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NPR highlights Gates’ defense budget cuts August 11, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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On Monday, August 9th Defense Secretary Gates announced that the Pentagon will be recommending several significant changes in an effort to streamline operations and preemptively ward off political pressure to cut defense spending.  These include closing of the US Joint Forces Command and imposing a 10 percent cut reduction in funding for contract employees.

Today’s NPR Morning Edition features Budget Insight’s Gordon Adams, helping to put these cuts into context.  Click the link below to listen:


Gordon Adams returns to “This week in Defense News” with Vago Muradian August 1, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in News.
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Sunday, August 1st, Dr. Gordon Adams appeared on This Week in Defense News, hosted by Vago Muradian. Dr. Adams was joined by Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments to form an expert roundtable to discuss the Defense Business Board report that recommended significant cuts to the defense budget.  Click here to view the entire discussion.

A Tale of Two Hearings: The Defense Budget Reduction Dialogue July 30, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Cutler in Analysis.
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On July 20, 2010, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing titled, “Rethinking Our Defense Budget: Achieving National Security through Sustainable Spending.” All witnesses but one emphasized the imperative need to understand, critique, and reign in defense budgets. Dr. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute was the exception, and he expressed concern that a reduced defense budget would make the U.S. more vulnerable to the growing military strength of China and other foreign powers.

Two days later the House Armed Services Committee received testimony on a similar topic from senior Pentagon budgeters.  Leadership from each service and the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlined ways in which their offices are striving to improve business operations and management during this time of financial hardship.

Experts in the first hearing focused their comments on defense budget strategy, and the official testimony discussed the more technical complexities of putting sound business plans into practice. The representatives of each DoD office told similar stories of offices entrenched in complex business operations overhauls and efforts to find ways to save scarce resources while operating at full capacity. This difference in the witnesses’ focus highlights the gap between the very serious fiscal situation soon to face the Pentagon and the rather superficial response that DoD has offered so far.

Individual summaries of each testimony follow and the testimonies in full can be accessed by clicking on the witnesses’ names. (more…)

Another missed opportunity: QDR Independent Review Panel Report (download here) July 28, 2010

Posted by bfadtest in Analysis.
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Tomorrow the QDR Independent Review Panel releases its final report, a critique of the QDR’s recommendations, assumptions, and vulnerabilities.  Like the QDR itself, this report is another missed opportunity for disciplining defense missions and budgets.

Much has changed since this panel first convened in February.  Federal debt was already at historic highs and political support for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan was already falling, but awareness of and interest in these issues has boomed in the recent months.  Most prominently, the appropriations committees in both chambers have reduced the President’s defense request in just the past few days (House; Senate).

The panel, however, doesn’t seem to have received this message.  Instead, it doubled down on the basic weakness of the QDR itself by failing to prioritize missions, examine risk, or set any limits.  Then, rather than justifying the claim that we need to be all things to all people, the panel simply asserts that outside forces strip us of our discretion and require this mission expansion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  This lack of planning and budgetary discipline ignores the country’s economic problems and flagging political support for high defense budgets.  Now is the time to take a closer look at the military’s missions, make a realistic risk calculation and reshape a smaller and better tailored force.  Not only can we do it, we must.

(For additional analysis, Dr. Christopher Preble from the Cato Institute and Sustainable Defense Task Force has a commendable post available here.)

Deficits, Debt, and U.S. Global Engagement: Maintaining National Security While Lowering the Debt July 22, 2010

Posted by Gordon Adams in Analysis, Briefing.
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Stimson Brief: Deficits, Debt, and U.S. Global Engagement

Budget Insight features briefing papers and analyses that go well beyond that of a typical blog post.

This Stimson Brief is written by Gordon Adams and is available in its entirety here.

Other Budget Insight analyses on the impact of deficits and debt on foreign affairs and defense spending include:

In an op-ed published in Politico, Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman argue that the FY2011 defense appropriations markups and the pending war supplemental request offer an important opportunity for Congress to begin the process of disciplining defense missions and budgets.

Gordon Adams testified before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  In his testimony, Dr. Adams warns of the looming tidal wave of deficit reduction, debt control, and changes in our international role which makes it increasingly urgent for the Congress to reexamine our defense budgets and defense priorities.

Secretary Gates and Disciple at DOD– Dr. Gordon Adams warns  that historic levels of deficits and US debt and the departure of the US military from Iraq and Afghanistan will pull the rug out from under public support for what has been an undisciplined military budget.

Disciplining defense while supporting the troops– Dr. Gordon Adams and Matt Leatherman explain that lower defense spending does not mean reducing support for the troops and can in fact increase national security.

The Long Term Debt Threat: Virginia Woolf Syndrome– Rebecca Williams and Matt Leatherman describe the long-term, unsustainable path of U.S. federal spending and its affects on the defense and international affairs budgets.

Adams weighs in on the QDR– Dr. Gordon Adams offers his critiques of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), arguing that the QDR layers new missions on top of preexisting ones, does not prioritize missions and objectives, and as a result, does not provide a true defense strategy.

Time to discipline defense spending July 19, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Three weeks remain before Congress’ month-long recess, and that short time will be filled heavily by the FY2011 defense appropriations markups and the pending war supplemental request.  This focus offers an important opportunity for Congress to begin the process of disciplining defense missions and budgets, an inevitable outcome of historically high costs and waning political support.  In an op-ed published in today’s edition of Politico, Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman explain this inevitability and how best to adjust to it.

by Dr. Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman

An absence of restraint and a failure to set priorities, as revealed in the Quadrennial Defense Review, has put the Pentagon on a collision course with fiscal realities and a changing political environment.

Now is the time for Congress and the Pentagon to take a closer look at the military’s missions, make a realistic risk calculation and reshape a smaller and better tailored force.

House defense appropriators are poised to take an important step in this direction with their coming markup of the Pentagon’s budget request. Indications are that Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, may cut the defense budget — though President Barack Obama and the Senate Budget Committee had exempted it from the larger freeze on discretionary accounts.

However, this would be only the first step in dealing with the two tidal waves bearing down on the defense budget. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review ignored both. It did nothing to acknowledge the nation’s grave budget woes or the timeline for U.S. withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Independent Review Panel, charged with assessing the QDR, is expected to put the Pentagon’s failure to prioritize missions atop the list of critiques in its report, which is expected to be released in two weeks. Indeed, it must.

The Pentagon, rather than properly constraining missions, simply layered new missions on top of old and gave everything equal priority.

The mission, as laid out in the QDR, seems boundless. On one end, it includes deterrence, conventional wars, patrolling the world’s oceans and defending the United States. On the other end are counterinsurgency, stabilization (nation-building), fighting a terrorist organization and aiding security forces worldwide.

Complicating all this is an assertion that the military should accept no risk in executing any of these missions. This means an enormous demand for standing, active-duty forces stationed worldwide — and soaring defense budgets follow.

The lack of planning and budgetary discipline ignores the country’s economic problems and flagging political support for high defense budgets. Congressional appropriators must face down these fiscal and political tidal waves and impose constraints now.

The first wave is the growing concern with deficits and debt. Debt as a share of gross domestic product, estimated at 64 percent by the Office of Management and Budget, is higher than any since 1951. Left unaddressed, it could equal GDP by the end of the decade.

Our gradual withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan is creating the other wave. Unrestricted war spending drives the defense budget indiscipline that we see today.

A disappointing outcome, combined with our withdrawal, could further reduce support for these unprecedented budgets.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is confronting this situation with talk of restraint. But he actually plans for real budget growth. It falls to Congress, therefore, to manage these tidal waves.

A good model would be the last big cut in defense spending from 1989 to 1998. Then, as now, the United States confronted serious political change and a need for debt reduction. (more…)

McChrystal-izing a Problem: The Militarization of American Statecraft June 23, 2010

Posted by Gordon Adams in Analysis.
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by Gordon Adams

General Stanley McChrystal’s candid disrespect for civilian leadership is being treated as an issue of bad judgment and personality.  But this episode reveals a much deeper dilemma for American statecraft, one that has long roots but has reached near crisis proportions over the past ten years: the gradual erosion of civilian leadership and the militarization of our foreign and security policy.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen warned  about this trend in remarks to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University last year, but it has been under way for years.  Its manifestations include:

  • DOD and the military now define what America’s national security strategy will be.  The DOD strategic document – the Quadrennial Defense Review – was for many months the only definitive description of our strategy; the National Security Strategy followed, and is significantly less informative or clear.  DOD has for years done our only real national strategy planning, well ahead of any White House guidance.
  • DOD and the military have determined that our most important engagement abroad will be to fight terrorist and insurgents, despite the fact that terrorist tactics hardly threaten our existence and, outside of insurgents in Afghanistan (and in decline in Iraq) it is not clear either that there are a lot of insurgencies for us to fight or that other countries will welcome a major US military presence to deal with those that do exist.
  • The regional combatant commanders are a more prominent US forward presence in most regions of the world than our ambassadors or regional Assistant Secretaries of State.
  • These same regional combatant commanders seek to become the “hub” around which all US government agencies engage the world.  Adm. James Stavrides, as COCOM for Latin America described that command as a “velcro cube” to which other civilian agencies could attach.  AFRICOM was deliberately created to be such a command, despite the absence of any formal civilian role or authority in the operations of such a command.
  • The Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) was designed and implemented as a development assistance program entirely under the authority of the local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In funding, it is as large as thecivilian Millennium Challenge Corporation and nearly as large as USAID’s development assistance (DA) funds.  During the Bush administration, DOD sought to make CERP a global development assistance program and Carl Schramm’s article in the latest Foreign Affairs proposes that the military be given responsibility for all US bilateral development assistance.

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…)

Living in exceptional times: uncritical defense spending starts to lose its luster June 3, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Conventional wisdom holds that the defense budget is sacrosanct, and for good reason.  Fully 91% of Gallup poll respondents in February of this year indicated that our military strength is ‘about right’ or ‘not strong enough’ relative to 7% that believe it is ‘stronger than it needs to be.’

Elected officials can read that writing on the wall – defense spending is manna from political heaven, an unqualified vote winner.  Defense spending consequently makes up more than half of the discretionary budget, and even that isn’t enough.  Unlike any other function of the federal budget, service chiefs are asked annually to list their ‘requirements’ that went unfunded in the budget submission so that Congress can increase the request to include them.

It is the exceptions that prove the rules, though.  It appears that we are entering one of those exceptional periods in which elected officials from across the aisle determine that the costs of increased defense spending outweigh its benefits.


Adams weighs in on the QDR May 25, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a legislatively-mandated review of DOD strategy and priorities, designed to help the department align its strategy, capabilities, and forces to address the threats and challenges of today.

Dr. Adams weighs in, offering his critiques of the review.


The QDR does not prioritize the military’s missions and objectives.  As result, it does not provide a true defense strategy.  Instead, it layers new missions on top of preexisting ones.

As a result, there are very few tough choices in either the QDR or the accompanying FY2011 defense budget with respect to setting priorities among missions, risk calculus, acquisition programs, military personnel and force structure, or operations and support.

For instance, the QDR has extrapolated and projected the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan without careful examination of the likelihood that we will need or choose to perform these missions in the future.  Undisciplined and unprioritized expansion of military missions creates significant upward pressure on defense resources across the board rather than focusing on those areas that are considered high risk and high probability.

New Missions

The QDR promotes counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, stabilization, and building partner capacity to equal priority with traditional military missions.  This is doubly problematic.

First, it is leading DOD to develop capabilities beyond those actually needed.

Secondly, these capabilities significantly expand the Department’s operations into activities whose policy direction and, is some case, implementation should be the responsibility of civilian agencies.  This crowds out development of civilian capabilities by reducing the incentive to fund those agencies’ activities.


The absence of discipline in DOD planning, reflected in the QDR, puts the Department on a collision course with fiscal realities.

Continually rising costs for force structure, health care, acquisition programs, and operations & maintenance are unlikely to meet savings targets over the next decade.

Moreover, historic federal deficits and growing federal debt are creating strong pressure for significant reductions in spending and increases in revenues.  As past deficit reduction efforts have show, we can accomplish much needed spending restraint only by putting all parts of federal spending and revenues on the table. Compounding this economic pressure, domestic support for historically high defense budgets is likely to erode as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.