Today the Air Force TJAG blog reported that “[t]he Army JAG School has announced that the New Developments Course has been cancelled.” For an old-timer like me, that seems like a momentous development. The New Developments Course has long been a staple in military justice training, with attendees often passing on the knowledge by giving PME summaries of the course when they return to their home commands.
The blog post didn’t indicate the reason for the cancellation. I assume the concern was fiscal. The course never struck me as a boondoggle, so I wouldn’t think that it would have been axed as part of the post-GSA “What Happened in Vegas Didn’t Stay in Vegas” “death to conferences” fervor. And I never heard of any escort-type scandals (or any scandals of any other sort) associated with the course, so I wouldn’t think it was axed as part of the post-Secret Service “What Happened in Colombia Didn’t Stay in Colombia” anti-scandal fervor. My guess is that a decision was made that we simply can no longer afford to present what was high quality and very useful training.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the new fiscal environment will affect the military justice system. Today’s court-martial system looks far different than that of 2002. Consider that in FY 2011, we tried half the number of special court-martial cases (1,502) that we tried in FY 2002 (3,1097). I believe that both the military justice system and the judge advocate organizations that support them will look far different in 2022 than they do today. The main factor that reshaped the military justice system over the past decade was combat. I believe the main factor that will shape the military justice system over the next decade will be fiscal.
The truth is, the military justice system as a whole spends vast sums of money in wasteful ways with grossly inefficient redundancies. The military justice establishment is notoriously resistant to change and resistant even more to any change proposed from outside that establishment. Calls for defending the various services’ prerogatives have held major steramlining reforms at bay thus far. But when the fiscal drought threatens every aspect of DOD’s water supply, interservice legal redundancies that waste even comparatively small amounts of water will be seen as unjustifiable extravagances.
The fiscal drought will test the military justice establishment. Will it anticipate the coming climatic change and voluntarily and proactively eliminate redundancies? Will it play bureaucratic games and seek to preserve redundancies so that when the budget cutters come, the known redundancies can be offered up as eliminations to meet whatever savings quota is assigned to the various services’ military justice establishments? If that occurs, will outside forces take the lead in reshaping the military justice system and its supporting entities?
The New Development Course’s cancellation suggests that the system’s water supply is already in peril. Maybe the New Developments Course will be back next year. Maybe, like the Joint Base Andrews air show, it’ll become a biennial event. I don’t know. But what I do believe is that this year’s New Developments Course won’t be the last military justice casualty in a new era of fiscal constraint.