The Goldwater-Nichols Act and Reforming the Defense Enterprise:

Over the past year, the committee conducted a comprehensive review of the roles, missions, and organization of the major actors in the Department of Defense (DOD)—the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the defense agencies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff, the Combatant Commands, and the military services. This review was born out of a general concern that the organization of DOD too often inhibits, rather than enables, the talented people serving there to fulfill their duties at a time of major strategic and technological change. To produce a better, clearer definition of the problem, the committee held 13 hearings last fall with 52 of the nation’s foremost defense experts and former military leaders, who offered a wide and diverse array of opinions and recommendations, drawing on their extensive experience. Committee staff, on a bipartisan basis, also interviewed dozens of additional current and former defense and military leaders.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act sought to improve the ability of the Armed Forces to plan and operate as one joint force.

But if Goldwater-Nichols was about operational effectiveness, the challenge today is one of strategic integration—how DOD and the military services align their efforts and resources across different regions, functions, and domains, while balancing and sustaining those efforts over time. This includes strategic integration between DOD and key external actors—especially our nation’s dynamic, non-traditional commercial firms.

The strategic landscape confronting the United States has changed fundamentally since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act thirty years ago. Instead of one great power rival, the United States faces a multiplicity of strategic challenges: near-peer competitors such as China and Russia, regional powers such as Iran and North Korea that increasingly have the capabilities to pose threats that transcend their regions, and non-state violent extremist movements, including groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, that are metastasizing across Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. As the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs have testified to the
committee this year, all of these threats cut across different regional geographies and span different military functions and domains, and all are long-term in their character. We now face a series of multi-regional, cross-functional, multi-domain, and enduring strategic competitions that pose a significant challenge to the organization of DOD and the military, which is largely aligned around functional issues (policy, intelligence, acquisition, etc.) and regional geography (CENTCOM, AFRICOM, etc.).

At a more detailed level, the problem the committee sought to address is one of roles and missions—clarifying them and ensuring that all players are maximizing their effectiveness and playing their unique roles on the team. Too often DOD and the inter agency are hampered by stovepipes, duplication's, and lack of communication.  

This problem requires a recalibration of the roles and missions of the senior officials in DOD, as well as their relationships with each other, to enhance strategic integration across the defense enterprise.

The NDAA seeks to enhance strategic integration in seven areas: (1) the NSC staff; (2) the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff; (3) the combatant commands; (4) general and flag officers; (5) the Office of the Secretary of Defense; (6) staff and headquarters; and (7) strategy documents.