Reuters reported today that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will make an announcement soon (expect it Thursday) regarding efficiencies in defense management and some hardware "kills" we can expect to see in the next defense budget (news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110104/ts_nm/us_pentagon_cuts). The Secretary is having to dig a bit deeper than he had hope, because the down-slope for the defense budget seems to be coming.
Last summer, the Secretary promised efficiency savings through better management, reducing out-sourcing, shrinking the officer corps, and eliminating unnecessary commands (like Joint Forces Command) www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx. The savings were to come to just over $100 billion, over five years. Better management and efficiency, not always a core skill set at DOD, but a very good idea, indeed.
The US has spent upwards of $50 billion over the past decade, outside of pure military spending, to try to reconstruct and stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. Our failures are, by now, legend, by now, but we keep trying, and keep spending.
And we have invented new dogmas, or mantras, about what we are doing, particularly "whole of government" and "post conflict stabilization and reconstruction." DOD is building massive capacity and doctrine to stabilize, help govern, and rebuild countries, or "build partner capacity," as the recent Quadrennial Defense Review puts it. www.defense.gov/qdr/ State and USAID are busily trying to build on existing capacities to develop an even more ambitious role, as reenforced in the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. www.state.gov/documents/organization/153108.pdf. And the administration still argues that it is doing better at coordinating these efforts across the government.
The tipping point on defense budgets is upon us. The Inouye Omnibus appropriations bill in the Senate would provide funding for the base defense budget that is $10.5 below the administration's request. The House year-long CR would go deeper - $19 billion below the request. Secretary Gates has made his preference clear. But even the FY 2012 budget request is likely to come in well below the Department's preferences. National security will survive, but everything is on the table now. For my views on this, see the blog I did today for The Will and the Wallet.
Some people, like Ezra Klein, think the taxes/unemployment agreement pending before the Congress this week amply demonstrates that "no one [including the Congress] really cares about the deficit," since the package will add roughly $900 billion to the deficit over the next couple of years. Maybe some people are right. Members of Congress have rarely been reluctant to push a pet spending rock when the opportunity presented itself and this agreement is expensive.
But this was a peculiar kind of opportunity – the last gasp of an outgoing Congress. Easy to blame them, when next year rolls around. But when the posturing stops this week and the last Congress slinks out of town, the last month will have been memorable for the way it changed the atmosphere around deficits, particularly with respect to defense.