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‘Army Strong’ is weak when it comes to lobbying for dollars on Capitol Hill, report finds

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testifies on the Army’s funding request for fiscal year 2019. (Department of Defense/Released)

“Army Strong” might be its motto, but on the bureaucratic battlefield for resources the military’s largest branch is weaker than the other services, which have the edge in self-promotion, a new RAND report says.

“The sense one gets is of the Army as a bit too selfless, too concerned with service over self-interest and competition,” the RAND Corporation argued in a study into how the services compete. “This further implies that the Army, overall, believes that it is bad at competing in the bureaucratic arenas.”

In their study, called Maneuver and Movement, Rand scholars examined the cultures among the services and how they inform the way they fight for resources and relevancy.

The study concludes that more than 30 years since the implementation of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act — a law that sought to curtail the influence of the service branches and shift more power to combatant commanders — that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines remain the Pentagon’s dominant players. But in the competition for resources in Washington, the Army is least politically savvy of the branches, it concludes.

“The Army does not have the strongest rapport with Congress, compared to other services, but this appears to be changing,” RAND said. “In part its history is because the Army, as the devoted servant, is uncomfortable with anything that smacks of the political.”

The Army’s shortcomings could be due in part to its own high self-regard as the oldest and largest of the services. “For the Army, its value it so obvious, so core to the fiber of the nation, that it seems inarticulable,” the report said.

While the Army is regarded as the “most honest and credible of the services” in responding to requests from Congress, it still “struggles to tell its story” to lawmakers in a coherent manner.

The Air Force and Navy, meanwhile, were described as more “Machiavellian” and effective in how they approached Congress for support.

The Navy competes better by articulating clear service strategies that are few in number and concise and “used by the Navy equally to articulate its value to outsiders and operating concept to insiders,” the report said.

“Each Navy strategy is treated as a landmark document and a bold choice about the utility of naval power,” it said. “By contrast, the Army’s strategic planning process is robust and detailed.”

Since the Army sees itself as the military’s most indispensable and flexible force, it “has difficulty making only a single argument for its relevance to outsiders. Because of this, the Army has trouble winning in any single ‘head-to-head’ argument with a service.”

In front of Congress, the Air Force is one of the best at providing “analysis-driven arguments to advocate for its positions,” the report said. “This contributes to an overall opinion among those outside the service that the Air Force tends to win resource battles more than other services.”

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps also is adept at advocating for its relevancy, largely because of its “institutional anxiety.”

The anxiety is rooted in a Marine history that includes one “institutional death” between 1783 and 1798, at least 15 efforts to abolish it, and skepticism about its value from several past presidents, the report said.

But that insecurity also is a driver in Marine innovation as it looks for gaps to fill like the amphibious assault doctrine before World War II. A more recent example was the establishment of a Marine crisis response force for Africa that was quickly assembled after the 2011 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

“The net result of Marine organizational paranoia is an acute concern with the consistent demonstration of value to policymakers, Congress, and the public,” the report said.


© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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