Because of the entrenched, ossified interests and tribal structures within the Pentagon, major reforms to the Department of Defense and the military often originate in Congress. The gold-standard example of this historical pattern was the 1947 National Security Act, which merged the Department of War and the Department of the Navy to form the Department of Defense, headed by the newly created position of secretary of defense. The act also established the institutions of the National Security Council and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Not far behind was the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, which reorganized the military’s chain of command; shifted power from the service chiefs of the Air Force, Army and Navy to the functional and geographic combatant commanders; and directed the services to work more closely together.
Today moves are afoot in Congress to once again prod reforms, some of which are already underway in the Department of Defense. Earlier this week, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, introduced legislation to streamline the Department of Defense. The bill has several components. One of them—cutting the number of four-star generals and admirals—has been widely discussed among defense experts as a cost-cutting measure, since three-star officers have smaller staffs than those with a fourth star.