- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Defense Department has drafted a plan for a major consolidation and elimination of Pentagon offices that could bring protest from advocates for the 900,000 reserve force and special-operations soldiers.
Administration officials said the Pentagon has written proposed legislation to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld the power to eliminate three senior posts: the assistant secretaries of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), for legislative affairs and for Reserve affairs.
The Reserve affairs elimination would be the most touchy, because part-time troops play a large role in the war against terrorism and have many supporters in Congress.
A Pentagon spokesman said last night he could not confirm that such a proposal was pending. But two administration officials said the legislation has been drafted and is being circulated for comment within the Defense Department.
Jayson Spiegel, executive director of the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, said he has confirmed that such a proposal is in the works. He said his group vehemently opposes eliminating the assistant secretary post, which advocates the force's equipment and financial needs.
Mr. Spiegel said the Reserves play such a vital role in the war against terrorism, looming military action against Iraq and other crises that the post needs to be upgraded to the rank of an undersecretary of defense, with direct access to the defense secretary.
"The chief policy-maker for Reserves needs to be elevated, not eliminated," he said.
There are nearly 80,000 National Guard and Reserve members mobilized for active duty to fight terrorists and to prepare for a war against Iraq.
Officials said the request would be part of an overall plan by the defense secretary to try to streamline the bureaucracy. The Pentagon is also looking at ways to merge offices within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff, the planning arm for the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
"Rumsfeld wants to transform the building and the way we do things," said a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Does the chairman and the secretary need separate legal staffs? Some people here say no."
Another official said Mr. Rumsfeld often talks of his need for "freedom to manage."
Officials say Mr. Rumsfeld has an uphill battle ahead. Each of the targeted assistant secretary positions is written into law and has a constituency either on Capitol Hill or out in the field.
For example, some years back, the Pentagon tried to eliminate the legislative affairs assistant secretary, only to see Congress block the move by writing it into law.
Last year, Mr. Rumsfeld tried to erase the assistant secretary for SOLIC and then merge the operation to a new assistant secretary for homeland defense recently created by Congress.
But members of the Senate Armed Services Committee balked. Senators wanted special-operations warriors, who are playing a major role in the war against al Qaeda terrorists, to keep a senior policy and budget advocate inside the Pentagon within walking distance of the defense secretary's office.
The most contested move would be to eliminate the assistant secretary of Reserve affairs and fold the office into the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, as officials say the Pentagon is contemplating.
The selected reserves consisting of about 900,000 National Guardsmen and Reserves are a political force. They have many allies on Capitol Hill and within state governments at the local level.
There are 47 Pentagon jobs that require Senate confirmation. Two of them were added last year: the assistant secretary for homeland defense and an undersecretary for intelligence. Officials said Mr. Rumsfeld would like to shrink the number to 45, and would do it by eliminating two assistant secretary positions if Congress approves.
The assistant secretary for Reserve affairs is Thomas F. Hall. The assistant secretary position for SOLIC has gone vacant since President Bush took office in 2001. Earlier this month, the White House nominated former Pennsylvania Rep. Paul McHale to be the first assistant secretary for homeland defense.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide