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Pentagon management turns “Development Fund for Iraq” into misnomer August 5, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Uncategorized.
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Eight former officials of the Defense Department or Coalition Provisional Authority currently are in federal prison for bribery, fraud, and money laundering in association with $96.6 million in Development Funds for Iraq that went missing in 2005.  Last week the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon cannot account for another $7.73 billion of these development funds, bringing the total to $8.7 billion.

Fully 96% of this total fund ($9.1B) was lost somewhere in Pentagon accounting.  And this wasn’t even the Pentagon’s money – the Development Fund for Iraq held export revenues from Iraq’s oil and gas fields, along with surpluses from the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food program, and was operated by the Pentagon under management delegated by the interim Iraqi government.

The Defense Department confesses that it is “one of a very few cabinet level agencies without a ‘clean’ financial audit opinion.” Abstract as that sounds, it is a critical obstacle to our success overseas.

There was no mysterious purpose for the Development Fund for Iraq – it was meant to fund development in Iraq.  There is no way to know if anything of the sort happened with this money, but it is clear that a number of other things did.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was delegated between $2.1 – $2.3 billion, for instance, and it kept the money.  According to last week’s report, USACE treated it as “advance payments for reconstruction work they were planning.”

This flies in the face of development practice – subsidizing USACE does nothing to build local capacity; locals have no authority over USACE decisions; and money was hemorrhaged on costly American salaries instead of maximized on the local economy.  Added on top, we broke the newborn government of Iraq’s trust.  It was their money, after all, and the best that we can tell them is that it disappeared through inefficiency, outright loss, and – occasionally – crime.

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Skelton offers DOD modest nudge away from budget discipline tsunami June 21, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Two movements of tsunami-like size are bearing down on the Defense Department and the all-inclusive, un-prioritized mission set that it laid out in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  As the drawdown dates for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan approach, those missions will be seen more and more as outlier cases rather than models of the new normal.  Budget discipline is the second movement, and that tsunami is peaking.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), recently took a tentative step in recognition of the oncoming budget discipline tsunami.  Specifically, Rep. Skelton publicized his intent to create a special body or process charged with identifying opportune cuts in the defense budget.  Like the Defense Department’s own plan, however, Rep. Skelton intends for this money to be reallocated within the Defense Department rather than to generate true savings for the country.  It also seems that Rep. Skelton presently plans to consider only efficiency increases rather than accepting the far more difficult, but important, task of disciplining missions.

This tentative step is insufficient for the problems we face.  Defense spending is at heights unreached since World War II while our economy is at depths unseen since the Great Depression.  The Defense Department’s mission set needs discipline, and that discipline needs to generate real and meaningful savings for the country.

Though insufficient, Rep. Skelton’s plan still is very useful.  His voice is authoritative, and adding it to Secretary Gates’ statements on spending constraints lends unique legitimacy to the issue.  Likewise, a number of steps are available within his parameters that would advance the issue significantly.  The Stimson Center’s Dr. Gordon Adams addressed many of these in recent testimony before HASC’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.  They include: (more…)

Disciplining defense while supporting the troops April 28, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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At yesterday’s inaugural meeting of the President’s fiscal commission, President Obama pointedly remarked that what “made these large deficits possible was that, for years, folks in Washington deferred politically difficult decisions and avoided telling hard truths about the nature of the problem.”  In this same speech, however, he reiterated that  national security-related spending will be exempt from his three year budget freeze.  Yet defense spending is at the crux of the politically difficult decisions needed to bring sustainability back to Washington.  In an op-ed printed today in The Hill, Dr. Gordon Adams and Matt Leatherman explain why.

By Dr. Gordon Adams and Matt Leatherman

As it has been for the last decade, the defense budget continues to be sacred on Capitol Hill.  Congress routinely genuflects at the idea that votes for historically high levels of defense spending are the same thing as supporting the troops in the field.   They are not the same.  Indeed, we neither should nor can afford to treat them as such.  In an era of yawning deficits and debt, it is time for defense to be subjected to the same scrutiny and discipline as the rest of the federal budget.

Our national tab for defense has doubled during the past decade and, at more than $700 billion, is at levels unprecedented since World War II.  Yet the Senate Budget Committee buckled last week and accepted the Obama administration’s request to exempt the Pentagon from a budget freeze.  Apparently, the only place for fiscal discipline in the entire arena of discretionary spending was in the far smaller diplomacy and development budgets, which the committee cut by nearly 7 percent.

There is no reason the defense budget should be excluded from our collective belt-tightening. In fact, the pending request contains so little discipline that a freeze could be imposed without any negative effect on our national security.

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Congress asks Americans to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” about spending waste March 25, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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by Rebecca Williams and Matt Leatherman

With health care reform enacted, Congress is considering which issues will now lead its legislative agenda.  A debate on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) statute almost certainly will be among those issues.  Just today, for instance, Secretary Gates announced that “the military will no longer open investigations into the sexual orientation of service members based on anonymous complaints, will restrict testimony from third parties and will require high-ranking officers to review all cases.”

President Obama opened this issue in his State of the Union address.  “This year,” he said, “I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”  Taking the President’s cue, the Senate Armed Services Committee immediately received testimony on DADT from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen (JCS).  Memorably, Admiral Mullen expressed that he “cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” (Photo: Defense.gov)

Ethical positions such as those of the President and Chairman are vital parts of America’s cultural debate, yet in this peculiar bureaucratic context, they obscure something essential: American troops already are serving alongside openly gay individuals.  None of our principal allies in Afghanistan – the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia – share this policy of discrimination. To think, therefore, that DADT segregates openly gay individuals from interacting with American troops is simply naïve.  Indeed, its bizarre and single effect is to favor gay foreigners over gay Americans.

This preference hasn’t come cheaply, however.  A 2005 Government Accountability Office report determined that it cost American taxpayers $190.5 million over the first 10 years of DADT to discharge gay service members and train their replacements.  Looking at the more comprehensive costs, including variable rates of personnel training, a 2006 University of California Blue Ribbon Commission concluded that the actual cost of implementing DADT was closer to $363.8 million. Either way, beyond the loss of 9,488 gay service-members (GAO), all that we’ve gotten in return for these hundreds of millions of dollars is a ticket to Washington’s perpetual game of political point scoring.

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Clinton, Gates, and Mullen: SASC Testimony December 3, 2009

Posted by Trice Kabundi in Briefing.
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Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs trekked to the hill yesterday to defend the President’s new Afghan policy testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  All three are speaking this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen will speak this afternoon before the House Armed Services Committee.  Below is a summary of their prepared statements before the SASC, which are identical in content to that presented this morning to the SFRC.

Secretary Clinton

Secretary Clinton expanded on the civilian component of the new Afghan strategy, which was only briefly mentioned in President Obama’s speech. The number of US civilians in Afghanistan is expected to triple to 974 by early next year. According to Clinton, each civilian worker engages with an average of ten partners, covering a wide spectrum from locally employed Afghans to specialists from US-funded NGO’s.  The role of the US civilians will be to enhance the abilities of the Afghan government’s ministries through initiatives such as aiding in the drafting of policy, and in development efforts out in the field.

The agricultural sector in Afghanistan will also be a major component of civilian efforts and economic assistance. By increasing agricultural viability in Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton stated that new jobs will be created, and poppy cultivation will decrease thus limiting the Taliban’s source of funding. Furthermore, individuals involved with the Taliban for purely financial reasons will have more of an incentive to come “off the battlefield.”

Clinton stressed that the new Afghan strategy is the best option to ensure that the US is protected now and in the future, reaffirming President Obama’s stated objectives.

Secretary Gates

Secretary Gates reaffirmed the Obama Doctrine, which is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda.” He stressed that the defeat of al-Qaeda and the strengthening of Afghan Security Forces go hand-in-hand in determining US success. Secretary Gates emphasized that the new approach is not open-ended, nor can it be considered “nation building.”  Rather, the approach is tied to the defeat of the Taliban and al Qaeda to secure US security interests.

Gates provided six objectives of the military and civilian forces in Afghanistan:

  1. Reverse the momentum of the Taliban
  2. Ensure that the Taliban will not gain access and control of the population, production centers, and “lines of communications”
  3. Eliminate the threat of Afghanistan outside of the secured areas and removing Afghan safe havens
  4. Defeat the Taliban to levels that are “manageable by the Afghan National Security Forces”
  5. Strengthen the size and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) so transition over security control can begin within 18 months
  6. Build the abilities of the Afghan national government

It is worth mentioning that Gates differentiated Afghanistan and Pakistan from the other terrorist hotbeds around the world. Gates stated that there is a symbolic meaning of Afghanistan and that the country “represent(s) the epicenter of extremists Jihadism: the historic place where native and foreign Muslims defeated one superpower [the Soviet Union].”

Gates also expanded upon what exactly is at stake if the US fails in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  In his view, the failure of the US and its alliances would lead to a strengthened Taliban and a stronger international Al Qaeda foothold and base of support.

Admiral Mullen

Admiral Mullen stressed that the months of deliberating over a new strategy have led to a more narrowly defined goal in Afghanistan, one that will “deny al Qaeda safe haven and the Afghan-Taliban ability to overthrow the duly elected Afghan government.” Mullen reiterated the objectives laid out in President Obama’s speech as means for how the goal will be achieved. Admiral Mullen also gave a more succinct, two-pronged description of the new US role of filling “the security gap for a short time,” while strengthening the Afghan government’s ability to “self-secure.”

Additionally, Mullen provided a response to many who have questioned the role the newly deployed troops will play in Afghanistan. According to Mullen, most of the additional troops deployed will conduct COIN operations in the Taliban strongholds in south and east Afghanistan in order to provide protection to the population in these areas, and increase the capacity of Afghan Security Forces.

Though Mullen admits that higher alliance casualties will most likely occur over the next few months, he stated that he has strong confidence that the mission will be successful; and over the next 18-24 months Afghanistan will be capable of taking over components of its own security.