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Fighting Green: How Congress and the Pentagon Make Defense Policy

  • Author(s): Blakeley, Katherine
  • Advisor(s): Wirls, Daniel
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License


Katherine Blakeley



Fighting Green examines how Congress and the Pentagon make defense policy, using Congressional attempts to influence the Pentagon’s use of energy between FY 2004 - FY 2013 as a lens. Congress’ role in shaping military and defense policy falls into a lacuna between international relations and Americanists’ studies of domestic policy. Far from abdicating its power and prerogatives, Congress in fact exerts substantial influence on defense policy through the annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The assured and routinized annual passage of the NDAA make it a vehicle for substantive oversight and policymaking by the Congressional defense committees and policy entrepreneurs, but this legislative action and oversight remains sub rosa, rather than triggering broader public debates of the problems and potential solutions.

The first half of this dissertation focuses on Congress and the unique legislative vehicle of the NDAA. Narrative case studies of the legislative history of selected provisions illustrate how defense policymaking functions in practice. Quantitative analysis of the origination, content, and success or failure of legislative provisions related to DOD’s energy use provides a fuller analysis of how defense policymaking works, its characteristics, and its limitations. Successful defense policymaking tends to be incremental, uncontroversial, advance a clear defense policy or national security interest, and not require appropriated funds, suggesting that what I term “small-bore defense policymaking” as a successful avenue for defense policymaking. The balance of power lies with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees members and their staffs, but the unique role of the NDAA as a will-pass bill increases the incentive for party leaders to add non-germane policy riders, in a modified inside-leadership game.

The second half of this dissertation follows the defense energy provisions from the prior chapters into the Pentagon, evaluating their implementation and ultimate impact, with implications for Congressional policymaking, the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch, the role of partisanship, and the scope of the defense bureaucracy to shape and attenuate Congressional policy actions.

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