When Chuck Hagel was nominated to be Secretary of Defense, it was clear that President Obama was nominating a Republican to take the hatchet to the Department of Defense (DoD). The thinking was that by having a Republican implement these cuts it would deflect some of the criticism.
The President campaigned on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rebalancing the nation’s resources to support other areas. We knew this was coming. This round of proposed DoD budget reductions is part of that effort.
Now that the hatchet is poised to fall, the real question is where will it fall and how deeply will it cut. One thing is clear; Congress will vigorously debate these cuts over the course of the next few months.
From my perspective here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Defense budget outlined yesterday by Secretary Hagel.
The good: Placing a greater importance on special operations forces was first proposed by the Bush Administration under Secretary Rumsfeld. The proposal met resistance then as well, but was quickly sidetracked by the September 11 terrorist attacks. We give kudos to Pentagon planners for reviving an idea that had merit then and has merit now
Rethinking the purchase of weapons systems is a good exercise. People will complain. Also reducing the buy of a weapons system certainly increases the per unit cost, but can provide overall savings.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that industry executives expect FY 2014 to mark the bottom of the Pentagon’s procurement cuts. We shall see.
The bad: Personnel costs are eating into DoD’s budget and are hurting its ability to train our troops in order to maintain readiness. This pressure from personnel costs combined with the thinking that large land wars are unlikely in the future have resulted in the recommendation that the Army be cut from today’s number of 520,000 soldiers to somewhere between 440,000 and 450,000. I agree with the need to reduce personnel costs, but this large of a cut tends to give me pause.
Relying on our allies to share more of the burden of defending democracy and preserving peace in the world is a laudable goal but fraught with danger. We cannot control how much our allies budget for defense, and consequently they may not have the capability to respond when called upon.
The ugly: Not all of the complaining about DoD’s budget cuts should be laid at the feet of the Obama Administration. Congress shares some blame. For the last two years, as it will again this year, DoD has proposed an additional round of base closures to enable it to close facilities it believes it no longer needs, which will allow it to cut costs and shift those savings to enhance readiness. Congress has blocked those efforts in the past and will likely do so again. This causes waste within DoD and Congress is preserving that waste.
In addition, DoD will have its budget further trimmed by sequestration. Let’s not forget sequestration came into being because Congress failed to reach an agreement on ending wasteful or redundant spending programs.
Congress has the power to soften some of these proposed cuts by authorizing additional rounds of base closure and, as we have seen, Congress can work together to reduce the impact of sequestration. Will it do so again?
Before joining CNP (formerly WHD Government Affairs), Steve served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Senate Affairs. He was the key liaison between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Senate, assuring that the Senate was informed of the DOD’s plans, programs and goals.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.