Washington — A bipartisan attack on the way the Defense Department operates gained momentum on Capitol Hill yesterday. Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are considering the first comprehensive reform of the US military establishment in more than a quarter-century.
Mobilized by tales of Pentagon misspending, the perception that US forces are not prepared to fight a major war, and the prospect of a $200 billion federal deficit, members of the Armed Services Committee unveiled a 650-page report that spells out proposed reforms. Two of the Pentagon's steadfast congressional allies, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) of Arizona, chairman of the committee, and Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, the committee's ranking Democrat, spearheaded the effort. They are only the latest to j oin a chorus of skeptics who question whether the Pentagon provides enough bang for the taxpayers' bucks.
``We are the only country in the world I know of that has four air forces, a navy with an air force and an army, an army with a navy and an air force, and an air force that doesn't have any boats yet [because] it hasn't been around long enough,'' said Senator Goldwater. ``The Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility to raise and maintain the armed services. But the Constitution also gives us oversight responsibilities, and I believe we have not paid enough attention to that responsibility.''
Committee staff members say legislation to overhaul the US military should be ready early next year. Until then, the report will serve as the most up-to-date listing of alleged Pentagon shortcomings.
More than two years in the making, the study calls for a sweeping overhaul of the way the Pentagon spends money and prepares for war. The study finds nearly every aspect of the US military command structure, strategic planning process, and civilian oversight to be cumbersome and ripe for revision.
The report takes aim at a military bureaucracy that nurtures age-old rivalries between the services. It also lambastes Congress, which, the report charges, has hamstrung the military by ``micromanaging'' the Defense Department instead of focusing on fundamental issues of strategy and national priority.
Few of the study's 91 specific recommendations are intended to be turned into specific legislation. The authors of the report say most of the suggestions would best be implemented by the President or secretary of defense.
Among the key suggestions:
Abolish the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The JCS is supposed to enable chiefs of the four services to choreograph military strategy. But critics have long charged that it never really works that way. Instead, the JCS is seen as a battleground for interservice rivalries. The report suggests the replacement of the JCS with a Joint Military Advisory Council comprised of one four-star military officer from each service on his last tour of duty. Because these officers would not be service chiefs, the conflict of
interest that has hobbled the JCS through its history might be avoided.
Establish three ``mission oriented'' undersecretaries of defense, bringing the total number of undersecretaries to five. By grouping the undersecretaries according to mission responsibilities -- nuclear deterrence, North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense, and regional defense and force projection -- the study claims that strategic planning will be streamlined and activities of the services will be better coordinated.
Have Congress shift its attention toward broad oversight and away from ``micromanagement'' of the defense program. Rifts in the military, the report charges, are exacerbated by Congress's tendency to focus on one little program after another, rather than on the formulation of broad policy.
Strengthen authority of unified commanders, the senior commanders in six regions of the world who are supported by combat elements of all the services. In practice, these commands are often unwieldy. Unified commanders control the movements of forces assigned to them but have little say in their training or the type of equipment they use.
In combat, the autonomy of the services can have sometimes comic, though potentially tragic, consequences. During the invasion of Grenada, one Army officer had to use his AT&T credit card to phone his office in North Carolina to send a bombardment request because incompatibilities between Navy and Army radios made it impossible for him to contact Navy support ships.
Streamline the military chain of command through which orders pass from Washington to the field. A start, the report suggests, could be made by combining the staffs of the defense secretary and the staffs of each military service.
While no one is predicting which, if any, of these recommendations will be adopted, consensus is building here that the time is right to fix the Pentagon. In the House, Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, launched hearings to see whether the $1 trillion appropriated for defense during President Reagan's first term was spent wisely.
Meanwhile, former Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard, who heads a blue-ribbon presidential commission which is examining Pentagon spending, says, ``Some structural changes are necessary.''
``I think the general conclusion is, we should have gotten more for our money,'' Mr. Packard told Congress last week.