FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Defense Budget: Something’s Got to Give

by WINSLOW T. WHEELER

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.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail