The military pension promise : autonomous policy subsystems, blue ribbon defense commissions, and the twenty-first century all-volunteer force
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Drawing from previous scholarship, contemporary policy debates, historical records, and 53 interviews with policymaking elites, this dissertation project takes a qualitative, field-based approach to expose the internal dynamics of autonomous policy subsystems. I contend that these subsystems are characterized by insular, expert-based channels of information, specialized media attention, parochial interest groups, a politically inactive – yet advantaged – target population, and an inherent lack of policy conflict. The military personnel policy subsystem operationalizes this renewed theory of autonomous policy subsystems. From the American Revolution and the Civil War through the first and second World Wars and beyond, this dissertation traces the American political development of military pension policy though the lens of the policy subsystem, documenting the subsystem’s formation, evolution, and ultimate transformation into the autonomous military personnel policy subsystem. Through field-based interviews of contemporary policy elites, I offer five key findings that contribute to the policy subsystems literature. First, high rates of congressional and bureaucratic turnover on the military personnel subcommittees and within the Pentagon are detrimental to the subsystem’s institutional memory. Second, the Pentagon marginalizes itself by stove piping expert information through bureaucratic hierarchies leaving it unresponsive to the subsystem’s demands for timely information. Third, subsystem actors see a clear distinction between power and influence within the subsystem as the congressional subcommittees on military personnel wield power and prominent Veterans’ Service Organizations wield influence. Fourth, subsystem actors search for and prioritize interinstitutional signals from policy elites. Finally, issues surrounding military social policy attract a whole new set of competing actors and institutions into the subsystem’s policymaking process. Though powerful, autonomous policy subsystems of this sort are still susceptible to breakdown and policy change. Beyond exogenous shocks and policy entrepreneurs, I contend autonomous policy subsystems are particularly vulnerable to jurisdictional threats from blue ribbon commissions chartered to gather new information, reframe policy images, alter issue definitions, and make policy recommendations. As institutional venues for policy change, blue ribbon defense commissions are well-positioned to breakdown autonomous policy subsystems and bring about meaningful policy change. The dissertation concludes with a broad set of recommendations along with ideas for future research agendas.