Washington, D.C. – A provision within the 2017 National Defense Authorization could advance Special Operations Command’s steady march towards independence from the geographical combatant commands.
The House of Representatives on Dec. 2 overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 375-34 the $619 billion measure, which contains a provision to reorganize SOCOM and provide its assistant secretary with increased powers to oversee its activities. The Senate is expected to consider it next week. The two-thirds majority is also enough to override any presidential veto.
Under its report for the fiscal year 2017 NDAA, Congress would empower the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) with supervision of policy, planning, and execution of all special operations activities.
Those activities include irregular warfare and combating terrorism as well as for integrating special operations with other Pentagon activities.
The provision would not impact the operational chain-of-command, but seeks to empower the SOLIC Assistant Secretary similar to service secretaries to oversee SOCOM, the report said.
Michael Lumpkin has served as SOLIC Assistant Secretary since 2013.
The expansion of the SOLIC Assistant Secretary’s powers also follows reports that President Barack Obama is expanding the authority of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to hunt terrorist cells around the world – according to reports. The expansion is significant because it would allow JSOC to operate independently of the respective geographic combatant commanders in whose areas of responsibility they serve.
SOLIC ASD Needs More Powers in Light of Command’s Growth
The Nunn-Cohen Amendment of 1987 created SOCOM and the position of SOLIC Assistant Secretary to carry out special operations missions. The creation of the position was meant to give SOF a voice at the highest levels of the Defense Department, according a self-published history of the command written in 2007.
In the wake of the Operation Desert One, the failed attempt to free hostages held by Iran, policymakers reached consensus that SOF needed a unified combatant command to coordinate operations, the history added.
The command took upon additional roles and authorities in support of the Global War on Terror. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tapped the command with primary responsibility for antiterrorism operations. Its budget nearly doubled between fiscal years 2001 and 2006, SOCOM wrote.
These reforms are particularly necessary in light of SOCOM’s growth from 2001 until today, the Senate’s report on the NDAA said. In that time the command’s number of personnel has nearly doubled; number of overseas deployments nearly quadrupled; and budget nearly tripled.
Permanent Oversight Panel Created
The NDAA would also create a Special Operations Policy and Oversight Council – led by the SOLIC Assistant Secretary – to help integrate policy, joint processes, acquisition, and sustainment of SOF and its capabilities. The Council would include at least 11 other representatives drawn from across the Pentagon, primarily at the under secretary level.
Previously filed Senate language on the provision noted it would streamline approval of decisions related to readiness and organization of special operations forces, SOF-peculiar resources and equipment, and civilian personnel management.