Archive for the ‘Pick of the Posts’ Category

Going for Broke: The Budgetary Consequences of Current US Defense Strategy

Carl Conetta. PDA Briefing Memo #52, 25 October 2011.


The sharp rise in the Pentagon’s base budget since 1998 (46% in real terms) is substantially due to strategic choice, not security requirements, per se. It reflects a refusal to set priorities as well as a move away from the traditional goals of military deterrence, containment, and defense to more ambitious ends: threat prevention, command of the commons, and the transformation of the global security environment. The geographic scope of routine US military activity also has expanded.

companion piece: The Pentagon’s New Mission Set: A Sustainable Choice?, by Carl Conetta. An updated and expanded excerpt from the Report of the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget (USB) for the United States, August 2011.

Strategic Adjustment to Sustain the Force: A survey of current proposals

Charles Knight. Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #51, 25 October 2011.


…modest changes to U.S. military strategy and global posture implemented over the next ten years can reliably offer deficit-reducing savings from the Pentagon budget ranging from $73 billion a year to $118 billion a year.

To achieve the savings only requires the application of different means to attaining strategic goals. That is precisely what any good strategy does when conditions change.

Panetta must fight four wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, waste

editorial. Boston Globe, 30 June 2011.

When Leon Panetta takes the helm at the Defense Department tomorrow, he will be facing difficult choices about the US military efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. But an equally pressing — and potentially even more intractable — problem is the Pentagon’s budget and spending. Outgoing secretary Robert Gates was good at paying lip service to the need to control spending; he noted recently that “the United States should spend as much as necessary on national defense, but not one penny more.’’ But the department’s baseline budget has risen every year since Gates took over — from $450 billion to more than $550 billion four years later. This year alone, the Pentagon is seeking a 3.4 percent increase from its 2010 budget.

It’s not just the wars; they represent less than 30 percent of the Pentagon’s enormous budget request. In the context of other government spending, the Pentagon is a behemoth. For every $100 of government discretionary spending, over $30 goes to non-war defense expenditures. The scope is overwhelming; the need for more than piecemeal cuts of failed systems is urgent.

Gates recently claimed that the Pentagon has already cut $300 billion, but the math suggests otherwise. That money came from programs already scheduled to be terminated. The savings were simply put into other military priorities. After noting that the Navy’s 11 carrier battle groups were excessive, Gates refused to eliminate a single one.

Panetta will need to take a more disciplined and systemic look at the budget. There is no shortage of advice from influential think tanks and independent studies, including last year’s report of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a bipartisan group convened by Representative Barney Frank. Their recommendations would trim $960 billion between 2011 and 2020, if only the Pentagon would act on them.

Cutting the number of deployed nuclear weapons by half — to 1,000 warheads — is consistent with a reduced emphasis on nuclear warfare and the efforts of arms control advocates. This move alone would save over $100 billion over 10 years. Reducing conventional forces by 50,000, which would still leave 100,000 personnel deployed in Europe and Asia, is more realistic force structure. Cancelling just a few systems that are neither cost-effective nor essential would save more. The MV-22 Osprey and Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle are long on trouble, and short on capability. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office both have proposed changes to support efforts, such as maintenance, supply, and infrastructure, that could save $100 billion in the next decade.

All this could be accomplished without compromising national security. Panetta needs to push back on the political forces that claim any cuts make the nation vulnerable to various enemies. The deficit is a much greater security risk.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon remains the largest federal agency that simply cannot pass an independent auditor test; when subjected to the normal bookkeeping procedures, it cannot, with any accuracy, track spending, fraud, waste, or redundancy. It has given itself a September 2017 deadline for audit “readiness.’’ That’s not soon enough. Panetta, who, as the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, has a reputation as a rigorous fighter for fiscal discipline. He will need to get the Pentagon’s house in order on day one.

Advice to the Pentagon: Stop Fiddling, Come to Grips With Impending Fiscal Doom

Sandra Erwin. National Defense , 10 June 2011.


Not only are there internal disagreements within the Pentagon and the Obama administration over what the military services will be doing in the future, but factions within Congress also will be pushing individual agendas. “In Congress, you have 535 individuals and every one of them thinks they’re in charge,” O’Keefe said. “If you don’t have some benchmark to work with to start the discussion,” the Pentagon will lose control over what gets cut in future budgets.

“If there is no strategic framework, that is what will happen: The process takes over,” said O’Keefe. Defense leaders should come up with a reasonable strategic framework as early as possible that they can sell to Congress, he said. “Absent that, it is going to be the programmers and bean counters driving the train to meet a number.”

A coherent message from the Defense Department is “missing right now,” said John J. Hamre, president of CSIS and former deputy defense secretary.

“What are we really trying to plan for, as a Defense Department, that is good for 20 years?” he asked. “Are we going to get the hell out of these wars and never fight them again? What are we preparing for?” he added. “That, I think, is the work for the next six months.”

There has to be a sense of urgency about articulating a plan for the future of the U.S. military, because increasingly the American public is losing patience with seemingly endless wars and gridlock over how to move forward, Hamre said

The U.S. Defense Budget: Get Real, Pentagon

Defense News editorial, 16 May 2011.


There is an old Washington saying that no money is less real than out-year money. This means that anything that is beyond the immediate spending bill is purely notional.

Requirement control is a popular method of limiting the costs of new weapons, but it’s equally important to control the growing number of missions.

The first step should be to ensure the roles-and-missions review ordered by Obama slashes unnecessary and costly redundancies in capabilities.

Second, the Pentagon must avoid doing what it did – portraying soft numbers as hard ones that do little other than expose it to criticism.

Lastly, to make wise cuts, the Pentagon must improve its internal financial management processes to pinpoint what it’s spending and how. Without hard data, it’s hard to come up with hard savings.

Pentagon review must aim for more than modest cuts in defense spending

Project on Defense Alternatives, Briefing Memo #49, 25 April 2011.

There is good reason to welcome a strategic review, as promised by President Obama on 13 April. For nearly 14 years, US defense policy has been guided by the “QDR consensus” – a set of axioms and imperatives that won adherence among defense planners in the course of four Quadrennial Defense Reviews, beginning in 1997. In retrospect, this consensus has produced a syndrome of profligate and desultory military activism. It has fed the dysfunctions of our military procurement system and helped drive the Pentagon’s base budget to unsustainable heights. Certainly, it is time for a fresh start. But will the promised review deliver?

Will the review be more open and critical than the QDRs it aims to rectify? How deep will it dig? Will it even aim to “rectify?” Or will it serve a more narrow purpose: a revised bargain among the Commander-in-Chief, his defense secretary, and the chiefs of the armed services to exchange modest new constraints on budget growth for a strong rationale, a bulwark, against any further cuts.

What the President seeks is only $400 billion in savings over 12 years – about 6.5% of planned base budget expenditures. Last year, the President’s Fiscal Commission and other independent task forces identified more than twice as much in potential defense savings over a period of just ten years. And it is unclear whether the President intends to extract the $400 billion from the Pentagon’s budget alone or from the larger “security basket,” which includes International Affairs, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs.

Also, it is not encouraging that the President applauded Defense Security Gates for having “already saved” $400 billion in previous years, when most of those “savings” never left the Pentagon’s coffers, nor dented the government’s deficits. What the nation needs now are “savings” in the colloquial sense of an actual decrease in defense spending.

A serious strategic review should enable considerably more than a 6.5% retraction in planned future expenditures. It should do more than limit future growth. And maybe it will. But we should recognize at the start that what the President has proposed is not itself substantial enough to actually necessitate a strategic review. Yes, we need one – but not because the President hopes to modestly dampen Pentagon growth.

To be meaningful, such a review must look well beyond $400 billion in savings, and even beyond what the Fiscal Commission and other task forces have proposed. Of course, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen disagree. They have already publicly derided any substantial new constraints on their spending as putting the nation and its armed services at risk. The strategic review should be more than a conciliatory concession to their concerns, which are tendentious.

We can gain needed perspective by comparing recent budget submissions and proposals in historical context. This table prepared by PDA converts recent plans and proposals into average annual Pentagon base budgets, expressed in 2010 dollars. It shows that the President’s requests and proposals, including his recent one, would produce average annual budgets that occupy a narrow band of spending. They are all close cousins.

Even the more ambitious proposal by the Sustainable Defense Task Force does not go far afield.

All of the President’s requests and proposals produce average annual budgets that, in real terms, exceed previous spending, exceed Reagan-era levels of spending, and substantially exceed average spending during the entire Cold War period. (And, notably, the budget average for the Cold War years includes war spending, while the more recent averages do not.)

We should gladly accept the opportunity for a review of defense planning and work to make it worthwhile. But we need not and should not accept the idea that modest revisions in budget planning give good reason to hit the “strategy panic” button.

Under-budgeted Afghan War Spending to Swallow All Pentagon “budget savings” and more

Budget Memo by Charles Knight. 14 February 2011.

For several years now White House budget projections have included a “placeholder for outyear overseas contingency operations” most of which are accounted for by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This placeholder number has been and remains $50 billion. Every year actual OCO (overseas contingency operations) spending turns out to be several times that number. FY11’s OCO is $159 billion and FY12’s is $118 billion.

Adjusting for the effect of the new OCO for FY12, the $68 billion budgeted above the placeholder of $50 billion eats up most of the $78 billion in Pentagon cuts that Secretary Gates offered up in January to fiscal responsibility (only $76 billion actually shows up in the 14 February budget release.) The remaining $8 billion (and much more) will go to the war budgets when reality collides with placeholder projections.

On 14 February Pentagon Comptroller Hale confirmed that the $50 billion placeholders for FY13 and beyond was the “best we can do.” Others make an attempt to be more realistic. The high tech industry association called Tech America annually projects DoD budgets for ten years out. In their 2010 projection they estimate that OCO spending will be $102 billion in FY13, $69 billion in FY14 and $57billion in FY15. When we subtract the $50 billion placeholder for each of those years and total the remainder we find that the Pentagon is likely to spend $78 billion more in the years FY13 through FY15 than in the White House budget projections.

In sum, not only does the President’s FY12 budget plan give an exemption to the Pentagon from contributing anything substantial to deficit reduction, but the likely cost of the war in Afghanistan will push up the national debt substantially higher than the White House budget projections.

Pentagon Resists Deficit Reduction

Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo 46, 26 January 2011.


* Although described as a “cut,” Gates’ offer would allow defense spending to rise steadily over the next five years.

* Although Gates says that any bigger cuts would court “catastrophe,” all the savings plans grant DoD more money in real terms during the next ten years than it had during the last ten.

* The proposals for bigger cuts would produce average Pentagon base budgets during the next ten years that are only about 5% below Reagan-era spending, adjusted for inflation.

* The Pentagon seeks future budgets that average more than 12% above the Cold War highs.