Thursday, February 21, 2013

2/21/13 RD Bulletin: Pentagon Stonewalls As Sequester Looms

News: Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, will introduce legislation next week that would replace the military portion of the sequester with targeted reductions to the Pentagon budget. 
Reports: The Congressional Research Service’s Amy Belasco has written a new memo that examines the budget woes currently facing the Department of Defense. 
PDA Perspective: For the past year the Pentagon has been in denial that further strategic adjustment is necessary to respond to the new fiscal and political realities.

State of Play
With less than two weeks before sequestration occurs, Congress has recessed for the President’s Day holiday with no resolution to the automatic cuts in sight.  Analysts in Washington are now predicting that the spending reductions will likely take place at the beginning of March and then nullified sometime during the following weeks leading up to the expiration of the current stopgap funding measure on March 27.  Even staunch defense hawk and anti-sequestration crusader Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) now believes the sequester is “going to kick in.”  The only question seems to be how long Congress will wait before turning it off and what type of savings are used to replace it. 
After more than a year of lobbying Congress to prevent the cuts from taking place, the Aerospace Industries Association is strategizing over how to pressure Congress to nullify sequestration once it occurs.  “The fight’s not over. When sequestration goes into effect on March 1, we don’t shrivel up and die — we just get louder,” AIA spokesperson Dan Stohr commented.  Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute agrees, arguing that once sequestration occurs, members of Congress will be so inundated with complaints from constituents whose government services have been cut that lawmakers will quickly find a resolution to the spending cuts standoff. 
Despite the prevailing notion that sequestration will now take effect, the Republican party still remains split over the potential detriment that the automatic cuts would have on U.S. national security.  While leaders of the GOP like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) remain focused on blaming the sequester on President Obama, other, more junior members, like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), staunchly believe that sequestration is the only mechanism by which to effectively curtail federal spending.  Appearing on Fox News this weekend, Senator Paul dismissed the idea that the sequester cuts will be devastating, saying, “The sequester is really a reduction in the rate of growth of spending, it is not a real cut in spending.  Even with the sequester, spending will still rise overall.”  McKeon, for his part, hopes that sequestration will last a matter of “weeks, not months” before Congress takes some corrective action; “I think maybe when there is enough pain, there might be an agreement,” McKeon told a breakfast meeting of journalists last week. 
Though virtually no one expects Congress to enact a grand bargain before March 1 to avert the sequester, Senate Democrats last week dutifully agreed to introduce legislation that would nullify the FY13 sequester by replacing it with increased revenue and targeted spending reductions.  The $55 billion in spending reductions included in the bill are split evenly between defense and non-defense accounts.  However, the $27.5 billion in defense cuts would be gradually introduced beginning in 2015 when U.S. troops are expected to have fully redeployed from Afghanistan.  The remaining $55 billion in savings would accrue from increased federal revenues – largely through an alternative minimum tax on the wealthy – though Republicans still refuse to consider any new federal revenue streams as an offset for sequestration.  Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he hopes to move the legislation to the Senate Floor as soon as the body returns from recess next week.  For a comparison of different legislative proposals to replace the sequester, click here.
Next week, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, will introduce legislation that would replace the military portion of the sequester with targeted reductions to the Pentagon budget.  His legislation would cull more than $500 billion in defense savings by, amongst other things, withdrawing additional U.S. troops from Europe and reducing the size of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce.  Both of these proposals mirror recommendations issued last year by analysts at the Project on Defense Alternatives and Cato Institute in a report entitled, Defense Sense.  In a recent op-ed, Coffman explained the impetus for his new legislation, “Accepting $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade means we must be wise about how America employs our Armed Forces. While these targeted proposals are not painless, they provide a reasonable road map for avoiding the national security and fiscal disaster that would follow from not responsibly reducing our debt.”
Eight members of the House Armed Services Committee recently wrote DoD Comptroller Robert Hale expressing concern about ongoing funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).  The recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 barred the Pentagon from funding MEADS, which is a joint missile defense program between the United States, Germany, and Italy.  Senior Pentagon officials, including Secretary Panetta, have repeatedly urged Congress to continue funding the program even though it is over-budget, behind schedule, and may have little practical benefit in the field.  Hale and MEADS industry officials responded to the recent Congressional inquiry by pointing out that the $25 million in recent funding for MEADS was previously obligated and, as a result, did not violate the funding prohibition included in the NDAA.  Meanwhile, Politico reports that the fees which the United States would incur by cancelling the troubled missile defense system could outweigh any potential savings. 
The Congressional Research Service’s Amy Belasco has written a new memo that examines the budget woes currently facing the Department of Defense.  In her analysis, Belasco points out a number of important facts that have been ignored during the sequestration debate.  Under current law, the Pentagon has discretion to shift funding within its O&M accounts, and if sequestration occurs, the department could shore up funding for operational readiness by furloughing civilian employees.  Also, the department has some discretion to shift funding within individual procurement accounts although there are exceptions.  Belasco notes that Congress could amend the Budget Control Act so that the sequester culls defense spending at a more gradual rate similar to the proposed reductions included in the Project on Defense Alternatives’ new budget plan, Reasonable Defense
Yesterday, the Pentagon officially notified Congress of its intent to furlough portions of its 750,000-strong civilian workforce should sequestration take effect.  Unlike other federal agencies, the Pentagon is required to notify Congress 45 days in advance of layoffs.  CNN reports that the furloughs will begin the last week of April and continue for 22 weeks.  Separately, defense contractor BAE Systems has announced that it will issue 3,500 conditional WARN Act notices to employees who may be laid off as a result of sequestration. 
On Tuesday the Navy provided additional budget guidance detailing how the service would respond if Congress enacts another Continuing Resolution (maintaining FY12 funding levels) or if the March 1 sequester occurs – decreasing funding over 2013 estimates by $4.6 billion and $4 billion respectively. Among other items, the Navy would cancel 10 destroyer and frigate cruises; cancel the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group deployment; halt maintenance on the Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Groups; reduce exercises and port calls; defer repairs and cancel overhauls; and cancel F-35B testing. Other concerns raised by top brass include detrimental effects to moral, damage to the industrial base, and the long-term costs of a readiness slump; though this final point is based on the assumption that readiness capabilities will necessarily be ramped up again, as with the readiness slump in the 1990s. The document predicts 40 fewer ships in the Navy’s fleet by 2030. 
Responding to the Navy’s recent contingency plans, American University professor Gordon Adams chastises the services for failing to make the tough decisions required by fiscal austerity.  “The trouble is, of course, that sequester has not happened. The secretary has not made choices; priorities have not been allocated. But the services have been let out to make the worst case they can… The underlying problem is that the service briefings are not plans, they betray no underlying decision-making or prioritization. They are political documents, intended to instill fear and to bring politicians to the table,” writes Adams in a recent Foreign Policy piece.  Ultimately, Adams predicts that the Pentagon will receive flat funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. 
The Project on Government Oversight’s Winslow Wheeler agrees with Adams’ sentiments, telling Reset Defense, “If ever there has been a failure of leadership in a budget situation in the Pentagon, it is now: refusing to plan for (over both the long and the short term) what are historically very modest cuts, the Pentagon's leadership has become a berserker in a rapacious attempt to extort money out of Congress and the White House.”
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective
In testimony last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Senators of a dozen specific consequences of sequestration and a possible year-long continuing resolution that he said would have “devastating effects” including sharply degraded readiness, deferred maintenance, and disrupted investment programs.  He further stated that “current law also reduces the budgetary limits for defense spending by about $50 to $55 billion in each year from FY 2014 through FY 2021.  These lower caps would constitute a second long-term budget cut as large as the one DoD has already carried out.  Cuts of this magnitude will require that we substantially modify and scale back the new defense strategy.”
Notably, Carter also asserted, “We have long argued that the responsible way to implement reductions in defense spending is to formulate a strategy first and then develop a budget that supports the strategy.”  As PDA has written, sequester, or no sequester, the defense budget is coming down another notch or two.  The Pentagon may hope that new government revenue will ease the pressure on their budget, but Republicans in Congress have made it clear that won’t happen.  Surely, they understand this reality over at the Pentagon.
A responsible Pentagon leadership should have come forward by now with a revised strategy that fits the fiscal and political reality of the nation.  Instead they are stonewalling down to the wire, acting as if strategies are rigid constructs rather than agile sets of guidance necessarily adjusting to resource availability.  The Pentagon should have been busy developing a revised strategy and defense plan six months ago.  A refusal to modify their strategy and planning during the last year has put them in the vulnerable position of now having to defer maintenance and training, and possibly degrade readiness. Serious cuts to the defense budget in 2013 do not qualify as an unforeseen contingency; it has been the law for several years now.  Rather than planning for these cuts the Pentagon has preferred a strategy of denial which is now putting its own forces at risk.
News and Commentary
“Absent presidential leadership, Washington has yet to find the courage to restrain spending, instead opting for a 'cop-out' approach that hides behind indiscriminate cuts rather than doing the political heavy lifting of identifying strategic reforms that both address our debt crisis and preserve America's defense capabilities. Yet political hyperbole has reached a fever pitch, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey, channeling his Commander-in-Chief's attitude, telling the House Armed Services Committee last week that the military ‘can't give you another dollar.’ Even those who oppose sequestration know this statement is ridiculous. The fact is, the DoD budget is full of questionable, wasteful or duplicative spending which often has little to do with ensuring national security.”  (2/21/13)
“The notion that the US military cannot protect the nation with a budget of half a trillion dollars seems beyond far-fetched. What takes it into the land of the surreal is that today the US faces a very different global environment than it faced 60 years ago. In fact, as I've argued before, the world today is safer than it has ever been. Wars and, in particular, inter-state conflicts have declined dramatically. The United States faces no contender to the role of global hegemon; no military competitor and no great power enemy. The closest thing the US has to a foreign rival would be a China, and currently the US spends more on defense research and development than Beijing spends on its entire military.”  (2/20/13)
“The Obama administration foresees 21st century wars fought with fewer boots on the ground and more drones in the air, while the Pentagon continues buying weapons from the last century. In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said America no longer needs to deploy tens of thousands of troops to occupy nations or meet the evolving threat from new extremist groups. Cyber-attacks are the 'rapidly growing threat,' he said. Nevertheless, the defense budget contains hundreds of billions of dollars for new generations of aircraft carriers and stealth fighters, tanks that even the Army says it doesn’t need and combat vehicles too heavy to maneuver in desert sands or cross most bridges in Asia, Africa or the Middle East.”  (2/19/13)
USA Today: Army effort to sow trust riddled with problemsTom Vanden Brook
“Frustration with the growing number of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq from roadside bombs helped drive the creation and growth of the Human Terrain System program, Pentagon records and interviews show. Trouble soon followed… In 2007, the American Anthropological Association, the world's largest organization of the field's scholars, condemned the program for putting at risk its social scientists and the people they surveyed. Among its concerns: Anthropologists would be used by the military to target insurgents, a violation of their ethics not to harm those whom they study.”  (2/18/13)
Battleland: The Banality of Unilateral Nuclear Cuts– Kingston Reif
“U.S. nuclear weapons strategy remains largely based on a confrontation with the Soviet Union that no longer exists. There is an emerging bipartisan and military consensus that it is time for an updated strategy and that a smaller stockpile would meet our security needs. Moreover, in this era of budget worries, further reductions could create significant cost savings that would free funding for higher priority security programs.”  (2/15/13)  
“It is becoming more common for the Pentagon to deploy troops to parts of Africa that many Americans would be hard-pressed to locate on a map, such as Djibouti, the Central African Republic and now the West African country of Niger, where the U.S. military is planning a base for Predator drones. Pentagon officials say their expanded involvement in Africa is necessary to combat the spread of al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and Somalia and other guerrillas such as Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. And while U.S. military leaders have sought to downplay their rudimentary network of bases on the continent, there are signs that they are planning for a much more robust presence. In a written statement provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who is poised to become the next leader of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, estimated that the U.S. military needs to increase its intelligence-gathering and spying missions in Africa by nearly 15-fold.”  (2/14/13) 
“Put simply, the chiefs and their ostensible civilian masters plan to implement the cuts mandated by law in the most destructive, negative way possible, which has the convenient effect -- for them -- of pushing Congress and the White House to cough up more money. According to their testimony, the Army will reduce training levels to such a low point that units cannot be sent to Afghanistan. The Navy plans to postpone, if not cancel, maintenance for ships in a fleet already at historic lows for upkeep and repair, and deployments to the Persian Gulf have already been postponed. The Air Force is going to further reduce its historically low training of pilots, and maintenance will also hit new lows. Throughout the services, civilian maintainers, auditors, and program overseers will be furloughed, aircraft will be grounded, and ships held in port.”  (2/14/13)
Battleland: The Most Expensive Weapon Ever Built – Mark Thompson
“The F-35, designed as the U.S. military's lethal hunter for 21st century skies, has become the hunted, a poster child for Pentagon profligacy in a new era of tightening budgets. Instead of the stars and stripes of the U.S. Air Force emblazoned on its fuselage, it might as well have a bull's-eye. Its pilots' helmets are plagued with problems, it hasn't yet dropped or fired weapons, and the software it requires to go to war remains on the drawing board… The price tag, meanwhile, has nearly doubled since 2001, to $396 billion. Production delays have forced the Air Force and Navy to spend at least $5 billion to extend the lives of existing planes. The Marine Corps--the cheapest service, save for its love of costly jump jets (which take off and land almost vertically) for its pet aircraft carriers--have spent $180 million on 74 used British AV-8 jets for spare parts to keep their Reagan-era Harriers flying until their version of the F-35 truly comes online. Allied governments are increasingly weighing alternatives to the F-35.”  (February 2013)
Congressional Research Service: Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues (2/13/12)
Congressional Research Service: North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues (2/12/13)
Third Way: Iceberg Ahead: The Looming Deficit Threat in Latest CBO Report (February 2013)
Government Accountability Office: High Risk Series: An Update (February 2013)
Department of the Army: Airspace Control (February 2013)