Thursday, July 25, 2013

7/25/13 RD Bulletin: House Passes DOD Spending Bill With Large OCO Cut


News: The House has completed consideration of its annual defense appropriations bill, during which a successful amendment offered by Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Chris Van Hollen cut roughly $3.5 billion from the OCO account.

PDA Perspective: A retired Air Force chief has confirmed that moving some units to reserve status and using ‘tiered readiness’ are good options for budget-constrained forces.


As reported last week, scant details continue to emerge from the Pentagon’s closely-guarded Strategic Choices and Management Review.  In written response to questions about his upcoming confirmation, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey announced that the strategic review has concluded that the White House’s 2012 defense guidance is sound despite the onset of sequestration.  That 2012 guidance set in motion the Pentagon’s new ‘Asia pivot,’ which the strategic review also was designed to assess.

Dempsey further told senators that the Pentagon will continue to highlight assets that support the Asia pivot, saying that the United States must “further prioritize missions within the context of a continued rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.”  The Pentagon’s new Asia pivot envisions the Navy forward-deploying sixty percent of its vessels to the Pacific region as well as the deployment of 2,500 marines to Australia.  As evidence of the importance of this new strategic pivot, the United States is currently holding the largest ever joint military exercise with Australia involving 20,000 troops, fifteen naval vessels, and for the first time ever, the MV-22 Osprey.

In his letter, Dempsey also warned senators of the effects that sequestration could wreck on the armed forces if Congress fails to void the automatic spending cuts: “Unready forces, misaligned global posture, inability to keep pace with emerging threats, reduced security cooperation, and failure to maintain a high quality All Volunteer Force.”

With the House of Representatives having approved a defense appropriations bill this week that provides more than $50 billion above what sequestration allows, it appears as if the Pentagon is in for another round of sequester cuts next January.  Unlike Fiscal Year 2013, Congress has the ability in Fiscal Year 2014 to avoid sequestration by budgeting to lower spending levels.  Still, with both chambers of Congress moving forward with pre-sequester military budgets; it seems increasingly unlikely that the Pentagon can avoid the automatic cuts in FY14.

As a result, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned civilian employees last week that another round of Pentagon furloughs is possible next year (though the House recently adopted language that would block the Pentagon from carrying out furloughs in FY14).  In an interview with the Associated Press responding to Hagel’s recent announcement, CSBA’s Todd Harrison pointed out that while the number of active duty troops has grown by three percent since 2000, the number of civilian employees working at the Pentagon has grown by 14 percent over the same time period.  Analysts from the Project on Defense Alternatives and Cato Institute have called on the Pentagon to reduce its civilian workforce by five percent.  This idea seems to be gaining particular traction amongst conservative defense analysts in Washington.

Historically, the defense and military construction spending bills are usually the first appropriations measures considered by Congress each year.  Typically, this is done to show solidarity with troops in the field but also because the military spending bills are considered less controversial then domestic appropriations bills.

In order to comply with the overall spending cap implemented by the Budget Control Act while still bolstering military spending, House Republicans have proposed doubling spending cuts to domestic accounts while preventing sequester cuts to the military budget.  However, POLITICO’s David Rogers reports that the Republican leadership’s spending plans may fall victim to internal party politics: “Like an army that’s outrun its supply line, the Republican budget strategy in Congress shows almost daily signs of coming apart. The central premise, as sold by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, was that Washington could wipe out deficits in 10 years and protect defense spending, all while embracing the lower appropriations caps dictated by sequestration. Four months later, it’s proving to be a bridge too far.”

In hopes of avoiding a budget trap set by House Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided to proceed with controversial domestic spending bills first.  In explaining his decision, Reid commented, “Those days are behind us… We are not going to be gamed by having the military programs funded at a much higher level than Head Start program, or NIH. We’re not going to do that. We’re through.”  Separately, the Senate is not expected to consider the annual National Defense Authorization Act until after the August recess.

While the Senate is moving forward with domestic spending bills, the House this week completed consideration of its annual defense appropriations bill, which a slew of controversial amendments had temporarily threatened to derail.  The bill, as reported out by committee, would have originally provided $512.5 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget plus an additional $85.5 billion in war funding.  However, a series of amendments were approved during Floor consideration of the bill that reduced the measure’s topline amount, including several amendments offered by both Republicans and Democrats that cut billions of dollars in aid intended for Afghan infrastructure projects and security services.

Additionally, Representatives Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) offered an amendment that reduced OCO funding in the bill by roughly $3.5 billion to better match the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request.  Because the Budget Control Act constrains the Pentagon’s base budget, but not the OCO account, the department has been shifting items from the former to the latter, an issue which the Project on Defense Alternatives highlighted in a report last year.

Commenting to Reset Defense on the Mulvaney-Van Hollen amendment’s passage, the Stimson Center’s Russell Rumbaugh points out that “the House was playing games with the [Budget Control Act’s] discretionary caps.  To make it look like they were lower than the President, they had moved base funding into war funding.  Except the Mulvaney-Van Hollen amendment just chopped off most of that extra war funding.  Meaning the base DoD budget is declining too.  Since the Senate bill takes bite out of the base bill, the conference is likely to come in lower than the President’s request.”

Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective

According to POLITICO’S Leigh Munsil, retired Air Force General Ron Fogleman (Chief of Staff 1994-1997), when addressing National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force on Tuesday, “... said the need for the commission ... showed the current service had run out of ideas for dealing with tomorrow’s slimmer budgets.”  Fogleman pointed out that there are a number force structure options for the Air Force.  These include: “... make the active-duty force smaller; enable the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve to meet tighter readiness timelines; allow for ‘tiered’ readiness; and make a place in the force structure for an operational Reserve.”

Finally someone from the services, albeit a retired senior officer, is talking about the tried and true options that exist for the military when money is tight, which, of course, was not the case for the services for the last decade and half since Fogleman stepped down as head of the Air Force.  Now, though, money is getting tight.

The reserve U.S. air force components are large and powerful.  They also cost the nation much less per unit than does the active component.  Advocates of today’s relatively large active component argue that the ‘fighting edge’ of pilots degrades rapidly when they are no longer in active units.   On the other hand, reserve pilots almost always keep flying, often as commercial aviators.  The don't lose all that they learned when they were in active units and their skills can be brought up to fighting level in short order.

The Project on Defense Alternatives has recommended an 11 percent cut in the Air Force active component personnel and active fighter squadrons.  Many of these squadrons should probably be assigned to the reserves.

Work needs to be done within the service to improve the “readiness timelines” of reserve units and to get better cost data on Air Force reserve units at differing levels of readiness, Fogleman points out.

In Fogleman’s opinion, Munsil reports, “Pentagon protestations that sequestration is devastating to national security and troop readiness don’t give the full picture... Instead, less readiness may not be the sky-is-falling scenario Defense Department officials keep warning of, especially if commanders plan upfront for how they’ll handle which units will stay ready for which assignments.”

“'I think there is, in fact, room in all services for tiered readiness,' Fogleman said.”
Charles Knight is a co-founder of the Project on Defense Alternatives and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.


News and Commentary

World Politics Review: Strategic Horizons: To Build Future Military, U.S. First Needs Strategic Vision - Steven Metz
“The community of national security experts is consumed with debate on the appropriate size and configuration of the American military. Seldom does a week pass without some new report, commission or conference offering solemn advice on this complex issue. Policy journals and op-ed pages are awash with articles on it. Such vigorous discussion is a good thing, but it may be focused on the wrong issue—ultimately the size of the armed forces matters less than what they are asked to do.”  (7/24/13) 

New York Times: A Failure to Intercept
“After 30 years of research and an estimated $250 billion investment, the Pentagon’s defense program against intercontinental ballistic missiles from adversaries like Iran and North Korea had another failed test this month. The advanced missile interceptor launched on July 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California failed to hit its target over the Pacific Ocean, the third consecutive dud. The military has tested the ground-based midcourse defense system 16 times; only eight were successful, the last in 2008. One might expect the record to be near perfect since the tests are rigged, conducted in what the program’s director, Vice Admiral James Syring of the Navy, calls a “controlled, scripted environment.” The Pentagon is doing a review to determine the cause of the latest failure. But whatever the cause, it is apparent that the program’s weaknesses go beyond this case.”  (7/24/13) 

U.S. News and World Report: The Pentagon Has Too Many GeneralsBenjamin Freeman
“Troop levels are being cut. Civilians are being furloughed. Planes are being grounded. Ships are being docked. But the Pentagon's top ranks are thriving. Over the past 10 years, as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, the U.S. military's enlisted ranks shrank, while the officer corps – particularly the general and flag officer ranks – and the bureaucracy supporting these top commanders, grew immensely. Earlier this month Third Way released a report on this trend, reaching a disquieting conclusion – the U.S. military is more top-heavy than it has ever been. While I, and others, have documented this trend before, it's only gotten worse. The U.S. military now has an officer-to-enlisted personnel ratio that's at an all-time high; this imbalance will only worsen with the recent announcement of further reductions to the force.”  (7/24/13) 

National Interest: The Deceptive Appeal of the Responsibility to ProtectJohn Allen Gay
“The Working Group on the Responsibility to Protect, a panel of impressive foreign-policy figures convened jointly by the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Brookings Institution and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, has just released its final report to much fanfare. The document, ‘The United States and R2P: From Words to Action,’ is a robust long-form exegesis and defense of the R2P concept; given the rise of R2P proponents within the Obama administration of late, it is well timed and deserves examination. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former presidential envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson attempt to ease critics’ worries that R2P is a recipe for endless American ‘police actions’ divorced from core U.S. interests. Yet this is a straw man, and they fail to address R2P’s real problem—its disregard for national sovereignty, which gives it potential to create, rather than ease, instability.”  (7/23/13) 

USA Today: Fraud fouls up fight against IEDs in AfghanistanTom Vanden Brook
“A key aspect of the military's effort to protect troops from roadside bombs has been sabotaged from within, according to a report by Pentagon's special inspector general for Afghanistan. A $32-million effort begun in 2009 to seal off culverts to prevent insurgents from using them as hiding places for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been plagued by fraud and may have resulted in several U.S. troops being killed or wounded, the report notes. The inspector general found that Afghan contractors took money to construct the barriers, and in some cases did no work. U.S. contracting officers didn't do enough to ensure the work was done.”

TIME: Are Private Contractors Really Cheaper?David Isenberg
“Those who support using private military and security contractors often claim that a major reason for doing so is that it is more cost-effective than using regular military forces. While there hasn’t been a whole lot of rigorous evidence put forward to substantiate the claim, especially considering the decades the argument has been forward, basic fairness dictates that we have to say it is possible. But, as the saying goes: be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it. Perhaps the reason contractors are more effective than regular military forces is that they are more prone to getting shafted by their employers. Naturally, that is not the argument a pro-private-military-and-security-contractor advocate might want to cite, but a paper written in 2012 provides some compelling evidence that it is the case.”  (7/23/13) 

Huffington Post: Ash at Aspen: Low-balling the Cost of NukesWilliam Hartung
“When asked by New York Times chief Washington correspondent David Sanger whether it might not ‘save you considerably’ to cut U.S. nuclear forces by one-third, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton] Carter responded by saying that nuclear weapons are not ‘a big swinger of the budget" because "they don't cost that much.’ As the late Everett Dirksen was alleged to have said, a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. And even by Washington standards, the nation is spending real money on nuclear weapons -- money that would be better used for virtually any other purpose at a time of tight budgets and shifting national security priorities. The high cost of nukes should motivate us to do what we should be doing anyway -- getting rid of weapons that serve no useful purpose and do far more harm than good to U.S. and global security. Reasonable people can disagree about how to get there, but President Obama was right when he said we need to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons.”

National Defense Magazine: Defense Auditors: Why So Many Spare Parts?Sandra Erwin
Defense Department auditors regularly scour the Pentagon’s online procurement portal, known as Electronic Mall or DoD E-Mall — in search of clues to questionable spending. One area that has drawn their attention in recent years has been spare parts orders. By some estimates, the Defense Department spends up to $70 billion a year on logistics support of weapons systems, which includes spare parts. The Pentagon has no precise estimate of current inventories. Auditors have questioned whether many of these purchases meet legitimate needs. Of 114 audits that the Defense Department’s inspector general office is conducting in fiscal year 2013, nine target spare parts. IG reports over the past two years have increasingly challenged the quantities bought and the prices paid for military spare parts. Investigators also found warehouses packed with unneeded items.  (7/21/13) 

Los Angeles Times: Report questions costs of villas and mansions for top military brassDavid Cloud
“The perks for top military brass, a Pentagon tradition, are under increasing scrutiny in Congress at a time when budget reductions and the mandatory spending cuts known as the sequester have forced the Pentagon to cut services, close facilities, cancel training and missions, and furlough 680,000 civilian workers… In the annual appropriations bill for military construction approved by a House committee last month, lawmakers criticized the Pentagon for the ‘excessive cost’ of maintaining ‘large and aging’ homes and for the ‘apparent unwillingness on the part of the [military] services to seek less expensive alternatives.’ All active-duty military personnel and their families receive free housing on bases or allowances to defray the cost of renting or buying in nearby communities. It costs the Pentagon $1.5 billion a year.”  (7/20/13) 

Stars and Stripes: Despite nearly $1B effort, Navy still can't audit books - Steven Beardsley
“Despite spending nearly a billion dollars to overhaul its accounting system, the Navy still can’t support its appraisals of the value of ships, aircraft and other military equipment, a DOD Inspector General report found. The Navy reported $416 billion worth of equipment in its inventory in the last fiscal year, a figure that totals the value of military equipment as adjusted by age, wear and lifespan.” (7/19/13) 

War on the Rocks: Force Modernization and Readiness: A Zero Sum Game?Jonathan Rue
“Modernization and readiness appear to be locked in a zero sum game. What good is maximum readiness if the force is using broken and obsolete equipment? Conversely, how will the force use the next generation of weapons to their maximum potential if there’s not enough money to train with them? In order to relieve some of the downward pressure on both, personnel must enter the equation; however, reducing end strength will only work up to a certain point. Policymakers must confront the rising costs of the All Volunteer Force if they’re to have a military capable of answering their frequent phone calls.”  (7/19/13) 

Defense One: Ditch the QDRDoug Wilson
“The Secretary of Defense and senior Pentagon leaders are looking everywhere for ways to save money. They are bound and determined to eliminate waste and duplication and ensure that, at a time of sequestration and furlough, both money and man-hours are spent wisely and efficiently. If Congress will agree, here’s a modest proposal that will lop off thousands of man-hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the next seven months, for work on a project that’s already been done: ditch the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.”  (7/19/13)


Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments: The Future of MILSATCOM (7/24/13) 
Government Accountability Office: Building Partner Capacity: DOD Is Meeting Most Targets for Colombia's Regional Helicopter Training Center but Should Track Graduates (7/24/13) 
Small Wars Journal: Sustainable Development as a Military Tool (7/20/13)
Congressional Research Service: Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements (7/15/13) 
Congressional Research Service: The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force: Background in Brief (7/10/13) 
Truman National Security Project: Security Briefing Book (July 2013) 
United States Holocaust Memorial: The United States and R2P: From Words to Action (July 2013) 
Third Way: The F-35 is the Future, Not the Present, of U.S. Fighter Aircraft (July 2013)
Third Way: Star Creep: The Costs of a Top-Heavy Military (June 2013)