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SO/LIC, doesn’t he coach at Nebraska?

The Hill reports on more Pentagon consolidation proposals:

Sources tell The Hill that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is considering a proposal to eliminate the office of the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (ASD SO/LIC) and spreading its responsibilities across other Pentagon offices.

The proposal comes from Ryan Henry, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, according to a source familiar with the plan. […]

The assistant secretary’s office, which is run by civilians with extensive special operations background, was created to ensure that the special-operations forces would receive the attention and resources from the Pentagon that Congress thought were necessary.

[…] the office provides the first civilian signatures on operations against high-value targets, according to a former government official familiar with the office. It is unclear who would take over this function if the office is dissolved.

Even though not aware of the specific proposal to fold ASD SO/LIC, “there are always efforts within the DoD to achieve economies of scale, to consolidate similar work and cut through bureaucracy,” said a Pentagon spokesperson who asked not to be quoted by name. “Especially in the policy office there have been ideas how to streamline the policy office including the ASD SO/LIC.”

Sources familiar with the dynamic in the office of the undersecretary for policy said that infighting and tension between Henry and the assistant secretary’s office could have led to the several proposals made so far to change or disenfranchise the office. However, others point out that the office is not without its own faults.

Hopefully my friend Mark will bring this up on his site since he’s got more background in this area, but in the mean time let me take a stab.

As far as I can tell, Rumsfeld is as pro-SOCOM as you can get. So I scratched my head reading this. Obviously he hasn’t signed off on the proposal yet (not that it could be accomplished by fiat) but let’s think about this for a minute:

Consolidating SO/LIC work amongst other offices isn’t a way to achieve efficiency or effectiveness, not in any realistic sense. If anything such a move injects more of the bureaucracy into the inherent processes, not less. Spreading the wealth also means spreading out the timeline.

Obviously SO/LIC-related tasks come with a certain amount of gravity and timeliness demands, which means they’re best left to those who know what the hell they’re doing and who don’t need to slide around on a learning curve.

I cannot speak to the issues of infighting or any missed opportunities that the office might have let slip. I find it hard to believe that a group of people who have experience being unconventional and original thinkers haven’t been thinking about the SOF of the future as well as ways to improve the field today.

This smells similar to another consolidation proposal that I’ve read about recently, though the motivation was much more obvious: billets and maintenance of the status quo. I don’t think it is a coincidence that when victory has been declared (in this latter case “transformation”) that the first move made is to eliminate the office responsible for said victory (realized or not). Here is a thought for the billet grabbers: Do you think transformation is static? I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of these ideas are hard to get your mind around, but the adversaries of the future know we’re not going to meet at the Fulda Gap so it is in our best interests to try, to challenge ourselves, and to be prepared for the next “improbable” scenario like, say, flying airplanes into buildings. A sore brain beats a smoking hole in the ground any day.

Update: Wonder if this NDU item (PDF) can shed some light . . .

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.