The United States possesses the world’s premier Special Operations forces. Since SOCOM’s beginnings with the 1987 Nunn-Cohen Act,  which got very strong opposition by many in the Pentagon, including then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., SOCOM has grown exponentially and today numbers more than 70,000 troops and civilians. The Nunn-Cohen Act created both U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the position of assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)).

By creating the ASD(SO/LIC) position Congress ensured that the new “service-like” organization (SOCOM) would be under civilian control and oversight. ASD(SO/LIC)’s responsibilities included providing “overall supervision (including oversight of policy and resources) of special operations activities.”

However, the ASD(SO/LIC) has not had equal footing with other service secretaries and has to report through several layers of bureaucracy, beginning with the Pentagon’s DoD Policy office, basically the third-highest office in the Pentagon. From the start, the DoD had been against the move to elevate the ASD(SO/LIC).

In 2017, during the Obama administration, Congress had ordered in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that the ASD(SO/LIC) position was to be elevated to be a service secretary-like job and report directly to the defense secretary “for issues impacting the readiness and organization of special operations forces, special operations-peculiar resources and equipment, and civilian personnel management.”