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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Pentagon Calls for More DTRA Support
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Stephen Bunnell

A recently declassified report from a Department of Defense review panel calls on the government to provide more political and financial support to a Pentagon agency that is tasked with defending the United States from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The report, which was originally authored in March, was produced by a review panel headed by Robert Joseph, who served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President George W. Bush, and Ashton Carter, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Clinton administration.

The report finds that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), established a decade ago, “has not been given the means required to meet all of its current responsibilities, let alone to realize its full potential for the U.S. Government in combating” weapons of mass destruction. It lists two overarching recommendations: “strong advocacy and commitment by senior [Defense Department] leadership” and “a detailed strategic plan for combating” weapons of mass destruction. The report calls on the Pentagon to treat preparations for WMD threats by adversaries as a top priority.

The report recommends a restructuring of the top levels of DTRA leadership in order to provide the senior-level advocacy needed for the agency. The panel calls for creating a new assistant secretary of defense for WMD issues reporting directly to the secretary or deputy secretary. They further recommend that the DTRA director be a three-star military officer if the new assistant secretary for WMD issues position is created. These recommendations aim to give the DTRA strong advocates within the Pentagon, in order to win the agency greater funding and budget flexibility.

In addition, the report recommends a closer relationship between the DTRA and regional combatant commands and a much more active and involved role for Strategic Command (STRATCOM) within the military in such areas as planning and exercises. The report characterizes the current mandate for STRATCOM as “overly ambiguous and appears to allow [combatant commands] to choose when, how, and whether to involve STRATCOM…in their planning processes, exercises, theater security cooperation programs, and the like.”

Moreover, the report calls for a closer interagency relationship between the DTRA and the rest of the government, describing the DTRA as “a national asset.” It recommends that representatives of the agency participate in meetings of interagency initiatives on counterproliferation and homeland security as well as in international negotiations, such as those seeking nuclear disarmament of North Korea.