Christine Fair, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress.

Christine Fair, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress.

NEWSEUM: At first it looks like pure wishful thinking: The administration’s 2015 budget plan assumes the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration don’t go back into effect in 2016, when the stay of execution known as the Balanced Budget Act runs out. In fact, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official argued today, the administration is taking a calculated gamble, eyes wide open.

“We know sequester’s the law in ’16 . We’re not blind to that fact, and we’ve planned for it,” said Christine Fox, the acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, at the McAleese Associates/Credit Suisse conference here today. But “the president and the secretary of Defense can’t submit a budget that does not support the needs of our strategy and the needs of this nation’s security. We just couldn’t do it.”

“The most important thing that we need to do is get rid of this prospect of going back to sequestration in FY ’16,” Fox said. Even if Congress rejects the $26 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Fund the administration has asked for to get around the budget limits, which she knows will be “a controversial thing,” Fox said, “we can hold our nose and live through ’15.”

That’s not to say she’s thrilled with the funding level set by last December’s Balanced Budget Act, which slowed the sequestration cuts for 2014 and 2015. “Given where we were at the time, where we’d been through a government shutdown and a year of sequester, stability was a gift and we jumped on that gift,” Fox said. “But when you look at the amount of money the BBA gave to the Department of Defense [for 2015, it's], frankly just about $7 billion above sequester…. We all wanted the stability but the amount is frankly just not adequate.”

While the military is hastily shedding manpower and retiring equipment to bring down costs, it can’t do so fast enough. “We’ll have in ’15 too large a force for the budget we have,” she said, which means either readiness or modernization or both will have to suffer.

“I fear that we’re heading back to the ’90s,” the long-suffering Pentagon comptroller, Robert Hale, said, referring to the period when repeated raids of maintenance and procurement accounts meant that “the bases weren’t in very good shape and we weren’t spending enough to modernize the military.”

How is this budget supposed to work, my colleague Colin Clark asked Hale, when it counts on so many things Congress may well reject, from retiring the A-10 aircraft to base closures?

“We’ll get some but not all of what we’re asking,” Hale said. “We’ve certainly gotten a lot of questions: ‘Isn’t your budget dead on arrival’? I think that’s not true.”

“They have allowed us to make some significant cuts,” the comptroller said, noting that Congress has already allowed the Pentagon to limit military pay raises to 1 percent a year and allowed the Army to drop from its wartime peak of 570,000 to 490,000 as of the end of 2015 (a level the Army will now go below). “But we don’t tend to get everything, and it will be a struggle if we get only part of it.”

Actually, it’ll be a struggle to get even part of it. Over the past fear years, Fox said, “the biggest surprise for me was how hard it was to explain to people why these level of cuts were bad,” that the Defense Department can’t simply squeeze savings out of a “bloated” bureaucracy, that “we are actually going to cut into the bone of our national security.”

Nor is history on the Pentagon’s side. After the Korean War, after the Vietnam War, and after the Cold War, Lt. Gen. Joseph Martz, the military assistant to the Army’s civilian budget chief, noted that “there’s been a pattern in the last three drawdowns that we go down below $400 billion in constant dollars.”

The current base budget for 2014, not counting wartime supplemental funding, is $476 billion, Martz noted, well above the $400 billion mark. “If you think this is bad,” he said, “that’s the other shoe that hasn’t dropped yet.”

Comments

  • Don Bacon

    Reducing budgets simply isn’t an option in the military. I’ve sat in base meetings (and possibly you have too) in any September when the commander has grilled all department heads to ensure that EVERY budget dollar was committed, or else they might expect a lower budget next fiscal year (starting October) and that certainly was NOT an acceptable.option.

    So now we’re simply seeing the same deal at the Pentagon level — the military mind at work. Screw the people (Congress), we’re on financial autopilot.

    For one thing, the needs of the nation’s strategy simply don’t require a million-person (active, reserve & guard) army. Then there’s all those flag officers, with their aides, and combatant commands — the list goes on. So take with a grain of salt the “needs of this nation’s security” palaver.

  • PolicyWonk

    While the military is hastily shedding manpower and retiring equipment to bring down costs, it can’t do so fast enough.

    ===================================
    Which is why throughout the *entire* discussion of the DoD budget since the Great Recession started in 2007, I am astonished that we hear NOTHING about acquisition reform.

    This is the *golden* opportunity to extirpate and replace an acquisition system that guarantees the US taxpayer by far the lousiest deal per dollar spent in the entire western world.

    For example – if you look at LCS: Other navies are able to build full military-grade hulls (the LCS is built to the lowest navy standard – below that of a fleet oiler, which isn’t even a combatant), with stealthy designs, far better base armament and protection, and mission packages, for 1/3 less. What was the big hint that LCS isn’t worth it? Easy: all other allied navies initially interested in LCS have walked away.

    The DoD is rife with redundancy across the services, can’t get itself to stop meddling in all phases of acquisition (all the way through construction). This nation needs to set up an acquisition system similar to that used by the British – a proven and VASTLY more effective model than the horror that is the US “system”. The British MoD *knows* how to get a vastly better deal for the money spent, and we should be taking heed.

    This nations national security, the US taxpayers, and service branches would all benefit tremendously.

    • Don Bacon

      …we hear NOTHING about acquisition reform.

      Frank Kendall (a pawn of industry) has talked about acquisition reform, or rather changes might be a better word, as he says here.

      • PolicyWonk

        Thanks, Don.
        I’ve seen/read this before – its little more than changing the curtains on a slum.
        It fails to address the cross-service redundancies, leaves the service branches in charge of determining what they need/want, amongst other major problems.
        The changes, while useful, aren’t going to make any changes that are truly significant.
        Cheers.

    • paulrevere01

      speaking of acquisition reform, I just ran across this, and my guess is that its the tip of the iceberg regarding all three services ordering practices.

      http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/10/07/new-air-force-planes-go-directly-to-boneyard.html

      • PolicyWonk

        Thanks, I seen this.

        These new C-27′s have since found a couple of new homes: some are going to the USCG, and others are going to special forces.

        These were initially ordered because the army was looking to get air transport in/out of places that C-130′s cannot get in/out of. So the USAF (in its infinite wisdom), determined that C-130′s are a better transport (even for areas its too big to get in/out of) – hence their (very temporary) trip to the boneyard.

        Cheers

  • Don Bacon

    Does the nation’s security require over 900 flag officers? Nearly one admiral per ship in the Navy? While Navy strength has declined in the last ten years, the number of admirals has increased. An internal Pentagon study found about 30 layers of bureaucracy between the Navy secretary and an action officer in the operational fleet.

    “Consider that a request for a dog-handling team in Afghanistan — or for any other unit — has to go through no fewer than five four-star headquarters in order to be processed, validated and eventually dealt with,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates once said.

    I wonder if the Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense knows anything outside the Pentagon.

  • quadcomputers

    Look at what people chose to run our government. Now your going to cry? Didn’t everyone want CHANGE? Now hand over your change while at the same time you watch the demise of country, disarm our military, collect guns from citizens and hand over our currency, system of law, rights and freedoms to the European Union (EU) then everyone will be equal and everyone will share the same products and goods and life will be wonderful for all.