Change is coming.
In the US 2020 defense budget, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), experts are predicting significant budget cuts. And SOF will not be spared. In 2018 and 2019, Congress lifted the budget caps (prescribed by law) to give the Department of Defense (DoD) more funding. At that time, the Service Chiefs were testifying to Congress that the military’s training and readiness was insufficient and the Services needed significant funding to fix it.
Historically, when the nation comes out of a war the military is not in good shape. Equipment needs repair and the personnel turnover is generally massive. The US in 2017 needed to “reset” the force, and Congress provided the funding. The one issue with the budget was that Congress used the additional funding to buy more equipment vice fixing what we had.
When the NDAAs were signed, the Secretary of Defense and Congressional leaders constantly stated that they wanted the DoD to use the money wisely, because in the 2020 budget the caps would be back, and the amount of defense spending would be significantly less than the 2019 budget.
Historically SOF has not been touched in budget cuts, but it seems like the 2020 budget will be different. There are two themes to highlight. First, Congress is trying to reform the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD/SOLIC). In the 2017 NDAA Congress was very specific about wanting to elevate SOF inside of DoD. If you read the conference report it lays out the intent of congress:
Under provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1987 (Public Law 99-661), commonly referred to as the “Nunn-Cohen Amendment,” the ASD SOLIC is tasked with the responsibility to provide “the overall supervision (including oversight of policy and resources) of special operations activities” and is identified as “the principal civilian advisor to the Secretary of Defense on special operations and low intensity conflict matters.”
The provisions described above were intended to empower the ASD SOLIC to serve a hybrid role as: 1) the Department’s lead civilian policy official for matters related to special operations and low intensity conflict; and 2) the “service secretary-like” civilian with responsibility for the oversight and advocacy of SOCOM and the organization, training, and equipping of SOF. However, the conferees believe the ASD SOLIC has been challenged in fulfilling their “service secretary-like” responsibilities for a number of reasons. For example, the ASD SOLIC’s organizational location within the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P)) has resulted in the ASD SOLIC dedicating a preponderance of their time and resources to policy and operational issues, at the expense of their “service secretary-like” responsibilities.
Additionally, other civilian offices with greater seniority within the Department exercise related and, at times, overlapping responsibilities for aspects of SOF oversight, thereby complicating the ASD SOLIC’s primacy in such matters.
Furthermore, the conferees understand that studies directed by the Department when the ASD SOLIC was created determined that appropriate staffing levels for the organization would require between 95 and 110 personnel. However, the office of the ASD SOLIC is currently only staffed by approximately 60 military and civilian personnel, only 6 of whom are focused on tasks related to the oversight and advocacy of the organization, training, and equipping of SOF. Furthermore, the addition of responsibilities for the counter-narcotics programs, building partner capacity initiatives, and humanitarian and disaster relief efforts of the DOD have further stretched the resources available to the office since its creation.
The conferees intend for this provision to clarify and strengthen the original mandate provided by the Nunn-Cohen Amendment that established the ASD SOLIC. The provision is intended to facilitate the unique “service secretary-like” responsibilities of the ASD SOLIC by mirroring the administrative chain of command relationship between the service secretaries and the military services for issues impacting the special operations-peculiar (commonly referred to as Major Force Program-11) administration and support of SOCOM, including the readiness and organization of SOF, resources (including program planning, allocation, and execution) and equipment, and relevant civilian personnel matters. The provision shall not impact the operational chain of command for SOF activities or the service common” responsibilities of the military services including personnel and other matters that are not special operations peculiar.
The conferees are mindful of the congressionally-directed reductions to headquarters staff, but believe that the “service secretary-like” mission of the ASD SOLIC should be more robustly resourced in order to rebalance the ASD SOLIC’s lines of effort and fulfill its mandate under title 10, United States Code. The conferees also expect the codification of the Special Operations Policy and Oversight Council under this provision to improve the oversight and advocacy of SOF by integrating the efforts of the various functional offices with direct or tangential responsibilities for SOF issues, thereby partially mitigating the need for significant numbers of additional personnel.
DoD failed to respond appropriately to the directives in the 2017 NDAA so in the 2018 NDAA Congress became more directive on what they wanted to see. Again, DoD did not provide enough so in the 2019 NDAA Congress tightened the reins on DoD to reform ASD/SOLIC. Historically, there has never been any major change inside of DoD that was not directed by Congress. USSOCOM was the first congressionally mandated four-star headquarters, and I am sure if it was left to DoD and the Services, the US would still not have ASD/SOLIC nor USSOCOM. Senators Cohen and Nunn knew this and made it their personal task to force change.
The Birth of the GSF’s SOF Imperatives
The Global SOF Foundation (GSF) releases an annual platform document advocating for SOF.
In 2014, the GSF staff met with Congressional staffers. The GSF was new and we wanted to just meet with the staffers and let them know what the GSF was and what we were doing to advocate for SOF. During that meeting one of the senior staffers asked us if we would consider producing an annual “platform” document that focused on SOF issues. Other professional associations do this, but to be frank we thought no one read these documents that tend to be on coffee tables. But the staffer quickly educated me on how they use those documents, and it is real. So, in 2015 the GSF produced its first Imperatives document.
To draft it, we send out a survey to GSF members and use that information to go forward and advocate for SOF. The focus is not just on US SOF because we also advocate for security cooperation funding as well as other policies that support the develop of our international SOF partners. We use the results of the survey to ensure we are advocating for the right topics. The GSF Outreach Committee is key to the delivery of the SOF Imperatives and we “socialize” the draft with a lot of people to ensure what we are not at cross purposes.
The Imperatives document is focused on the calendar year and not the US fiscal year. We generally release it around Thanksgiving, and we do that because the US budget rarely passes on time. You can see the 2015 – 2018 SOF Imperatives documents on our website.
The 2019 Imperatives for SOF Document
The GSF survey data is in, and we are working on the 2019 Imperatives. As we build the platform document we will blog more on the subject. So stay tuned!
We know an election is coming, so this will be updated soon, but as of this writing on 24 October, we have mapped out all of the Congressional Representatives in areas that contain US SOF hubs. You can see this map (and more) as a PDF in the GSF Library, with contact information for these representatives.
We share this because these are the folks (for now) that you, and we, need to ensure are aware of the key tenets of the SOF Imperatives each year.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s SOF Imperatives Survey to help us gauge what is “imperative” for US Special Operations.