Bill to require independent Office of Net Assessment in Pentagon introduced in House and Senate

Rep. Mac Thornberry
Rep. Mac Thornberry

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced bipartisan legislation on January 9 that would require an independent Office of Net Assessment (ONA) within the Department of Defense.

The organization, which is charged with identifying long-term opportunities and challenges for senior defense officials, would be given a separate, dedicated budget and report directly to the Secretary of Defense.

The current Office of Net Assessment was formed in 1973 to focus on developing and coordinating the comparative analysis of the standing, trends, and future prospects of U.S. military capabilities relative to other nations and threats. ONA reports have covered topics ranging from the Soviet Union and nuclear conflict, to the Chinese security apparatus, religious warfare, U.S. military superiority, and more.

“Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced that the office would be placed beneath the undersecretary for policy, which would jeopardize ONA’s independence and objectivity,” said a news release issued by the bill’s sponsors.

“Right now, the Pentagon and our country’s security are facing serious challenges,” said Rep. Thornberry, who serves as the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “But, with challenge comes opportunity. To take advantage of opportunities in defense, we need creative ideas, innovation, and long-term strategies that are immune from politics and parochial interests in Washington. The best way to ensure that Pentagon leadership continues to receive these kinds of honest assessments is to require the ONA be an independent office, with its own budget reporting directly to the Secretary.”

“The Office of Net Assessment has served as a beacon of innovative and independent strategic thinking for over four decades,” added Senator Warner. “At a time of increasingly diverse threats from all across the world, an independent ONA that reports directly to the Secretary will help ensure that the U.S. retains a strategic advantage.”

“The Office of Net Assessment’s ability to produce independent, strategic assessments of our defense policy has been invaluable to our national security for decades,” said Senator Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The objectivity of our long-term defense strategies — free from partisan politics or other factors — relies upon an independent office with a direct reporting channel to the Secretary.”

In October, six former Secretaries of Defense, including Robert Gates and Harold Brown, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Hagel asking him to preserve ONA, saying that the country has been “fortunate” to have such an office and that it has “repeatedly paid enormous dividends during some of the most challenging periods in our recent history,” the news release noted.