As senior officials speak to the results of the Strategic Choices and Management Review – a study of options conducted by the Pentagon for reshaping defense spending to adapt to various levels of reductions – White House and Congressional negotiators are resuming talks on finding a sequester replacement deal. A balanced solution that keeps the Pentagon on the table for deficit reduction remains the best hope to restore sanity to America’s budgeting. That position is also well within the mainstream consensus of defense experts who have long been providing detailed options for reshaping and reforming the Pentagon to meet future challenges responsibly in a period of fiscal strain.
Grand Bargain would require replacing sequestration with a balanced solution. It has been reported that the White House and Congress are continuing talks: “revisiting the possibility of a ‘grand bargain’ — a mixture of budget cuts and new revenue — a goal that has eluded Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) during two years of budget talks.” CQ reports, “Dan Pfeiffer, assistant and senior adviser to the president, … and Gene B. Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, repeated a warning issued this week by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew that Obama would reject any plan that protects defense but not domestic programs from sequester cuts. ‘We have some principles that we’re going to stick by, including the fact that what we will not accept is splitting up defense and non-defense in the sequester, because we think it’s critically important that we also deal with the cuts that are affecting Head Start, education, etc.,’ he said. ‘But we can also see that the sequester’s affecting the economy in a lot of ways, and hopefully that will provide some motivation for people to work.’”[LA Times, 7/31/13. CQ, 7/31/13]
Expert consensus on affordably reshaping the military leaves room for Pentagon to be part of solution.
Similar, well-developed options to reshape, reduce spending. The Hill reports, “Several high-profile defense think tanks from across the political spectrum are on relatively the same page, in terms of what kind of financial hit the Pentagon should take in the coming decade, according to a recently released report. The study, compiled by Washington-based National Security Network, found the average spending reduction to DOD [Department of Defense] coffers recommended by these think thanks came to just over $510 billion over the next ten years…Researchers at NSN surveyed disparate proposals for Pentagon spending reductions drafted by Project on Defense Alternatives, Center for a New American Security, Center for American Progress, The Stimson Center, RAND Corporation and The Project on Government Oversight.’All [organizations] agree the Pentagon can and should re prioritize its myriad missions, reduce significantly its overall spending, and reshape its structure to support a robust national security strategy over the next decade,’ according to a summary of the NSN report.” [The Hill, 12/17/12].
Recent studies on potential efficiency reforms highlight the savings possible without impacting combat power and should anchor debate. The Center for New American Security identifies “the Seven Deadly Sins…of defense excess and analyze[s] each individually in order to find savings and suggest enduring reforms. Each ‘sin’ represents a trend in defense spending that, if left unaddressed, will imperil DOD’s ability to perform its core missions,” including redundant overhead and workforce, inefficient business practices, excessive acquisition costs, excess infrastructure, unaffordable increases in compensation, growth in military requirement costs and military healthcare costs. “These Seven Deadly Sins would need to be addressed regardless of the budgetary environment, but declining budgets make their resolution more imperative. We estimate that reforms in these seven areas could save between $340 billion and $490 billion over the next 10 years – largely offsetting the cuts required by the Budget Control Act (BCA) over the same period while improving the business model of DOD.”
Other reports conclude that even more could be saved from efficiency reforms. In a new Stimson Center report, Mathew Leatherman, Barry Blechman and Russell Rumbaugh of the Stimson Center write: “In a time of tight budgets across the federal government, the key defense budget issue facing policymakers today is not whether to cut, but where to cut. Before cuts are made to military readiness, force structure, or needed weapons, some of the changes [to increase efficiency of Pentagon programs]… should be implemented. If the United States is to have the best defense possible, it must spend its defense dollars in the most effective and efficient ways possible.” [David Barno, Nora Bensahel and Jake Stokes, Joel Smith and Katherine Kidder, 6/13. Mathew Leatherman, Barry Blechmann and Russell Rumbaugh, 5/13/13]
Congress must be a responsible partner with the Pentagon going forward. Yesterday, while briefing the Strategic Choices and Management Review, Secretary of Defense Hagel said: “The reality is that cuts to overhead, compensation, and forces generate savings slowly. With dramatic reductions in each area, we do reach sequester-level savings – but only towards the end of a 10-year timeframe. Every scenario the review examined showed shortfalls in the early years of $30-35 billion. These shortfalls will be even larger if Congress is unwilling to enact changes to compensation or adopt other management reforms and infrastructure cuts we proposed in our fiscal year 2014 budget. Opposition to these proposals must be engaged and overcome, or we will be forced to take even more draconian steps in the future.” [Secretary Hagel, 7/31/13]Spending