Joint Staff (U.S.)

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Established by the National Security Act of 1947, the U.S. Joint Staff assists the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) in developing policies for the U.S. military. It reports directly to the CJCS, not the JCS as a whole, under a three-star Director. The CJCS does not have operational command of U.S. forces, that being the role of the National Command Authority and the Unified Combatant Commanders, so the Joint Staff is not in the operational command and control path. It was further barred, by the establishing legislation, from being a general staff for the U.S. military as a whole. [1] At the time of the JCS creation in 1947, there was considerable political worry about creating an autonomous "Great General Staff" as had existed in Germany.[2]

Nevertheless, the CJCS and Joint Staff are extremely influential in establishing policy. There have been a number of workarounds to the 400 officer limitation. It was originally limited to 210 officers, and, although the subsequent Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 raised it to 400 officers, there remained a problem for the functions, such as intelligence, where it produced information rather than coordinated it. The Defense Intelligence Agency, under various organization plans, provided the intelligence staff function to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but usually had a special bureaucratic structure to avoid the limit on staff.

Its Director is a lieutenant general or vice admiral, selected by the CJCS and reporting directly to him. In July 2010, Vice Admiral William Gortney took command; Austin was promoted to head U.S. forces in Iraq, replacing LTG Lloyd Austin. It is a "career enhancing" position; the incumbent often moves to a four-star position, recent examples being GEN Ray Odierno and General Lloyd Austin becoming the senior U.S. officer in Iraq, and GEN Stanley McChrystal and heading NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

By statute, it is limited to 400 officers, although that number is exceeded in practice by attached agencies. There are approximately equal numbers from each of the services. Each service has its own staff, including an Operations Deputy (OPDEP), who works closely with the Director of the Joint Staff to consider issues at a level below that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Service staffs do not count against the Joint Staff ceiling.

In like manner, there is a Vice Director who is a member of the Joint Staff, and a lower-level body, made up of the major general or rear admiral operations deputy directors of the individual services. When matters are resolved by the Operations Deputies or Deputy Operations Deputies, the decision has the force of that from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


  1. Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, 10 US Code 155
  2. Goerlitz, Walter (1962), History Of The German General Staff 1657-1945, Praeger