff.

C. Budgetary Procedures.

10. The Secretary of Defense would be required to present to the appropriate committees of the Congress a detailed explanation of the military requirements for all missions and Defense Department operations prior to the presentation of the defense budget to the Con­gress.

11. The appropriation of all defense funds would hereafter be made to the Secretary of Defense. Certain categories of the defense budget such as research and development and long lead time procurement would be put on a multiyear instead of a one-year justification and appropriation cycle.—End

*Mr. Leva, while agreeing that there should be a drastic reduction in the number of secretaries, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries, believes that the Secretary of Defense needs the assistance of several additional Undersecretaries of Defense.

Fact or Fancy

It would serve little purpose, at this juncture, to go deeply into the detailed pros and cons of the defense reorganization plan proposed by Mr. Kennedy’s committee. It remains to be seen how and if the proposed recommen­dations are to be implemented.

However, historically, the opposition to any proposals leading to more unified and effective direction of our na­tional defense establishment has tended to shy away from fact and logic. Rather it has always been based on tradition, emotion, and self-serving parochialism.

Here are some of the major arguments resorted to in the past and likely to rear their unbeautiful heads again:

Fancy: The German General Staff was unified and lost two World Wars. Why should we imitate it

Fact: German General Staff was not, repeat not, a unified staff. It was an Army staff. And the United States has had the same general type of staff organization in each of its services throughout most of this century.

Further, no major power has ever had a true inter-service staff with a single chief of staff. So we would not be imitating anyone.

Fancy: The creation of a single Chief of Staff would lead to military domination of the Defense Department and eventually of the country. It would pave the way for a “man on horseback”—for a dictator.

Fact: History’s dictators have seldom been generals. Napoleon was a captain of artillery. Hitler was a corporal. Castro, Khrushchev, Mussolini, Stalin, Perón, and a host of others took the civilian road to power. And they, the civilian despots, historically have ruled their military serv­ices, not the reverse.

Fancy: The present system is working well. Decisions can be promptly made at present. Why change

Fact: The Joint Chiefs, at the time of the earthquakes in Chile, debated for five hours as to whether Air Force helicopters or Marine helicopters should be sent in relief.

Fancy: What duplication exists under the present system is healthy and not wasteful.

Fact: When Vice President Nixon was attacked by a mob in Venezuela the Army and Air Force flew para­troopers to Puerto Rico to stand by for a rescue operation, if needed. The Navy shipped a force of Marines to Cuba at the same time and for the same purpose. Would this be the way to run a war

Fancy: The needs for different kinds of forces for the major physical media of potential combat are so contra­dictory that the conflict cannot be resolved in a unified establishment.

Fact: At least one service, the Navy, has its own air, ground, sea and space components, which appear to work quite well under unified direction.

In 1903, Secretary of War Elihu Root, after a long and bitter fight, successfully shook up the War Depart­ment, combining a jumble of quasi-independent bureaus, branches and geographic departments into one entity called the United States Army under a single General Staff and a single Chief of Staff. The outcries of anguished protest were long and loud.

General Miles, for example, told the Senate Military Affairs Committee:

“The scheme is revolutionary, casts to the winds the lessons of experience, and abandons methods which suc­cessfully carried us through the most memorable epochs of our history.”

And so runs the argument today. It’s logic versus emo­tion, fact versus fancy, tradition versus progress.—End