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Budget is Policy: Integrating National Security Spending September 30, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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By: Gordon Adams and Rebecca Williams

At a roundtable discussion yesterday on the administration’s new global development strategy, Secretaries Gates, Clinton, and Shah urged for more funding for the State Department.  Secretary Clinton may have said it best: [the withdrawal from Iraq] “the military saves $15 billion. We ask for, you know, about one-tenth of that, and that’s considered too much, even though there’s savings accruing to our transitioning to the civilian side.”

Increasingly the security challenges the U.S. faces must involve all of our tools of statecraft, often in synergy with each other.  If counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us nothing else it is that military might wins battles, but political and economic efforts win the war to undermine violent extremism.

Yet, the military tool in the US toolkit has become, in many ways, the “leading edge” of American statecraft. Be it an overreliance on the military or an effort by the Pentagon to expand their mission set, DOD has taken on an ever growing number of missions that are not combat-related, including foreign aid, global health, and even foreign police training. This imbalance erodes the civilian foreign policy agencies and adds missions to an overburdened military.

It is time to right this structural imbalance, change our national security planning and budgetary processes so that the balance, tradeoffs, and synergy between the tools are visible and taken into consideration as planning and budgeting is being carried out.  For the past sixty years, planning and budgeting for diplomacy, development, and defense has been carried out in stovepipes, limiting strategic planning across the departments.  The result, instead, has been the duplication of programs, projects that simply don’t make sense within a larger context, or even some efforts that undermine foreign policy goals down the road.

If budgeting is policy, then modification to the planning and budgetary processes is a good place to start.  The following reforms address these structural limitations.  Gradual transformation is critical to ensuring that all actors concerned can adjust and that tradeoffs are appropriate, not just expedient.

  • The State Department should be full participants in DOD’s annual budget process. State should build an institutionalized planning and budgetary process, in which DOD can be a fully participant.  Both Departments could then have an impact on the strategic things of the other.
  • The National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget supported by an interagency working group ought to prepare strategic and budgetary guidance for the national security agencies, particularly State, USAID, and DOD, at the start of the planning and budgeting cycle.

This guidance should focus on the specific strategic and policy priorities at the center of the administration’s national security policy which require comprehensive interagency approaches. These might be counter-terror, counter and non-proliferation policy, support for fragile states, or other priorities.

  • State, USAID, and DOD would then create interagency budget planning groups to develop program and budgetary options to respond to the guidance.  In these specific areas, the agencies would submit joint budget proposals to OMB in the fall budget cycle.  They would be subject to joint OMB/NSC hearings and a review by the OMB Director, with NSC participation.  The agencies would be provided a “pass-back” reflecting the White House view on the budget proposals.
  • The President’s budget request would be submitted the following February, including a separate “National Security” volume, justifying the full policy and program budget requests of the national security and foreign policy agencies, with specific chapters on the priority interagency budget requests that were prepared through the above process.
  • OMB would also create a new budget function for national security, joining defense and international affairs in a single budget function and ask the Congressional Budget Committees to adopt this new function, approving a single budget figure to cover both requests.

This would permit the Budget Committees to examine the “National Security” budget request covering DOD, State, and USAID.  Congressional authorizing and appropriating committees should hold joint hearings and markups on those parts of the security budget request which focused on administration priorities.

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