Dempsey, Service Chiefs Oppose Guard Seat on Joint Chiefs

November 11, 2011

While emphasizing the importance of the National Guard to national defense efforts at home and abroad, the top U.S. military officer advised Congress today against making the chairman of the National Guard Bureau a statutory member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The argument to change the composition of the JCS is simply not compelling,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s uncertain to me what problem we’re trying to solve.”

Such a change, proposed in pending National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act legislation, could have negative repercussions, Dempsey said, particularly respective to representation and accountability.

The chiefs of the Army and Air Force provide a single voice for their respective branches, including both their active- and reserve-components, the chairman noted. In that role, the chiefs bear sole responsibility for making resource decisions required to produce an organized, trained and equipped force, he said.

“The proposed change could undermine this effort,” giving at least the appearance that the Army and Air Force have greater representation than the other services on the JCS because the National Guard incorporates both elements, Dempsey said.

Dempsey also noted that unlike the service chiefs, the National Guard Bureau chairman is not subject to the civilian oversight of a single service secretary.

“Elevation to the JCS would make him equal to the service chiefs without commensurate accountability,” he said. In this regard, the proposal runs counter to principals in the Goldwater-Nichols legislation designed to create intra- and inter-service equities, he told the panel.

Dempsey praised the insight and experience Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the current National Guard Bureau chief, already contributes, calling him a welcomed participant in JCS meetings.

“The [National Guard Bureau chairman] has a voice and it is heard,” he said. “I want and need him in the Tank.”

The Army and Air Force chief consider this advice carefully as they make decisions affecting their services, making any change to the current JCS structure unnecessary, Dempsey said.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during today's Pentagon news conference that he supports Dempsey's position and believes President Barack Obama would, too. "If I know this president, I think he would seriously take into consideration the recommendations of the chairman of the joint chiefs," Panetta said during the press briefing.

During the congressional hearing, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported on the close, positive working relationship he and McKinley forged when they served as commander and deputy commander, respectively, at U.S. Northern Command.

However, the legislative proposal could “send a corrosive signal that we have two different United States Armies and two United States Air Forces,” he said.

“Second, while the legislation may send a positive message to the terrific men and women in the Guard,” he said, “I’m concerned that it will send a very negative message to the remaining 40-plus percent of our nation’s reserve component that they are somehow of lesser importance, and that future decisions could be taken at their expense.”

Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, also praised the National Guard Bureau as a partner in national defense but expressed “explicit opposition” to making the Guard Bureau chief a JCS member.

Such a change “will create confusion [and] imbalance and challenge interoperability,’ he said, and threaten to undo progress made toward jointness. It also would run the risk of creating a “bifurcated force” one focused internally and the other, abroad, Odierno said, and lead to divided or redundant management processes.

Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, agreed that the proposal could “disrupt the lines of authority and representation” in place within the JCS for the Army and Air force chiefs.

“This current effective arrangement should not be altered,” he said.

McKinley was lone dissenter at today’s hearing, calling arguments that the legislative proposal would create a separate military service “divisive and unfounded.”

He recognized specialized capabilities the National Guard contributes to defense operations, particularly in areas such as domestic response and response to weapons of mass destruction.

Although the service chiefs provide advice on National Guard operations conducted under federal authority, McKinley said only the National Guard Bureau chief can speak on authority about their capability to perform both federal and domestic Title 32 state missions.

McKinley dismissed the notion that adding the National Guard Bureau chief to the JCS would create a service imbalance, pointing to the seat currently held by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos.

“The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, and their budget request to Congress is included inside the Navy request. Yet no one would argue that the Marines are hindered by this construct in being able to articulate their requirements or deliver their unique capabilities,” McKinley said.

“The CNGB has a similar department-level role,” he said, “and also possesses significant budget authorities and responsibilities.”

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