Archive for the ‘Editor’s’ Category

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.

Ending our militaristic foreign policy saves money

Ethan Pollack, The Economic Policy Institute Blog, 20 September 2011.

One of the persistent criticisms of President Obama’s fiscal plan is that it counts war spending reductions as savings. Basically, the Congressional Budget Office calculates its defense baseline in part by taking the most recent war supplemental (technically called Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO) and assuming that amount—adjusted for inflation—will be spent each year over the foreseeable horizon. This adds up to about $1.73 trillion over 10 years. The president’s proposal, however, includes only $653 billion in OCO spending over 10 years, for a savings of about $1.1 trillion.

Some critics, however, allege that these savings cannot be counted because the CBO OCO baseline itself isn’t realistic, therefore the savings are not “real.” For example, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) argues that counting these savings is a “budget gimmick” that the president uses to “inflate his savings.” According to this critique, another baseline for OCO expenditures should be used—either the president’s budget request or the CBO’s drawdown policy option—which would lower the baseline and make it practically impossible to generate budget savings from reducing war spending.

All due respect to CRFB and the other critics, but this criticism is silly. The CBO OCO baseline isn’t “unrealistic”—rather, it represents the costs of President Bush’s aggressive invasion-centered approach to foreign policy extended into perpetuity. President Obama is, thankfully, in the process of trying to change America’s approach to foreign policy, drawing down troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and moving toward a more multilateral, patient, diplomatic, and most importantly, less expensive approach. Furthermore, the fiscal plan proposes to cap OCO spending, thereby making sure those savings are realized.

President Obama’s foreign policy approach costs less money than President Bush’s, and the budget outlook should reflect those savings.

Editor’s Comment:

It must be a sign of just how bad things are for progressives that EPI now celebrates a big puff of smoke from the Obama administration sent to divert attention from real budget reductions and, in particular, to protect the Pentagon from further cuts in the fiscal battles. Ethan Pollack has worked for OMB, so he surely understands the accounting distortion built into the CBO baseline projections based on current law. Not one person in the world (including those at CBO who prepare the baseline) believes that OCO expenditures will continue to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same level as 2011. That’s why the CBO did a “draw down policy option” – to estimate likely OCO costs. That latter exercise is not “silly”, nor the suggestions that such estimates be the basis for considering budget reduction plans.

Mr. Pollack must also know that President Obama’s FY12 budget submission to Congress contains only $50 billion a year for OCO for future years. Which is it? $118 billion forever or $50 billion forever? You can’t have it both ways.

CBO’s draw down option is surely better for budget (and deficit
reduction) planning that either the unrealistic “placeholder” (which
is simply irresponsible budgeting) or the CBO baseline artifact of
$118 billion forever.

If President Obama wishes to announce a plan to save meaningful
amounts from OCO he would need to announce more rapid withdrawals from Afghanistan… but then no one really believes he is leaving
Afghanistan in 2014. So this is all smoke and mirrors…and progressives should feel terrible about it, not celebrate.

It is disingenuous to claim that the CBO’s baseline OCO is somehow a Bush responsibility. It is simply a methodological artifact of how CBO does its baseline.

President Obama has been in charge for nearly three years and has not brought all the troops home from Iraq and has hardly begun a draw down in Afghanistan. The current year OCO of $118 billion is his responsibility as is the phoney-ness of projecting it forward ten years and then claiming savings from spending “$653 billion…over ten years.” If he was really willing to end the war in Afghanistan soon he might be able to cut that OCO in half and offer $325 billion from reduced future war costs to deficit reduction.

And until this year’s budget imbroglio in Congress forced his hand he
has continued to feed the Pentagon with higher and higher base budgets every year. There is no evidence that President Obama’s “approach to foreign policy…[is] less expensive”… not as far as the largesse offered up to the Pentagon is concerned.

We must not base progressive policy on smoke and mirrors. Such
politics only hurts us in the long run.

Another critique of this budget gimmick can be found at:


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.

The world’s best policeman

Jeff Jacoby. Boston Globe, 22 June 2011.


…with great power come great responsibilities, and sometimes one of those responsibilities is to destroy monsters: to take down tyrants who victimize the innocent and flout the rules of civilization. If neighborhoods and cities need policing, it stands to reason the world does too. And just as local criminals thrive when cops look the other way, so do criminals on the world stage.

Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.

Editor’s Comment:

When three-quarters of Americans reject a role of global policeman for the U.S. perhaps they understand something fundamental about policing that Jeff Jacoby doesn’t. A police force without oversight by a judiciary and a guiding body of law is surely a formula for tyranny.

Jacoby would never endorse tyranny, but the avocation to be global policemen by White House occupants who are elected by and responsible to only 10% of the world’s people is a decision to be a vigilante on the global stage. Consider that Americans would be up in arms if China or Russia took it upon themselves to be global vigilantes.

For the leaders of the U.S. to so gladly to take up this role only serves to delay the day when we have capable international judicial and policing institutions. If our leaders attempt to think even a few years into the future it should be clear to them that the practice of vigilantism does not serve American interests.

[A version of this comment was published as a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe, 28 June 2011.]

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

Huh, did we miss something? Secretary Gates’ $400 billion in savings can’t be located.

Pentagon’s Phantom Savings: $330B Claim Erodes as Programs Reappear
Marcus Weisgerber. Defense News, 16 May 2011.


Nearly 40 percent of that sum [$330 billion] is going straight back into U.S. military programs that replicate the canceled ones, and it’s unclear where another 10 percent came from at all, according to a Defense News analysis and to several analysts.

…many of the military services’ capability requirements remained in place. More than $130 billion is back on the books, or will be soon, for follow-on or replacement programs. Of the programs canceled in 2010, at least five have already been relaunched, or are in the planning stages to begin again.

Editor’s Comment:

When President Obama addressed the nation about the Federal deficit on April 13th he said, “Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again.” A number of us military budget analysts looked at each other and said, “Huh, did we miss something?” We hadn’t notice any significant cuts in Pentagon spending that could count toward reducing the Federal deficit. Where did the President get that big number?

Of course, we had taken notice when Defense Secretary Gates had announced $78 billion in budget cuts for the FY12 five year defense plan. We noted that the DoD budget would still continue to grow, that some of these cuts were fairly soft (dependent on assumptions about future inflation rates) and most savings would be generated in the out-years. (See: Pentagon Resists Deficit Reduction)

And we had noted that Secretary Gates had cancelled a number of programs in 2009. But we also noted that many of the cancelled programs were being replaced by others substantially reducing the putative savings (see Gordon Adams, Defense Budgets: Still Need to Get it Right!)

In the days following the President’s speech we commented on how there was much less real savings than the President attributed to Secretary Gates’ “courageous” efforts. I pointed out that $68 billion of the January $78 billion in savings had been consumed when 2012 war costs appeared in the budget released in February, replacing small placeholder numbers.

Benjamin Friedman observed that “current ‘savings’ consist entirely of spending that the Pentagon reprogrammed and kept, and the future ‘savings’ come by reducing planned spending growth, rather than reducing actual spending.”

Carl Conetta reviewed the history of these supposed cuts going back to 2009 and compared successive Obama budgets, 2010 through 2012, finding no more than $233 billion in “maybe” DoD reductions in projected out years.

The collective skepticism of independent analysts about the $400 billion no doubt reached the attention of the editors of Defense News, the leading defense industry weekly, where Marcus Weisgerber sought to justify Secretary Gates’ claim of $330 billion in savings from the 2009 program cancellations. When DoD officials refused a request to give a program-by-program breakdown of the figure Defense News “used budget justification documents, DoD officials’ public statements, annual acquisition reports and Government Accountability Office estimates to project program costs. For classified and far-term programs not on the books – but factored into DoD’s projections – think tank and analysts’ estimates were used.” The Weisgerber article title, “Pentagon’s Phantom Savings“, sums up the results of Defense News’ effort to justify Secretary Gates’ claim of savings.

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.

Intelligence on President Obama’s Forthcoming Fundamental Defense Review

Charles Knight. Project on Defense Alternatives Note, 12 May 2011.

Word is that two principals in the production of 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review will be charged with producing the “fundamental” defense review President Obama ordered in his April 13th speech on the deficit. They are Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Planning, who was the lead 2010 QDR author and David Ochmanek, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development, who headed the “analysis and integration cell” which pulled together all the analytical aspects of the last QDR.


Defense News reports (23 May 2011) that “The missions and capabilities review will be led by Christine Fox, director of cost assessment and program evaluations [and formerly the President of the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA)]; Michele Flournoy, defense undersecretary for policy [and the Pentagon official in charge of the 2010 QDR]; and Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Editor’s Comment:

Putting the same people who did the 2010 review in charge of producing the new review raises an obvious question of whether we should expect anything much “new” or “fundamental” from this review. QDRs in the past have certainly failed to be “fundamental” in any meaningful sense of the word.

One suspects that the foregone sub-text of what Ms. Hicks writes into the new review will be, “We got this pretty much right when we did it last year. Now, of course, if you are willing to take greater security risks you can cut some pieces out of the force posture, but that is a political decision…”

If the new review makes such a smug presentation it will serve the President and the nation poorly. The 2010 QDR did not make any real effort to set clear priorities among the many military requirements it listed, failing one of the principles of strategy development which is to set a practical path within resource constraints. A new fundamental review must present a variety of low-risk options that can be achieved at various resource investment levels. Its authors should not be allowed to simply push the matter of security risk into the political domain.

President Obama would be smart to solicit ideas from a wide variety of sources, reaching far beyond the Pentagon’s strategy, policy and force planning staff. If a fundamental review is needed, it is wise to hear and consider diverse voices.