By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — Congress and the Pentagon must substantially slow skyrocketing military personnel and infrastructure costs or the Defense Department’s procurement accounts will suffer deep cuts, say more than two dozen analysts.
Unless US lawmakers and Pentagon officials find a political solution that allows them to shutter bases at home and abroad while also cutting compensation programs, “it will be a lopsided drawdown,” said Gordon Adams, a former White House defense budget official.
The ongoing downturn in US defense spending would be “lopsided,” Adams said at an event on Capitol Hill, because without infrastructure and personnel reforms defense officials and lawmakers would have no choice when making required budget cuts than to raid acquisition coffers.
In fact, unless such reforms are enacted soon, the Stimson Center’s Adams predicts “funds for forces and procurement [will] dry up.”
And that could drive a stake through the heart of many US defense firms — large, small and in between.
“It is our shared belief that the Department of Defense urgently needs to close excess bases and facilities, re-examine the size and structure of the DoD civilian workforce, and reform military compensation,” Adams and 24 other defense analysts from across the political spectrum wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the heads of several key House and Senate committees.
“While we do not all agree on the best approach to reform in each case, we agree that if these issues are not addressed, they will gradually consume the defense budget from within,” the analysts wrote. “This will leave a smaller share of the budget to pay for the manning, training and equipping of our armed forces that make the U.S. military second to none.”
Citing Pentagon data, the analysts warn the military has “20 percent excess capacity in its infrastructure.”
Those are dollars, they say, “that could be better used to sustain our military muscle” — Washington code for buying increasingly expensive weapon systems from the defense sector.
The analysts also warn that rising personnel costs, as the annual Pentagon budget dips slightly, threaten procurement accounts.
“In the last four years alone, DoD civilians have grown by 10 percent, but it is unclear if that growth was appropriately matched to the changing needs of a downsizing military and shifting strategy,” the analysts wrote. “This is a critical unanswered question for policymakers since DoD civilians are directly employed by the government, consuming $74 billion of the annual defense budget.”
On compensation, the experts warn that “from [fiscal] 2001 to [fiscal] 2012, the compensation cost per active duty service member grew 56 percent, adjusting for inflation, or a rate of 4.1 percent annually.”
They want Congress to cease resisting Pentagon proposals to begin addressing such cost growth.
Unless these issues are fixed, the cost growth will soon “have a direct effect on combat power,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Mackenzie Eaglen, who signed and helped craft the letter, said at Monday’s lunch-hour event.
Another former Pentagon official-turned-analyst who signed the letter, Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, said, “the uniformed military” has to lead the charge on Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers to enact reforms.
“The chiefs have to realize if they’re spending too much on this stuff, they can’t buy weapon systems,” Korb said. “The chiefs are coming around,” he said, adding they have to become more vocal.
House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., is betting “few, if any” of the reforms proposed by the analysts will come up on Wednesday when that panel takes up 2014 Pentagon authorization legislation.
But he hopes the Senate Armed Services Committee panel will adopt many of the experts’ recommendations, which then could be added to the final version of the legislation later this year.