WASHINGTON - The Reserve Forces Policy Board is returning to its 60-year-old roots under statutory changes giving it broader membership and a direct line to the defense secretary, the board's new chairman said Oct. 14.
"This board is going to be extremely independent, very objective, and will bring lots of outside talent to the board's deliberation, providing that timely and direct advice to the secretary of defense that they couldn't under the old system," said retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro.
Punaro, who also served on the board from 1997-2003, chaired the congressionally mandated Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, a temporary body created in 2005 to recommend changes to the organization, equipment and compensation of the reserve components.
Among its numerous recommendations was to restructure the Reserve Forces Policy Board to include experts from outside the Defense Department and to give it direct access to the secretary. Congress enacted those changes last year, and a new board held its first meeting Oct. 13.
In the decades since its creation in 1951, Punaro said, the board lost some of its independence under new layers of bureaucracy that duplicated its efforts and made it harder to get timely, objective information to the secretary.
"You had the same people staffing the issues in their day-to-day jobs, then you had two to three layers of people you had to get through to get to the front office," he said. "Now all those cobwebs have been swept away."
Bringing in more external expertise and giving the board direct access to the secretary will allow the board to function in the way President Harry S. Truman and others envisioned, Punaro said.
"When you look at some of the luminaries who have served on the board over the decades ... it's been a board that's really had a lot of heavy hitters," he said. "In a way, we've gone back to the board's historical roots.
"We're now in a position to be an independent board with significant expertise, providing our advice and recommendations directly to the secretary of defense," Punaro said. And despite being glad to raise issues on its own, he said, the board also will work closely with the secretary's office to address issues of concern.
"You're most effective when you're working on challenges the department currently is facing, and they are significant," he said, noting severe budget cuts, rebalancing military forces and emerging global threats among current issues.
Punaro promised the board would be "purple" and objective, and that it will not shy away from making it clear that the reserve components are an indispensable fighting force and a bargain for taxpayers.
The military "could not have done the past 10 years" of war without the Guard and Reserve, he said. To have replaced their manpower with active-duty military during that time would have cost more than an additional $1 trillion and added at least 250,000 troops.
The Defense Department also needs reservists' private-sector expertise in areas such as cyber defense and homeland security, Punaro said. "Their civilian skills truly enhance the warfighting skills," he added.
At its first meeting, Punaro said, the board agreed to divide into four subcommittees to address:
- Sustaining the operational reserve;
- Enhancing the Defense Department's role in the homeland;
- Ensuring a continuum of service as the military faces drawdowns; and
- Supporting Guard and Reserve members, their families, and their employers.
"The department is going through some very difficult soul-searching right now ... and there's always going to be tension when budgets are tight," Punaro said. "We want to focus strategically, and provide trenchant, cogent, timely advice."