The Cuts the Pentagon Missed: NYTimes Editorial 02/19/11

The Cuts the Pentagon Missed: 02/19/11

Defense Secretary Robert Gates understands that the country cannot keep issuing blank checks to the Pentagon and that the Pentagon needs to spend more rationally and efficiently. He is committed to equipping American forces for the wars they are actually fighting. He has terminated some costly and unneeded weapons programs, held errant contractors accountable, and pressed the services to find savings to help pay for new spending. Mr. Gates is right that there is no way to restrain Pentagon spending without addressing health care costs, which now account for almost 10 percent of the budget. He has proposed that working-age military retirees pay higher health insurance premiums — $520 a year, up from $460 now — the first increase in 16 years.

Some of that same managerial sense is evident in the Pentagon’s latest $553 billion request ($118 billion more is requested for Iraq and Afghanistan). But Mr. Gates did not go far enough. The $78 billion in spending cuts he announced last month were not really cuts, but merely reductions in projected hefty increases. Cuts in all areas of federal spending will be needed to bring down the deficit, and the Pentagon cannot be exempt. There are ways to cut that will not compromise national security. And the sooner those cuts begin, the less disruptive they will be to military planning, and the more savings they will yield. Mr. Gates’s proposal to cancel the Marine Corps’s costly and unworkable Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle will save $11 billion in future costs. But $3 billion has already been needlessly spent. Unfortunately, Mr. Gates’s new budget would continue many other weapons programs whose costs will continue to climb. The $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has already seen costs per plane nearly double from the amount originally budgeted. It should be cut back. Programs to keep building Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines — relics of the cold war — and the unsafe V-22 Osprey aircraft should also be scaled down now. The Pentagon needs to jettison the ancient formula that guarantees each service its accustomed share of taxpayer dollars. Air and sea power that can be readily mobilized are vital to American security. But for a decade, the Army and the Marines have been pushed to their limits while the Navy and the Air Force have looked for ways to stay useful and justify their budget shares. Updating the formula to reflect a more realistic division of labor would wring significant savings from the Air Force and the Navy while protecting the Army and the Marines from the multiple combat tours that have strained service members and their families over the last decade. Congress has been a big enabler of Pentagon bloat — egged on by lobbyists and defense contractors. The Republican leadership, in particular, does not make even the pretense of fiscal responsibility when it comes to military spending. That is why it was gratifying to see 110 House Republicans joining Democrats to heed Mr. Gates’s plea to cut off future spending for an unneeded alternative engine for the F-35 — saving a potential $2 billion to $3 billion. Most of the work would have gone to Speaker John Boehner’s Ohio district. That is a start, but only a start. America has vast global security responsibilities and needs to remain prepared for a variety of future challenges. It needs to do so with fiscally sustainable military budgets that do not weaken our economy or distort national priorities.

5 thoughts on “The Cuts the Pentagon Missed: NYTimes Editorial 02/19/11

  1. Harry C. Blaney III February 28, 2011 / 5:22 PM

    There are a host of people who have expertise on DOD projects, programs, and budget who are now outside of the government. One former head of the National Security budget at OMB (which covers the 150 Account (State/USAID, etc.) and 050 Account (which covers DOD and the CIA, etc.)who has written on cuting DOD unneeded programs would be a good example.

    The question that Richard raises is can it be possible to get on such a commission those who are truly skeptical of the existing national security strategic assumptions, military systems and procurement and who will look at future challenges not past ones. I think the answer is yes, but only if those who create such a commission want to see change rather than the same old same old. This would be only one option in what must be a wide perspective re changes of our defense policies.

    Add your comments!

  2. Richard Wright February 25, 2011 / 6:42 PM

    An “Expert Commission” would certainly be a good start to Pentagon reform, but what sort of expertise is the commission going to reflect. The DC area is fairly awash with self proclaimed “experts”, but what is needed in this case are experts on the ways of DOD acquisition and procurement, experts on force structure and operations, and experts in economic planning. Yet this expertise resides mainly within DOD, so you are left with a ‘catch-22’ of finding people who are intimately familiar with DOD, but who can still review Department practices and programs objectively.

  3. Harry Blaney February 24, 2011 / 5:06 PM

    Richard has it right, but we need specific tools to get our arms around massive defense funding, including both outside high level studies of strategy/risks/costs and priorities. Also it is clear we need added funding for stronger role for diplomacy and addressing fundamental causes rather than coming in with guns blazing late. What is happening around the world now reinforces that judgement.

    There was a time in which the strategy to examine, without political bias, budgets and programs, especially in DOD, was to set up a high level outside expert commission which would undertake a hard analysis of costs/benefits and how a program fitted into future needs. Then is said in clear terms “cut” or “not cut.”

    Perhaps we need now just such an DOD focused effort but with a clear deadline of 8-10 months for at least a preliminary set of recommendation that would accompany the 2013 budget that comes out in February 2012. All know that a lot of “fat” is in the DOD figures and it is at the expense of really needed supplies, training, and equipment…..and that getting rid of one large redundant and useless project could pay for many things that are really needed.

    Comments welcomed!

  4. Richard Wright February 23, 2011 / 1:55 AM

    One factor in defense procurement costs that is often overlooked is the need to subsidize U.S. defense industry giants such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman and General Dynamics. Their principal customers are the U.S. Military and its foreign military clients. DOD believes that as a matter of national security, the engineering and technical staffs of these giants who are skilled in weapons design and production have to be kept gainfully employed in case there is a need for a sudden ramp-up in weapons production. This also explains the over elaborate use of sub-contracting. An obvious clunker like the F-35 continues to be funded for precisely this reason. Boeing is the only major defense contractor that even makes a pretense of also dealing in commercial aircraft. The rest are pretty much dependent on the federal government for their profits.

    Indeed Ashton Carter, DOD Under Secretary for Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics went before an assembly of Wall Street analysts to assure them that investments in the aerospace industry will make good sense even with DOD cutbacks. All this is to say that until the system supporting the military-industrial complex is changed real cost savings in military procurement will be very difficult to achieve.

  5. Harry C. Blaney III February 22, 2011 / 5:39 PM

    This Sunday the New York Times set forth a strong argument for a rethinking of our national defense posture and the reordering of priorities in our resources. They not only pointed to programs that are no longer needed and wasteful, but also that more needed to be done to cut the DOD budget to make it more relevant to the challenges and dangers in the future, not the past or to lard more pork for Congressional mandates pushed by lobbyists than even the Secretary of Defense says they do not need.

    The problem also is that our preventive diplomacy programs under the Department of State and USAID have been drastically cut to the bone in ways that are dangerous to our national security and long-term interests in a safe and prosperous world. They also are harmful to the protection of our diplomats and other Americans abroad in danger posts especially Iraq and Afghanistan when we are trying to shift from war to peace building, civic society developing, and securing a safe environment for the population. (See the letter of Secretary of State Clinton to the Republican House appropriations chair…

    Misplaced priorities seem to be the intent of the House Republicans both on domestic programs and sadly on international priorities. In the end we are cutting off our noises to spite our face. The problem is that lives will be lost, weapons of mass destruction will spread, opportunities to stop conflict early will be lost, and our ability to respond to crises around the world will be severely diminished. Peace will be harmed, food will not reach starving people, climate change will increase, and economies around the globe will impacted hurting our own.
    Join this discussion and add your comments.

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