The Buzz

Is More 'Jointness' the Answer to DoD Acquisition Waste?

The winds of Department of Defense (DoD) reform are gathering on Capitol Hill, with the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) holding a series of hearings in November on the topic. Although the ultimate outcome of reform efforts is unclear, two distinct camps appear to be forming on the issue. On one side there are those that favor strengthening the current “joint” structure of the DoD embodied in the Goldwater-Nicholls Act of 1986. On the other are those who see “jointness” as primarily the cause of, not the solution to, DoD inefficiency and waste.

While the service branches of the armed forces—the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force—have been organizationally integrated at the departmental level as a joint warfighting force since the enactment of Goldwater–Nichols, individual services still retain a large share of autonomy over capability development and materiel acquisition that falls under the purview of service-specific warfighting requirements. Thus, as ably reported by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, the SASC held hearings on November 5th to discuss the nexus of inter-service rivalries and duplicative acquisition policies. Despite past attempts to synchronize the acquisition of joint capabilities, inter-service rivalries still lead, in the words of Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to “inter-service fights over resources that get papered over in the belief that everyone can do everything with roughly equal shares of the pie.”

While Goldwater-Nichols was intended to mitigate the effects of inter-service rivalries and competition on acquisition policies, the advent of “jointness” could never fully eliminate this competition. Rather, following Goldwater-Nichols the site of competition was destroyed at one level and rebuilt at another. Inserting an additional layer of organization—the revamped structure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and supporting organizations such as the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC)—mean that the theoretical savings of joint procurement will never be fully realized. Inter-service competition, rather than solely directed at influencing the civilian management of the DoD such as the Secretary of Defense, or externally directed at Congress, is now also focused on capturing joint processes such as the Joint Capability Integration and Development System (JCIDS) that help govern how big a slice of both the joint and service specific procurement pie individual services receive.

What then is the solution to the dilemma of duplicative and wasteful acquisition? One possible answer would be to double down on “jointness” and strengthen the intent of Goldwater-Nichols. Expert testimony by retired Lieutenant General of the Air Force David Deptula highlighted the prospects of a joint solution, noting that service roles and missions needed to “evolve their relationship from one of interoperability…to one of interdependency” while disapprovingly noting that “we have moved further away from the intent of Goldwater-Nichols [regarding “jointness”] than we have closer to it.” Sen. McCain also hinted towards increased “jointness” through advocating for potential new service branches. Currently “new and untraditional missions” such as space and cyber capabilities are easily “orphaned within services that will undercut them in favor of parochial priorities.” The creation of new services would inevitably require additional new layers of “joint” bureaucracy for the synchronization of planning, preparation, and execution across an increased number of services.

Still, if “jointness” deserves at least partial blame for enabling, if not causing, the continuation of duplicative and wasteful capability development, should more “jointness” be seen as an acceptable solution? A recent panel discussion hosted by the Niskanen Center raised the question of whether less “jointness,” and increased inter-service competition, would lead to better procurement outcomes. Robert Martinage, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, argued during the Senate hearing that what is needed is “competitive jointness” whereby “crowding into each other’s battlespace” could “keep the Services on their toes, foster innovation, and lead to a more robust future force.”