National Defense: Time To Revisit Goldwater-Nichols

Almost 30 years ago -- in 1986 to be precise -- Congress took on a major restructuring of the military services in what became known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act named after Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Rep. William Nichols (D-AL), who assumed lead roles in a successful bi-partisan legislative effort.

I served as an active participant in that lengthy process, running back and forth from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill, trying to defend the military's interests in a highly politicized process. Actually, the various branches were all over the lot on this, so I enjoyed a remarkable degree of independence of action in helping push the legislation toward where I thought it should go.

The primary challenges before Congress at that time concerned the military's structure -- the chain of command, the lack of communication among the various service branches, management of the officer corps and communication with the White House. As senior communications officer of the U.S. Army, I had some skin in that game. In some highly publicized instances, different branches engaged in military operations were simply unable to communicate with each other. Reform was overdue, but it was a highly sensitive undertaking that evoked strenuous response from the services. It was a tough haul, but it led to some profound changes that strengthened national defense.

I believe we are long overdue for another exercise like Goldwater-Nichols, only this time the main focus should not be on structure, but rather procurement. We are squandering vast sums on sophisticated weapons systems that seem woefully out of whack with the actual military challenges we face on the ground. More aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines will not help us defeat home-grown terrorists. I recognize the need for those big ticket items, but each one represents billions of dollars that could go -- and in my opinion should go -- to putting more boots on the ground, attracting better qualified people to the military services, providing them improved training and -- last but not least -- taking better care of them when they come home shot up and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One of the most critical issues on the table is the unfortunate tendency of our legislators to use military procurement as a jobs bill. In the most recent military procurement legislation, there is at least $5 billion in spending on weapons systems that the Pentagon does not need and does not want. In a time when budget austerity should be our guiding star, Congress is demanding more waste.

A new military reform bill would provide an excellent opportunity for our elected legislators to ponder their own responsibility for the growing mound of waste we cannot afford, and to do something about it.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.