- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

When Churchill said, "It is not possible in a major war to divide military from political affairs," he might have been summarizing the challenges faced recently by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld's Sept. 17 memo to the Defense leadership asks for legislative proposals to be included in the department's congressional shopping list for next year. It begins, tellingly, with, "Every week a senior official in this department tells me we are constrained in our ability to do something by an obsolete legal provision." Mr. Rumsfeld no stranger to the problem is now rediscovering many of the obstacles to progress that his predecessors found limiting, and wants to remove them. But the structure and functions of the Defense Department are often designed to reflect the congressional baronies that created them as much as they are to defend the nation.
Attached to the memo is Mr. Rumsfeld's "Proposed Top Ten Priorities for the Next 6-12 Months." That list in addition to giving his team guidance to focus their proposals speaks volumes about how Congress has rooted its control deeply in almost everything the Defense Department does. Mr. Rumsfeld's list is a reflection of how he wants to transform the defense establishment as well as a list of the types of legislative constraints he wants removed.
Starting with the war on terrorism, the Rumsfeld list wants to strengthen "joint warfighting capabilities" by making it easier for the services to train and operate together. The list envisions legislation to make the "joint warfighters" lighter, more agile, and easily deployable. On the personnel side, Mr. Rumsfeld wants to stabilize the joint forces by revising career paths and lengthening tours of duty that will improve unit cohesion. He wants to revise the theory of overseas basing of U.S. forces and fashion a "more relevant footprint," i.e., ensure that forces stationed overseas are of the right size and kind to meet the threats they face.
In homeland security, Mr. Rumsfeld wants the Defense Department's role to be defined, and he sees the need to focus and integrate Defense jobs with those done by other agencies. He wants to rationalize the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council to preserve Defense Department prominence and prevent duplication of effort.
Mr. Rumsfeld wants to optimize intelligence capabilities, to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and as a good manager to shorten the time taken by all Defense processes (including weapons acquisition and budgeting) by 50 percent. Mr. Rumsfeld's list is a pretty tall order. To achieve it all, Congress would have to hand back to the department much of the authority it has taken away over the past 50 years. While congressional prerogatives are often important, giving the Defense Department a bit more discretion in pursuit of its daily tasks sounds like a good idea in these dangerous times.


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