Pentagon Is Under the Gun to Modernize

Congress is stepping up pressure on the military to eliminate redundant capabilities, despite resistance from the Joint Chiefs

THE Pentagon will still have five sides and a shopping mall in the basement. But Secretary of Defense Les Aspin has laid out a sweeping department renovation aimed at making the military more responsive to the national-security concerns of a new world.

And his shuffling of offices along the Pentagon's fancy "E" ring corridor may be just the start. Pressure from Congress for change in the military services to eliminate redundant capabilities is increasing, despite resistance from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This year's defense-budget cycle is likely to be marked by lawmakers pressing home such fundamental questions as: "Why do all the services have to have their own air force?"

"Now is a good time to reassess everything, especially when making drastic cutbacks in the size of the military budget," says Ron Hatchett, director of international policy studies at Texas A&M University.

The bureaucratic structure that Secretary Aspin has already put in place reflects the new defense chief's penchant for mulling over policy problems, almost as if he were still a college professor.

At its heart is a reshuffling of assistant secretaries, the third-level officials who do much of the real work in any government bureaucracy. Aspin has created a number of new assistant secretary slots, all oriented toward new world issues.

The new assistant secretary for democratic security, for instance, will weigh the implications of using the armed forces in humanitarian efforts, such as Somalia, and to promote democracy.

Other new slots include nuclear security and counterproliferation, economic and environmental security, and regional security.

"Each new threat gets a person," says an Aspin aide.

Room for these jobs has been made by eliminating some old slots and downgrading others, such as public affairs. In addition, the second-tier level of officials, the undersecretaries, has been reorganized into four basic categories such as technology and hardware and personnel/readiness.

By the standards of government shuffling, all these are ambitious moves. Yet they pale by the standards of the so-called roles and missions debate, in which members of Congress are urging fundamental pruning to make the military services fit together more logically.

Analysts have long complained that the United States wastes money by having four air forces, for example - one each for the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force. The Marines and Army light divisions are similar in many ways. Each service has similar space capabilities.

All of this would just continue to be a subject for conferences and think tanks if it were not for Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Last year, Senator Nunn gave a harsh speech in which he accused the military of wasting billions of dollars through duplication. Major pruning opposed

Nunn successfully pushed for Congress to order the military to produce a report - due early this year - justifying service roles and missions. Though drafts of the report started out recommending major pruning, objections from the service chiefs have reportedly resulted in the removal of almost all major changes.

"The generals are frantic to hold on to their functions. That's what you base your military spending on," says Robert Gaskin, a retired Air Force colonel who is now vice president for policy at Business Executives for National Security.

The last time service chiefs split up the roles-and-missions pie was in 1948, at a summit held in Key West, Fla., under pressure from President Truman.

Mr. Gaskin says that for real change to occur, President Clinton has to apply the same kind of push.

Mr. Clinton endorsed Nunn's efforts in a campaign speech, but it is not clear how much he really believes in the issue - or whether he will even feel like confronting the military again after the flap over homosexual soldiers.

But Nunn is sure to push roles and mission changes this year. And in an era when the defense budget is being slashed, cutting duplication makes sense, points out Barry Blechman, who is heading a study of the issue for the Henry Stimson Center, a Washington think tank that specializes in defense issues.

Getting the Marines to give up their jet fighters may be a politically unrealistic option. But much of the duplication is in fact not in combat forces but in more prosaic support functions.

Support services targeted

Why do the Navy and the Air Force have to duplicate aircraft maintenance facilities, for instance? Why can't one service serve as executive agent for all pilots' basic training?

Telephone development or truck mechanic instruction does not have to be spread throughout the services.

"You could move on the support stuff without raising the red flag of roles and missions," Mr. Blechman says.

During his campaign, Clinton pledged to cut $60 billion more from defense over the next five years than President Bush would. As president, Clinton is now moving to redeem that pledge - Aspin last week told military planners to cut about $11 billion from existing 1994 budget plans.

Each service will have to face about a 4 percent cut. Thus the Navy and Marine Corps will be reduced by $3 billion; the Air Force by $2.8 billion; and the Army by $2.5 billion.

In addition, Aspin outlined a future active-duty force of about 1.4 million troops. President Bush had planned a minimum "base force" of 1.6 billion.

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