Defense Contractors Angered by Gates Budget Strategy

By
Friday, April 03, 2009 at 12:15 pm
Defense Sec. Robert Gates (WDCpix) and F-22 Raptors (

Defense Sec. Robert Gates (WDCpix) and F-22 Raptors (Air Force photo)

On Monday, an Iraq veteran named John Guardiano took to the right-leaning op-ed page of The Washington Examiner, a free daily paper in the district, to inveigh against the “Secret Defense Budget Tribunals” of Pentagon chief Bob Gates. Guardiano, troubled by the unusual steps taken by Gates to hold the details of his fiscal-2010 budget close to the vest, compared Gates’ efforts to the ill-fated efforts of then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to construct a universal health-care regime in secret that ended in 1994. Needless to say, he disapproved. “Democracy can be messy and untidy, noisy and boisterous,” he wrote, “it can disrupt the work of the ruling class, who think they know better than we the people.” After all, Guardiano reminded, “America is not the Soviet Union or China.”

Guardiano’s bio for the paper quickly noted that his views “do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. military or his employer, a defense contractor.” The paper didn’t see fit to name the contractor.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Still, Guardiano’s op-ed was indicative of two facts that remain salient as Gates is expected to deliver the substance of his long-awaited Pentagon budget to the White House next week. First, defense contractors and their Capitol Hill allies are alarmed at how Gates has shut them out of the the decision-making process about the Pentagon budget as he has publicly warned, in vague terms, about making “hard choices” that will place defense systems and weapons programs beloved by the armed services and their contractors on the chopping block. And second, Gates has adopted a strategy for his budget that presumes that most of the defense industry is an obstacle at best and an adversary at worst.

“Leaks are used by people opposed to the changes being considered,” said one Pentagon official supportive of Gates’ effort. “It’s about opposition [to the budget] mobilizing on outside and stopping that, from certain members of Congress, the [armed services] committees, the news media, what have you.”

Gates has taken extraordinary steps to keep the details of the fiscal 2010 budget to himself. First, he announced that he would withhold the substance of the budget from the Obama administration’s overall budget, delivered in February, and just divulge the overall spending request of $534 billion. ($663.7 billion when counting the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the year, which will be funded through a supplemental budget request later this year.) Then he announced that he would empanel a review to determine what defense systems needed to be scaled back in funding or were no longer relevant for national security. He went so far as to insist that defense officials and military officers consulted by the review sign non-disclosure agreements to prevent them from leaking. “In principle, you’re not supposed to talk about this thing outside of the building, or share it within,” said an official who requested anonymity and who was one of several dozen officials asked to sign the non-disclosure agreement.

The agreement, first disclosed by DefenseNews in February, requires signatories to affirm “I recognize that a significant factor in the successful and proper presentation and completion of the President’s budget is the strict confidentiality that must be observed by all government participants.” That includes all discussions about “planning, programming and budget system documents and databases, and any other information … concerning the Administration’s deliberation of the nature and amounts of the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2010.” The agreement placed into conflict two values that the Obama administration espoused during last year’s campaign: openness and reform.

The budget effort, according to insiders, had two main phases: first, solicitation of perspectives and advice from a variety of officials and servicemembers; and second, final decision-making by a comparative few officials. While Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Vickers was part of a “small group” of Pentagon officials leading the review, officials influential during the final phase were Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman; and Brad Berkson, director of program analysis and evaluation.

Gates’ allies say that keeping the decision-making process open would have empowered defense contractors to lobby Congress to protect beloved — and expensive — defense programs at a time when the economy is forcing the closure of what Gates has called the “spigot” of defense cash opened by the 9/11 attacks. While the budget still represents an increase over last year’s defense spending, Gates testified to Congress in January about restricting Cold War-era systems or those of uncertain value to irregular conflicts like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “This budget going to involve very significant shifts and changes from what was done in past,” the Pentagon official said, but declined to characterize how the budget would change.

Defense reformers look at such claims with skepticism. Winslow Wheeler, a three-decade veteran of defense budget fights as a Capitol Hill staffer who now works for the Center for Defense Information, expected the budget to cut “low-hanging fruit” and leave many sacred-cow programs intact. But he said that the secrecy-centric approach to the budget would only delay the inevitable fight when it gets delivered to Congress. “They’re delaying the services running around behind their backs and [asking] Congress to please rescue” favored defense programs. “But it’s not question of if, it’s a question of when that happens. The service representatives — colonels, whomever — will come over to Congress to complain about the decisions — if Gates make some good ones.”

Even in the absence of specific information about the budget, defense lobbyists have wasted little time mobilizing to guard against cuts. In January, Lockheed Martin unveiled a Website called Preserve Raptor Jobs, arguing that the F-22 fighter jet it produces for the Air Force was a jobs engine during trying economic times. A spokesman for Lockheed told TWI last month that the site was merely intended to “provide information” primarily to the jet’s “supplier base,” but lawmakers from F-22-producing states warned Gates against cutting funding for the jet — which costs approximately $143 million per plane, of which there are currently 183 — using talking points that sounded much like text on the site. Similarly, defenders of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program for tech-enabled land warfare — the target of a Government Accountability Office report this week that criticized its “staggering” cost-overruns of $300 million — have argued in recent days that the program is crucial to soldier safety against insurgent attacks, even though it has yet to be deployed in full. The Politico reported this week that Boeing has deployed 100 lobbyists to Washington to push back against potential cuts.

The Pentagon official acknowledged that secrecy over the budget could hardly last forever. Lobbyists “have a sense of where the trajectory is going” in terms of prospective budget cuts,” the official said. “What usually happens is happening. But at least [the secrecy] is something that mitigates it somewhat.”

Wheeler said the ultimate decision when the budget is fully unveiled will be Obama’s. “The president will have to decide if he’s going to fight for his own budget and the decisions that Gates makes, assuming Gates makes good ones,” he said, “or whether to engage in the slippery-slope compromises with Congress. And the everyone-gets-happy route just makes everything worse in terms of an aging, shrinking and less ready to fight” military.

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Comments

117 Comments

LouAZ
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 10:32 am

Why have we continued to build WW II type weapons systems useful for fixed movement European land war when EVERY “engagement” (Congress has not declared WAR since WW II) since then has been against and enemy that has nothing more than rifles, pickup trucks, hand carried RPGs, and hand carried explosives ? It has been 60 years. WW II is over !


Eddie
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 10:55 am

As a former congressional legislative assistant whose duties used to include working to stave off budget cuts that would have eliminated defense programs that once benefited my then-boss's district (C-17, V-22) I think Gates is going about this the right way. The fight will certainly come to Capitol Hill but giving the lobbyists less time to try to beat back the administration's cuts is a wise move. It may not be 100 percent successful, in that the lobby will almost certainly muster enough power to restore some projects to the budget, but the less they know beforehand, the better.


jenzinoh
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 11:01 am

If the contractors aren't happy, then Gates must be doing something right!

I find it incredible that sacrifice is everywhere in America, but the defense budget is treated like a sacred object that can only ever increase in size…

Where are the shreikers about pork barrel spending when it comes to this thing? There are programs in there that can certainly be phased out.


MandySB
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 11:42 am

Looks like John Guardiano works for SAIC on FCS communications – http://www.boeing.com/ids/network_space/news/20…


Jake
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 11:58 am

It is one thing to want to cut the defense budget as a matter of philosophy. However in a year when we are passing stimulus packages for the purpose of “creating or saving” american jobs, there is no better industry in which you can do that than through the defense industry. Factually speaking, NONE of the jobs those dollars fund are outsourced overseas, which you can't say for the vast majority of stimulus money. So why pass a $787 billion stimulus to save jobs, and then cut the defense budget by $x billion? Doesn't make sense.

And as a response to those that think we don't need heavy weapons because our current and recent past engagements have been with less than well equipped enemies, defense projects take years from funding to fielding of operational units that can be used by trained personnel. The last few decades were following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and before China's ascendency. It is both prudent and necessary to continue to fund these programs as a deterrent against increasingly assertive countries.


John Guardiano
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

I'm John Guardiano. I didn't mention my contracting company because I did not the write the op-ed on their behalf. I am speaking only for myself. I worked briefly for SAIC several years ago, but not anymore. I have written and published for the public prints ever since college and doubtless will do so until the day that I die. (Google me to see some of my published work.) I do not clear my work with anyone, or with any authority, before publishing a piece.

This piece was written because I served as a Marine in Iraq. Soldiers and Marines have been killed in Iraq because, as I noted in my piece, the Department of Defense delivered defense budgets that did not provide for up-armored humvees and adequate body armor for our troops.

No one person is responsible for this mistake. It occurred over a period of many years. Successive presidential administrations and members of both political parties are responsible. I would like to avert this mistake, which resulted from a failure support and to sustain crucial military modernization initiatives.

What I find so disappointing about this debate over the defense budget is that it is so lacking in substance. Instead of questioning my motives or intent, why not address my substantive points? I could care less what some defense contractor thinks about the defense budget. I care deeply what our soldiers and marines — the men and women I served with — think about this defense budget. I care deeply about how well it will (or will not) prepare them for the threats that they will face in the years and decades ahead.

How about substantively addressing how well our defense budget meets this challenge? That’s what I'm interested in; that's why I write and publish (on my own time); and that's why I will continue to rail against secret budget proceedings, which do not give the American people, and our servicemen and women, the opportunity to carefully consider defense budgetary decisions and objectives.


John Guardiano
Comment posted April 3, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

Mr. Ackerman,
I enjoyed your piece; it is nicely written and informative, well reported. However, you have written, in effect, an apologia for DoD's secret budgetary tribunals. The end (or alleged end), reform, justifies the means, secret budgetary tribunals. That's basically what you are saying.

But in a democratic republic such as ours, means are crucially important. Means matter. Means often are what distinguish America, the land of liberty, from tyrannies.

I do not believe that the end justifies the means. Moreover, I believe that more democratic means are integral to achieving true and beneficial reform.

For these reasons I say again that the secret budgetary tribunals, even if standard for DoD, are wrong and counterproductive. They are antithetical to what America is all about.

In fact, I would go further than that. I would argue that DoD's lack of transparency in the past is what caused DoD to deliver defense budgets that did not adequately provide for our soldiers and marines in harm's way. Soldiers and Marines were killed as a result. We mustn't let that ever happen again.

The budget process must be fully transparent and open. We need to understand the reasoning and thought process involved — and not just as interpreted by one man, the SecDef, but as interpreted by all of the officials involved in these deliberations.
– John Guardiano


oldgeek
Comment posted April 4, 2009 @ 7:27 am

There is a management axiom that is well known by those within the government, rice bowl politics. The objective is at all costs to keep your rice bowl full and under your control to the exclusion facts and circumstances. While in theory the Army, Navy and Air force are concerned about our National Defense, they are more concerned about their relevance and their programs.

That mentality and thought process trickles down to each of the programs that are argued for and defended as critical, vital and essential to our future, many are not.

The program manager of a large program is parochial to his rice bowl for lots of reasons that begin with his current job and his future career in the military and to be frank with the contractors who all play a key roll.

It is for all the above reasons that Secretary Gates needed to keep his deliberations out of the prying eyes of those whose personal future could be affected. Just wait and see who does the screaming next week. To quote a line from all the presidents men, follow the money.


John Guardiano
Comment posted April 4, 2009 @ 8:48 am

Oldgeek,
Like many of the defenders of the secret DoD budgetary tribunals, you argue that the end (alleged reform) justifies the means. That's a legitimate argument, but one that I think is dangerous because it undermines a free society, which is based on democratic means.

If you really believe that the end justifies the means, then you are all too willing to countenance illicit, oppressive and anti-democratic activities. Certainly, history shows that. That is why, I believe, transparency and openness are the true lynchpins of real reform.

You then say that many defense weapons programs are not critical. OK, which ones? Which ones would you cut and why? What capabilities are crucial to our fighting men and women in harm's way? Which weapon systems will address current and future threats? Which weapon systems are Cold War relics and why?

These are the sort of substantive questions we ought to be discussing and debating. But instead, the politicians and the media have created a quick and easy morality tale. There are the “reformers” and the big, bad “contractors.” The “reformers” are on the side of the angels; the contractors are the evildoers who supposedly oppose “reform.”

This is convenience and easy; it is a way to avoid real thought and substantive discussion. The media like it because it means they don't have to do any real substantive reporting and analysis. The politicians like it for the same reason: They, too, don't have to do their homework about defense capabilities and requirements. They can simply support “reform” and bask in the praise of the media.

Don't follow the money; the money is irrelevant to what we ought to do re the defense budget. Follow the thinking. Follow the analysis. Talk to soldiers and marines. Put yourself in their shoes and understand what they really need and require in the 21st Century. That's what we ought to be discussing. Sadly, we don't, for reasons of political ease and media laziness.
– John Guardiano


Chris
Comment posted April 5, 2009 @ 12:51 am

Mr. Guardiano,

It is refreshing that you would choose to come onto to this website and argue your points. Unfortunately, your rhetoric shows how little you are actually looking for a differing opinion. For far too long, the american taxpayer has had to fund ships that were eventually salvaged, planes that never flew off the ground and multitudes of weapons that were always “at the ready” but never beyond that. The key example for why contractor reform is needed was shown vividly when Sen. McCain asked the President a question in regards to his helicopter. The price had conflated to 11 billion dollars, FAR above the amount that was actually contracted for. The President noted that this would be something to be worked on, after all he enjoys his current helicopter just fine, as he stated. The point however, was not in the cost, but the fact that the price was even allowed to go that high to begin with.

Your argument about secrecy of Mr. Gates' budget planning as “antidemocratic activities” is only at the margins of the issue. It may be true that Mr. Gates is wrong in planning his budget in this regard, but, as Mr. Ackerman stated, he is more likely taking into account the various parties interest in the issue and would rather discuss with them the situation only when the factual elements have been taken into account. Do you think a boss, when facing the tough decision of firing an employee, who takes into account the employee's practices and other extraneous information behind the employee's back is being “anti-democratic”? Let's stay within the realm of realism here.

Unfortunately, acting openly is the equivalent of giving a mile when an inch is more deserved. As noted above, the mere fact of cuts (without even knowing what they are) requires 100s of lobbyists to be sent to Washington in an attempt to push back on them. This is why the government is better off in this regard.

Arguing about whether we should cut weapons and which ones are being done through Mr. Gates, assumingly. I'm sure the Pentagon has numerous details on which weapons work, which ones don't and which ones need further revamping. There is no need for debate when one has the facts in front of them. On the overall problem of contracting, even you can concede there should be limits placed on contracts. We can't go on and on accepting things for the way they are and eventually what they become. Our pockets aren't limitless. If Mr. Gates does, what you and others think he will do, then to my mind the government is finally pulling back on those purse strings which have been lengthened to the no end. If you believe that is “antithetical to America”, then quite clearly America hasn't been doing its job.


Jesus St. Jesus
Comment posted April 5, 2009 @ 8:36 am

Get a clue… Bush/Cheney/Haliburton stole billions from our wallets for 7 years by spouting the words “War on Terror”…. It's time we start concentrating on our own country's problems, AND investigating the previous administration to get some of the money back….


John Guardiano
Comment posted April 5, 2009 @ 8:39 am

Chris,
Thanks for your thoughts; I appreciate the engagement. I'll let you have the last words or points.

I engaged on this site, candidly, because Mr. Ackerman, I think, wrote a good and informative piece, though I do not agree with much of it.

Moreover, the dialogue here, as illustrated in the comments, seemed far more intelligent and thoughtful than what I have seen on many websites. I hope the dialogue continues. Certainly I expect to write more about military modernization in other venues.

Regards,
John Guardiano


Amanda
Comment posted April 5, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

I would urge commentators to this post to read Mark Bowden's recent piece on the F-22 Raptor, the United States Air Force, and the power of deterrence in the March 2009 issue of The Atlantic. “The Last Ace,” found here, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200903/air-force/5 , presents a war-weary American readership with the dilemma of the cost-effectiveness of long-term investments in defense contracts, the nature of our current and inevitable future military engagements, and the responsibility we have to each other and those who will live after us. Below, Jesus St. Jesus writes that it is “time we start concentrating on our own country's problems.” While investing in community, social, health, and educational prerogatives is absolutely necessary, we are not an island, and our responsibilities extend beyond domestic, civic obligations. Our children have the very real possibility of living in a better, truer United States than that of the past eight years, but what of a government-subsidized, top-notch education if unconventional conflicts and violent non-state actors manipulate international relations? Of course I want my parents to be able to retire, to age with dignity, to receive the medical attention they may need; Obviously, I want my children to learn the arts, music, theater, and YES global geography, as part of their BASIC education; but what legacy have we left if those “dark corners of the world” are left to fester, infect, and metastasize beyond our borders? My college-education kids may be able to have faith in democracy and their country, but without adequate air support, without exceptional military prowess, they can still die in the mountains of Afghanistan. Defense spending in this country has undoubtedly been out of control; the wastefulness and corruption is glaringly evident in the examples of such needless deaths as that of Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Mathus, who was electrocuted while showering due to shoddy electrical wiring at his army base in Iraq. The ways to go about avoiding this take time, energy, and painful compromise. However, mitigating the flaws in defense contracting, in military spending, and the new Defense Budget can absolutely not be done by cutting production and purchases of necessary military equipment. As a taxpayer, $143 million per F-22 Raptor is a small price to pay for the lasting assurances of safety and security rooted in superiority. We will only augment the grievous wrongs of the Bush years if the goal of a balanced budget means the evisceration of our defenses.

You want to focus on solving our problems here, on rectifying the damages of two Bush terms? Start with the Farm Bill instead.


Peter Goon
Comment posted April 5, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

Amanda,

Many experts and defence analysts around the globe agree with what you are saying.

See –

http://www.ausairpower.net/notams.html#NOTAMS

and the suppporting analyses:

http://www.ausairpower.net/apa-analyses.html


willard schoeffling
Comment posted April 6, 2009 @ 8:26 am

there are not 183 f-22 fighters, there is money for 183 planes, most people think gates will fund 20 more for a total os 203, as one crashed tow weeks ago there will be 182 and with 20 more 202.


Craig
Comment posted April 6, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

At first glance it appears that our military is being reshaped to win small conflicts in the Middle East at the cost of readiness to fight and win against the first string teams from another superpower. Gates is no military man and it shows and his secrecy shows an utter contempt for the military and our key military contractors. Perhaps he'll suggest outsourcing the Army to the Indians or Chinese next…


Marc
Comment posted April 6, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

So much for the military-congressional-industrial-think tank complex. America? Freedom? Readiness? Hogwash! The programs targeted are long past scheduled deployment; designed for yesterdays conflicts; and, pure makework for congressional allies and their districts. Furthermore, even if these programs were valid, on track, and at (or under budget) how can a debtor nation like the U.S. support them in a time when the federal budget is bankrupt? For years SS/MED and the DOD have been on a collision course. GUNS vs. Butter. It's time that the right decisions were made and we went with BUTTER. Experts agree that we can field a mighty deterrent about about 1/2 of current expenditures. Please, no more flag-waving or srunging-up the bad 'ole Boogieman. We have me the enemy, and he is us! Praise be to Gates…


Dick Hertz
Comment posted April 6, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

It is undeniable that we spend exorbitant sums of money for what seems like too little protection. The missing facts are that 1) the most awesome digital machine can't operate if it doesn't know who to engage and 2) the failures of intelligence, leadership, and logistical support would serve to hamper the best futuristic military/defense system. Piston powered P51s could have shot down the 9/11 planes, if the intelligence and leadership had been there to do it. WWII era piston planes could provide excellent air support in Afghanistan for fractions of the cost of the Air Force's fancy shmancy plastic digital warbirds. I would submit that in fact our tendency towards overkill is harming our efforts, as we indiscriminately bomb targets with poor intelligence. We have as a nation decided to simply accept civilian losses from aerial bombing, either because we don't hear about it or operate under the “let God sort them out” premise.
Our military has taken over our budget; its propaganda has taken over our airwaves and commentary; it has poisoned us physically with chemical waste and spiritually through wars fought for lies and political shenanigans, torture and abuse of prisoners, and a willingness to abandon vets with psychological and physical problems. We could have bought every Iraqi a big screen tv with satellite dish and years of service and not blown up their infrastructure and simply brainwashed them with Fox News for less than the military incursion cost in money and lives, but VP Cheney would not have been in a position to financially benefit from that strategy. Cheney, oddly enough, was defense secretary the last time some weapons system programs with lots of graft and kickbacks associated with them were canceled, with the same squeals we are hearing now. Cut the budgets and demand the troops be taken care of, enforce accountability and punish graft. Start with torture and work through acquisition and contracting until the system is fixed.


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Pingback posted April 6, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

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Amanda
Comment posted April 6, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

Many experts and defense analysts, but not our Secretary of Defense. I'm so disappointed and upset. This is just crushing.


Swami_Binkinanda
Comment posted April 6, 2009 @ 9:47 pm

It is undeniable that we spend exorbitant sums of money for what seems like too little protection. The missing facts are that 1) the most awesome digital machine can't operate if it doesn't know who to engage and 2) the failures of intelligence, leadership, and logistical support would serve to hamper the best futuristic military/defense system. Piston powered P51s could have shot down the 9/11 planes, if the intelligence and leadership had been there to do it. WWII era piston planes could provide excellent air support in Afghanistan for fractions of the cost of the Air Force's fancy shmancy plastic digital warbirds. I would submit that in fact our tendency towards overkill is harming our efforts, as we indiscriminately bomb targets with poor intelligence. We have as a nation decided to simply accept civilian losses from aerial bombing, either because we don't hear about it or operate under the “let God sort them out” premise.
Our military has taken over our budget; its propaganda has taken over our airwaves and commentary; it has poisoned us physically with chemical waste and spiritually through wars fought for lies and political shenanigans, torture and abuse of prisoners, and a willingness to abandon vets with psychological and physical problems. We could have bought every Iraqi a big screen tv with satellite dish and years of service and not blown up their infrastructure and simply brainwashed them with Fox News for less than the military incursion cost in money and lives, but VP Cheney would not have been in a position to financially benefit from that strategy. Cheney, oddly enough, was defense secretary the last time some weapons system programs with lots of graft and kickbacks associated with them were canceled, with the same squeals we are hearing now. Cut the budgets and demand the troops be taken care of, enforce accountability and punish graft. Start with torture and work through acquisition and contracting until the system is fixed.


Amanda
Comment posted April 7, 2009 @ 4:36 am

Many experts and defense analysts, but not our Secretary of Defense. I'm so disappointed and upset. This is just crushing.


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Pingback posted April 14, 2009 @ 7:34 am

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Google Secret Loophole
Comment posted June 29, 2010 @ 9:37 am

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louis vuitton
Comment posted August 6, 2010 @ 4:14 am

there are not 183 f-22 fighters, there is money for 183 planes, most people think gates will fund 20 more for a total os 203, as one crashed tow weeks ago there will be 182 and with 20 more 202.
http://www.louisvuitton4love.com/louis-vuitton-…


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