Yesterday, the Pentagon released its FY2015 budget request, totaling $495.6 billion excluding war funding. The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review was also released yesterday, which for the first time considered resources in formulating U.S. defense strategy to set priorities. The essentials of the budget help to rebalance U.S. armed forces to meet future threats after a decade of costly stability operations and make progress towards finding efficiency savings. Yet, serious budget concerns remain, especially the use of war funding to skirt the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) that have already been increased for this year by the Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Beyond 2015, the Pentagon’s intentions to increase spending by $115 billion over the caps during 2016-2020 threaten to force further rounds of sequestration and are not in line with national security needs. Meanwhile, conservative attempts to bypass the facts on the benefits of efficiency savings – including Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) – set a bad baseline for coordination between the Pentagon and Congress in the coming budget cycle. Even more troubling is the misunderstanding of military power demonstrated by some conservative leaders’ failed attempts to draw linkages between the Pentagon’s post-war drawdown and the crisis in the Crimea.
The attempts of some conservatives to link Pentagon spending to the crisis in the Crimea fall flat. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has attempted to link the Pentagon’s drawdown to the crisis in the Crimea, saying the “disarming of America over the past five years limits our options in Ukraine today.” Yet, nobody has called for a military response to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea. Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI.) explains why even adjusting U.S. force posture in Europe in response to the crisis is a bad idea: “Candidly—and I’m a fairly hawkish guy—sending more naval forces to operate in the Black Sea is really not a very good idea…Unless you’re intending to use them, I wouldn’t send them.” If there is a connection to be drawn between America’s national security investments and the crisis in the Crimea, it’s that it highlights the need for sustained investment in America’s diplomatic power and State Department that is currently engaged in managing the crisis alongside European allies. This year’s State Department budget was about the same as last year’s enacted amount of roughly $50 billion. The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition explains, “Given the spending caps in the last budget agreement, this budget’s request for International Affairs programs makes a strong statement in support of America’s global engagement. This is particularly important given the disproportionate cuts these programs have received in recent years.” [Jim Inhofe, 3/3/14. Mike Rogers via Christian Science Monitor, 3/2/14. U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, 3/4/14]
Pentagon’s Budget for 2015 helps rebalance the military to meet future threats, finds efficiency savings, while abuse of war funding to skirt cuts remains a top concern:
Reducing Army end strength – and increasing Special Forces – is consistent with needs and history. The new budget proposes an Army of between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. Critics of the decision have argued that that would reduce end strength to the lowest levels since before WWII. But these criticisms miss three crucial points. First, the Budget also proposes increasing U.S. Special Forces – the capability most relevant to counterterrorism and other high priority missions – to 69,700 troops, up from 66,000. Second, as Joseph Trevithick of Global Security adds, “The World War II trope also ignores history. Recall that Congress decided right after the world war ended that an Army of 600,000 was sufficient to meet its post-conflict needs. Those needs included fully occupying Germany and Japan. Sound familiar? The Army grew to its recent peak of almost 570,000 active personnel in 2011, when it still occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. But we’re no longer in Iraq—and soon our conventional forces will leave Afghanistan, too…Historically speaking, an active force of under half a million troops seems about right for the Army in a period following major conflicts or occupations.” Third, NSN senior advisor and Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (ret.) explains, “it is absurd to compare soldier end strength of today to WWII end strength. Today’s infantryman is enormously more potent than his WWII counterpart. It’s kind of like comparing a P51 with an F22.” [Michael Desch, 2/25/14. Joseph Trevithick, 2/14. Paul Eaton, 3/5/14]
Pentagon proposals on efficiency savings deserve Congressional support as conservative leaders dodge key facts. The Pentagon’s budget request includes efficiency savings that would add up to billions over the next few years, including savings from trimming excess headquarters, modest acquisition reform, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and modest changes to compensation, including military healthcare. Of these, BRAC may be the most politically challenging, facing strong opposition on the Hill. HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) has said, “They ought to probably start by documenting and showing us what was saved in the last BRAC. If they are serious about wanting a BRAC, they’re going to have to show that a BRAC would save some money.” However, the historical benefits of past BRAC rounds have already been widely acknowledged. Lt. Gen. David Barno (ret.), Nora Bensahel, Jake Stokes and coauthors explain the benefits, “DOD currently saves $12 billion per year from previous rounds of BRAC — $4 billion for the 2005 round and $8 billion for the four rounds before that…Combined with savings from closing [unneeded] DOD schools in the United States and reducing base support and facilities maintenance costs, authorizing and conducting a BRAC round could save up to $17 billion over the decade, with much greater savings afterwards.” [Buck McKeon, 2/27/14. David Barno, Nora Bensahel, Jake Stokes et al, 6/6/13]
Use of war funding as a slush fund to skirt budget caps should stop; vigilance required. The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget – intended to finance ongoing combat operations – has yet to be submitted. However, historically, the Pentagon has filtered considerable war funding back to its base budget. In 2014, so much was filtered back to the base budget that most of the spending reductions were undone. Todd Harrison of CSBA explains, “Since the enactment of the BCA, which does not count war-related funding against DoD’s budget cap, Congress and DoD have moved items that had been funded in the base budget to the OCO budget. In FY 2014, this practice appeared to expand. DoD transferred some $20 billion in operations and maintenance funding from the base budget to OCO in the budget request (author’s estimate), and Congress moved an additional $9.6 billion from base to OCO in the appropriations bill.” [Todd Harrison, 3/14]
Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) makes positive move to consider resources in setting smart, achievable priorities. The 2014 QDR for the first time was written to take likely available national resources into account in setting priorities to guide investments. Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA) rejected the document as “budget driven.” But the need for formulating strategy alongside resources constraints are in line with expert thinking on managing the Pentagon during a period of tight resources. One of the conclusions reached by a CSIS conference leading up to the QDR attended by national security experts, including Michael O’Hanlon, Gordon Adams, David Berteau, 2010 QDR author Shawn Brimley and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, was that: “the main thrust of the 2014 QDR should focus on establishing capability priorities under the increasingly tight fiscal constraints caused by the combined effects of the defense drawdown and continued internal cost growth. Understanding the force structure and capabilities that are affordable at different levels of resource availability will aid senior decision makers in reaching informed decisions on which capabilities to cut and which to preserve.” [Buck McKeon, 3/4/14. CSIS Conference, 3/13.]