- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) — The four chiefs of the armed services have not been briefed on an apparent plan by the Pentagon's civilian leadership to examine cutting their terms of service from four years to two. Neither are they aware of a draft proposal to have the statutorily independent Joint Staff report to the office of the secretary of defense rather than just to the military, they told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

"We've not been briefed on the details of such a proposal," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, who together with the three service chiefs, the chairman and the vice chairman comprise the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The legislation causes concern on Capitol Hill, where members of Congress solicit independent advice and commentary from the services as a counterweight to the president's politically appointed civilian leadership at the Pentagon.

Moreover, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is expected to provide military assessments to the president. If the staff supporting the chairman is also beholden to the defense secretary, sources on Capitol Hill worry the chairman's independent, apolitical voice in the White House will be compromised.

According to the draft legislation — a copy of which was obtained by United Press International — the Pentagon has drawn up a series of changes it wants to see in the organization and chain of command at the Defense Department. Among them is a plan to have the Joint Staff, roughly 1,600 military personnel, answer not solely to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but also to the civilian secretary of defense.

It would also give the defense secretary unprecedented veto power over Joint Staff staffing decisions and allow the defense secretary to press members of the Joint Staff into duty in his office.

"I think these proposals, taken together or separately, would undermine the ability of the uniform military to provide independent military advice to the civilian leadership, to the executive branch and to Congress," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said at the hearing.

The Joint Staff was created to give the chairman of the Joint Chiefs independent military advice, separate from inter-service rivalry, which until the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was extreme and often worked against overall military interests.

Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in his book "My American Journey" that it was the lack of an independent and strong Joint Staff voice that kept the military from speaking out against the "deepening morass" of the Vietnam War.

Powell was one of the most powerful Joint Chiefs of Staff, using his direct influence over the president to help limit the 1991 Persian Gulf War to expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait and not to pushing all the way to Baghdad.

Indeed, the draft legislation would explicitly excise a reference to the independence of the Joint Staff. One proposed change would strike the word "independently" from the following sentence in the law: "The secretary of defense shall ensure that the Joint Staff is independently organized and operated so that the Joint Staff supports the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff …"

The draft legislation would also repeal a limit on the number of staff serving the secretary of defense, now capped at 3,767.

That change directly contradicts an earlier edict from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. On Sept. 10, 2001, Rumsfeld announced his intention to cut 15 percent from all headquarters staffs in the military.

"We can take what I believe to be a very reasonable 15 percent cut in the tail, in the headquarters staffs, as opposed to our forces. And we've got a lot of people who want to do that. They recognize that these layers of bureaucracy here slow us down, make us less innovative," he said.

The Pentagon legislative proposal says the changes would consolidate duplicative functions in non-war fighting areas of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff and "enhance the level of support" and "organizational learning" and possibly also save personnel costs.

The suggestion that the service chiefs should serve just two-year terms was rejected by the chiefs at the hearing. That proposal is contained in a memo written last fall by Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel David Chu.

The memo directs the civilian service secretaries to develop legislative and policy changes that would put the service chiefs in the same cycle as the chairman. The military service chiefs are not on the memo's distribution list.

The service chiefs are responsible for training and equipping their forces, and they say the effort needed to make the cumbersome acquisition system work and see their policies take hold requires a sustained time in office.

The chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs serve two-year terms, which can be extended to four years by the president. All of the officers must be appointed by the president, but because of their terms, they might serve for years under a president who did not select them.

"For a service chief, a longer-term perspective is helpful," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Erik Shinseki, who is in his fourth year in the post. "And I think that the four-year term, at least for me, has been helpful in continuity."

"It seems to me that the experience gleaned in two-year assignments is not the best way to go," added Adm. Vern Clark, chief of Naval Operations.

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