Congress thinks the Navy and Marine Corps may need more than a few good lawyers.
The conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010-- passed yesterday by the House-- contains a provision directing the secretary of Defense to appoint a panel of five private citizens with military law expertise to conduct a study of how the Navy and Marine Corps organize and manage the duties and careers of judge advocates.
The goal, according to the conference committee, is to determine how many military lawyers are needed. The committee said it has noted "with concern, the increasing demands being placed upon judge advocates in the Navy and Marine Corps to fulfill critically important wartime legal roles with minimal or no commensurate increases in judge advocate manning or billets."
The concern with possible understaffing comes, ironically, at a time when all branches of the service are experiencing a surge in applications for judge advocate positions. As The National Law Journal reported on June 6, the Navy JAG corps, with approximately 770 judge advocates, has seen the greatest increase from 2008 to 2009-- a 100% jump. Out of 923 applications received in 2009, the Navy has accepted about 75.
The Marine Corps, with the smallest complement of lawyers at about 440, has also witnessed an increase. It typically accepts about 45 applicants per year with no military experience and another seven to 10 applicants who are already officers. The Corps does not keep statistics on the number of rejected applications. The conference committee said it has questioned the Corps' decision not to create additional judge advocate billets or to increase judge advocate manning as part of its overall growth in active-duty personnel of 27,000 since 2007.
The legislation gives the independent panel a broad mission to study judge advocates' education and training, JAG assignment policies, their responsibilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the increasing complexity of court-martial litigation, and the role of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy to see if that officer needs additional authority.
A spokeswoman for the Navy JAG said, "The Department of the Navy will provide all necessary assistance to any independent panel appointed to review judge advocate requirements in the Department of the Navy. We are very proud of the support that Navy and Marine Corps judge advocates provide to our nation, and to the department's Marines and Sailors. We would welcome the opportunity to tell such an independent panel about the work done by the Navy and Marine Corps JAG team."
Under the legislation, the panel would report its recommendations to Congress within 120 days of its first meeting. (Hat Tip: CAAFLOG)