Defense Budget: Something’s Got to Give


President Obama’s budget for the Department of Defense for 2014 is a strange document. As if to justify its disconnect from reality, someone in the administration advertised it to the press as basic to Obama’s overall negotiations with Republicans. If true, that does not augur well for needed change in the Pentagon.

What the Defense budget request really shows is that there is no new thinking in the Pentagon for putting defense spending on a constructive path. There is not even anything that promises a departure from the last-minute, hysterical decision making we observed in the denouement of the 2013 defense budget process.

As submitted, the new Defense plan simply wishes away the statutory reality of sequestration, and to pretend to save money, it trots out only tired old ideas.

It asks Congress’s permission to close surplus military bases, of which there are many. Last year, lawmakers summarily rejected this idea. Already, this year’s members are saying a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is not going to happen, and nothing in the new BRAC request gives anyone on Capitol Hill any reason to think differently.

For the umpteenth time in a row, the Department of Defense is seeking to reduce costs for its extraordinarily expensive – and still growing – Defense Health Plan. Protecting itself from a powerful constituency that lobbies hard to keep these benefits (and costs) high, Congress has always said no. This request is also accompanied by nothing to make Congress act any differently.

The 2014 budget envisions savings up to $150 billion over 10 years. But only $16 billion of that is scheduled to occur while Obama is president; the rest won’t happen – if it actually does – until the “out years.” This too is a tired old gambit; those out years never occur as planned. But Congress does like pretend savings; they help the talking points.

The budget materials presented on April 10 do not even reflect the current statutory reality of the $42 billion sequester that is required for the current 2013 budget, and the budget materials ignore the scheduled sequester of $52 billion in 2014. Last year’s strategy was to declare sequester unacceptable and hope for someone to change it; that remains the plan for 2014.

These simple-minded ideas only pretend to save money, and they ignore reality. They contain no thinking to alter the negative patterns of events of the past.

Fundamental reform is needed to change the course of events in the Pentagon. What would such a plan look like?

First, it would hold the Pentagon, and Congress, accountable for accurate budget numbers. As everyone already knows, the Pentagon has not just failed audits – its books cannot even be audited. A rudimentary start would be submitting an accounting of the 2013 and 2014 budgets that reflect existing law. That would mean numbers that show how the sequester should be implemented, if necessary, rather than just ignoring it. Just hoping for something different is not a competent strategy, and it is the antithesis of accountability. The Pentagon crew responsible for this stupendously wooden-headed plan is the same bunch that promises to produce an audit of Pentagon finances as early as 2014. They are not headed in the right direction.

A credible plan for moving effectively into the Pentagon’s future would also include the removal of underperforming, unaffordable weapons. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the epitome of low performance at a high cost (and delivered late), and yet the Pentagon is still striving to make the F-35 program too big to fail. Top Pentagon managers deny even the existence of viable alternatives. The latter would include more production of existing – and highly successful – models, and literally going back to the drawing board for far more effective, far more affordable designs and real-prototype competitions for both new fighters and ground-attack aircraft.

These and other failures show that simply replacing Leon Panetta as secretary of Defense is not enough. Either the exiting team needs to change radically how it operates, or it needs to be replaced. Secretary Chuck Hagel’s thinking on this is not clear; he seems willing to acknowledge budget realities, but he also seems to be relying on the existing team and its behavior, as is.

Something has to give. Business as usual will not get Hagel to where he says he wants to go, which is constructively adjusting to the reality of lower defense budgets. If Hagel doesn’t change his team one way or the other, he will be a failure as secretary of Defense.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight. Previously, he worked on national security issues for both Republican and Democratic senators and for the Government Accountability Office.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation