Defense & National Security

6 ways to keep our nation safe, trim the budget

6 ways to keep our nation safe, trim the budget

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) accuses President Barack Obama of playing politics with looming catastrophic defense cuts of $492 billion that start January 2, 2013. There is a principled way to avoid this political train wreck and at the same time streamline our armed forces.

Last Friday the administration missed the deadline set in legislation, the Sequestration Transparency Act, signed by President Obama Aug. 7th that requires him to issue a report on how he would comply with automatic spending cuts — sequestration — totaling $1.2 trillion through 2021.

The 2011 Budget Control Act created the sequestration formula that spreads those cuts across a decade and splits them equally between national security and non-security programs. The Pentagon’s share of those cuts ($492 billion) come atop another $487 billion in already agreed to reductions which makes the sequestration reductions especially threatening for our national security.

That is why Rep. McKeon criticized the president.  “The president’s continued silence on sequestration is disappointing.  I can only conclude that President Obama wants to impose cuts his own secretary of defense has called catastrophic … and he is on record subordinating this crisis to his own political prospects,” Rep. McKeon said in a statement Sept. 7.

Last November, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote U.S. Senate leaders that sequestration represents a reduction of nearly 20 percent in Defense Department funding over the next decade, which he said “would have devastating effects.” But sequestration is really about an ideological divide between America’s left and right when it comes to the use of the armed forces as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

The right traditionally adheres to a “realist” understanding of international relations whereby national interest is first priority and the use of force (the military) is considered a legitimate tool to achieve national ends. The left is traditionally focused on an idealist approach whereby national interests are not fixed and can be negotiated through diplomacy and the use of economic incentives and is reluctant to use military force. Therefore the right tends to advocate a larger, modernized and rapidly deployable military with broad overseas presence while the left advocates for smaller forces with less force projection capability and a reduced overseas presence. One’s political view determines one’s view of the military.

President Obama’s 2012 defense strategy is clearly leftist even though he promises it will maintain the “greatest force … ever known.”  But his strategy calls for a much smaller military, no longer supports a two-war doctrine, and drastically reduces our nuclear forces.

Secretary Panetta insists we don’t have to “choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility,” but Obama’s plan cuts defense in order to protect entitlement programs, a leftist move.  And his recent failure to publish a sequestration plan is consistent with his ideological views about defense.

Put ideology aside and consider six ways to keep the nation secure while streamlining our armed forces:

First, Pentagon roles and missions must be driven by an ideology-free commission that assesses the threats and designs the force given a realistic budget.  President Dwight Eisenhower used a similar approach in 1953, the Solarium Project that led to his New Look Policy.

We need a similar process today rather than the current process that is vulnerable to presidential ideology and unconstrained by budget realities which Congress rubber stamps.  That must change because America can no long afford such sloppy management.  Specifically, in 2011 U.S. defense spending was $739 billion, which equals roughly two-thirds of the next nine top countries combined and five times what potential adversaries China and Russia spend on defense.

Second, sustain a smaller all-volunteer force which costs at least $141 billion annually.  Now that the war in Iraq is finished and Afghanistan is winding down we should return the Army and Marine Corps to pre-9/11 levels and cut the civilian government workforce that bloated during the post-9/11 era.  We also need to stabilize troops in jobs longer to reduce costs.

Further, the military’s 20-years-and-out retirement system needs retooling to keep hard-learned skills longer, and the military health care system needs a re-look to offset skyrocketing costs. Also, between 1998 and 2009, according to the Congressional Research Service, military personnel pay and benefits rose 45 percent above inflation, which makes it a fair target for cuts as well.

Third, eliminate duplication of forces, staffs, and agencies. The Pentagon structure needs another transformation such as the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act.

We don’t need two ground forces (Army and Marines), four air forces (each service has an air force) and 16 intelligence agencies mostly controlled by the Pentagon.   We should consolidate Special Forces, medical personnel, logisticians and other specialties.

Retool the Pentagon’s bloated bureaucracy.  It has a top-heavy multilayer hierarchy that must become more nimble.  Start by reducing the number of flag and general officers, civilians and political appointees who drive up operating costs because of extra staff, amenities and space.  Also, the services use separate but parallel staffs for their civilian and uniformed chiefs even though they perform many of the same functions.

Fourth, the Pentagon has too many bases both here and overseas.  Dramatically reduce our overseas basing infrastructure and rely more on unaccompanied rotational forces.  For example, the US military has bases in 63 countries with 80,000 personnel on 400 facilities in Europe; 35,688 personnel on 115 facilities in Japan; and 28,500 personnel on 86 facilities in South Korea.

Reduce the Pentagon’s infrastructure here at home.  The Congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process has closed more than 350 installations during five BRAC rounds.  But that still leaves the Pentagon 539,000 facilities at nearly 5,000 sites.  Many more need to be closed.

Fifth, sustain effectiveness and contain costs by maintaining the industrial base’s accountability and efficient procurement plans.  After the Cold War, Congress put the Pentagon on a strict procurement diet, but it kept the industrial base alive with infusions of billions of dollars for research and development. Unfortunately there was little accountability for that money, which resulted in billions wasted.

Procurement plans must be based on the budget-driven, threat-validated roles and missions.  For example, the Pentagon dropped the costly Air Force F-22 Raptor because it failed the “needs” rationale and the same should apply to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the $15-billion-each aircraft carriers that are vulnerable to China’s carrier sinking DF-21D missiles.

Further we tend to over-engineer systems and then remove components or buy fewer systems when the price rises beyond our budget.  A better approach is to concentrate on utility platforms such as unmanned drones and cargo airlift and reduce costs by using common aircraft across the services.  For instance, why do the Air Force and Navy have very similar but different manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles — Global Hawks and the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance?

Finally, fix the Pentagon’s budgeting and financial accounting processes.  The Pentagon’s planning, programming, and budgeting system, or PPBS, needs streamlining to be quicker, cheaper, and more flexible.   The Government Accountability Office testified the Pentagon’s accounting and financial management systems are problem-plagued and have never been completely audited.  This costs many billions each year due to waste, fraud, and abuse, according to a 2009 GAO report.

We can simultaneously defend our country and streamline military spending.  However, that takes non-partisan leadership beginning with President Obama and some very tough, principled management decisions. So far there are no indicators that Congress or the administration intend to take the situation seriously enough to avoid the coming catastrophe.

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