In the 1990’s, I was working for Les Aspin as one of his team at the Pentagon.
One of our biggest challenges when we arrived at the Department of Defense was to develop the FY 1994 budget and review the military structure at a time when the nation was clamoring for and the Clinton Administration had pledged to reduce defense spending.
After all, it was the end of the cold war and the Soviet Union had collapsed. We had just finished with Desert Storm and talk of the Peace Dividend was everywhere.
It was a time when we had to change our defense priorities.
Les and the team identified some important and basic tools to help us determine how we were going to manage all of that. The bottom up review was born with the assumption of two Major Regional Conflicts (MRC’s). The Quadrennial Defense Report (QDR) was established and Goldwater-Nichols – the law that gave real authority to the Joint chiefs – had kicked in in earnest.
Back then, politics seemed more civil. Tom Foley was the Speaker of the House, Bob Michaels, from Illinois, was the minority leader and they were both gentlemen. And then there was this young upstart, a former history professor from Georgia, named Newt Gingrich walking around with something called a Contract with America.
Today is both similar and different.
Similar in that we’ve come off of wars and defense spending is going down.
Similar in that both the public opinion and the Obama administration want to see lower numbers at DoD.
Similar in that there are assessments being made at DoD and in the White House that fundamentally alter (and take into account) the new world, such as the focus on asymmetric warfare and the move away from the ability to fight two MRC’s to one.
But while the world is similar, and indeed cyclical, I think it’s different too.
First of all, 20 years ago we didn’t have the Internet. So we didn’t have a fraction of the information we now have at our fingers and we didn’t have a fraction of the noise.
We also did not have the public and private privacy issues that the Internet has created.
And, by and large, we had a hierarchical discourse versus a flat discourse, meaning today, anyone at anytime from anywhere can comment on anything as a result of technology – and they do.
Politically, we did not have nearly as strong a discussion on isolationism that we are having today.
And we did not have a Congress with such a strong partisan divide or such stiff budget headwinds.
What we did have was a Congress that by and large saw it as a badge of honor to help companies and projects in their Districts, versus today where some members really do want to help while many others simply don’t.
In talking with my clients, all of this serves as a reminder that it’s important to take the long view into account with their business planning around DoD dollars. The fact is that they will go down and they will go up. There has been and will continue to be a cycle of defense dollars going north and south.
Beyond the obvious of making sure that our clients do great things for the government, the key from a business perspective is to be as nimble as they can in these days when budgets are so tight while at the same time, continuing to take a longer view for the future.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.