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Senator: Sweeping Military Reorganization Plan Deserved More Study

In this 2013 file photo, Sen. Tim Kaine, D- Va., listens to testimony during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
In this 2013 file photo, Sen. Tim Kaine, D- Va., listens to testimony during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Plans are in the works for a sweeping reorganization of the U.S. military, the likes of which haven't been seen since the mid-1980s.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, is fine with that idea.

But he is concerned that the process is moving too quickly.

The plan isn't set yet. The Senate Armed Services Committee has proposed its version. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has also described his priorities.

Kaine's focus has been on the Senate plan, where he serves on the armed services panel. Twice, he has tried to convince his colleagues that the matter deserved further study. He failed both times, but has vowed to keep working as the issue moves forward.

The debate could affect Hampton Roads, where three high-level commands for the Army, Navy and Air Force are headquartered.

The military last conducted an overall reorganization in 1986. It resulted in the Goldwater-Nichols Act and came at a time of superpower confrontation with the Soviet Union. Military and defense leaders agree it is time for another look to better align functions and organizations in the post-911 era.

It's not just outside enemies that are a concern. Leaders cite a military that has become top-heavy with admirals and generals while front-line troops lack resources.

The armed services panel included its plan as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. The legislation serves as a blueprint for military priorities and spending. The full Senate is expected to vote on it this week.

Among other things, the committee calls for a 25 percent reduction in generals and admirals across the services. A summary of the bill notes that military end strength has dropped 38 percent during the past three decades, but the ratio of four-star officers to the overall force has increased by 65 percent.

The committee held 13 hearings last fall with 52 experts before proposing its plan. That said, Kaine said a specific 25 percent cut was never discussed.

"We've had no testimony in any of the hearings on that," he said. "Should it be fifteen percent? Forty percent? Twenty-five percent was the number that was puled out of thin air."

Other parts of the plan clarify the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional combatant commanders. Another limits staff at the National Security Council to 150.

The committee considered the plan in closed session, which prompted more concern from Kaine. As he looked at the sweeping reforms for the first time, he said, "I couldn't call outside stakeholders and say, 'What do you think about this?'" he said.

While the plan was still in committee, Kaine proposed a commission to study military reorganization and report back with recommendations. It received some support, but not enough.

This week, with the NDAA on the Senate floor, he proposed amending the bill to create a different sort of commission, one that would study how the proposed reforms are implemented. But with some 500 amendments being considered, Kaine was told his would not be voted on, according to the senator's office.

Still, the junior senator from Virginia called military reorganization "an ongoing issue" and pledged to follow it going forward.

He lauded Sen. John McCain, the Armed Services chairman, for pushing it forward.

"I support what Senator McCain wants to do," Kaine said. "It's definitely time to do it. I just want to make sure we can do it in a comprehensive way."

He noted that the Goldwater-Nichols measure was preceded by a commission that studied the issue. The military then took those findings and published its own report.

"There was a lot of study done," he said, "and it was done very transparently."

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This article was written by Hugh Lessig from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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