Left-Right Defense Wonk Coalition Looks to Cut $960 Billion From Bloated Pentagon Budget

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Friday, June 11, 2010 at 10:34 am

Few communities of Washington wonks run into greater structural and institutional obstacles than advocates of reduced defense spending. Defense companies put billions into PR campaigns for the necessity of this or that project that runs over cost. Legislators have every career incentive to lard the defense budget with job-creating bloat for their districts. The media treats civilian and military spending as two entirely different entities, with military spending emerging from a magical, never-ending fountain of cash. And then there’s the general jingoism that equates curbed defense spending with a deficit of patriotism.

But undeterred by all that is a coalition of liberal and conservative defense wonks from the Project on Defense Alternatives, the Center for American Progress, the Cato Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Center for Defense Information and more. Calling themselves the Sustainable Defense Task Force — thereby taking up the “sustainability” call for budget austerity from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his undersecretary for policy (and likely successor), Michele Flournoy — they identify up to $960 billion in spending cuts over ten years. That’s in a new report they’re releasing this morning.

The cuts don’t come from war spending, but from the Pentagon’s “base budget”: everything that the department buys or maintains on a regular basis, as opposed to a contingency basis for wartime emergency. Cuts are supposed to come across the board, from nuclear forces, missile defense and space programs (nearly $200 billion saved over ten years); big service priorities like the Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-X refueling tanker, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the Osprey helicopter (nearly $90 billion saved over ten years); getting rid of two Air Force tactical fighter wings and cutting the Navy to 230 ships (nearly $167 billion saved over ten years); reforming DOD’s increasingly expensive health care system (nearly $50 billion saved over ten years); and many, many other canceled, delayed or reformed programs. You can read the full (PDF) report here.

It would be an understatement to say that the cuts identified by the task force run against the ever-upward trajectory of the defense budget. But they also run up against certain priorities of the current Pentagon leadership, even as that leadership goes further than most in sharing the task force’s goals. The Joint Strike Fighter and KC-X are priorities. So is maintaining an expanded ground force. But the task force urges the Pentagon to roll back the growth in the Army and Marine Corps as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars end. And while several post-Cold War Pentagon leaders have argued for reducing the U.S.’s garrisoning footprint in Europe and Asia, another task force priority, the diplomatic equities at stake have proven to be a powerful inertial force. And then there’s the fact that the House is thumbing its nose at Gates’s efforts just to get rid of an engine that the services say they don’t want in the Joint Strike Fighter.

But it’s one thing to propose specific costs to specific programs. It’s another to offer a set of criteria to identify wasteful spending going forward. That gets into the issues of national strategy that Flournoy discussed in her speech yesterday to the Center for a New American Security. And the task force is happy to oblige, urging policymakers to eschew:

Department of Defense programs that are based on unreliable or unproven technologies,
Missions that exhibit a poor cost-benefit payoff and capabilities that fail the test of cost-effectiveness or that possess a very limited utility,
Assets and capabilities that mismatch or substantially over-match current and emerging military challenges, and
Opportunities for providing needed capabilities and assets at lower cost via management reforms.
It’s that second part, about avoiding poorly thought-out missions, that too rarely gets factored into budget-cutting discussions, as if budgets and strategy aren’t mutually reinforcing. But that also adds a political obstacle to an already burdensome task. Flournoy spoke yesterday about avoiding “national security adventurism.” The task force isn’t just offering not budget discipline. It’s offering a way to distinguish adventurism from prudent responses to security threats. Will anyone listen?

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Tweets that mention Left-Right Defense Wonk Coalition Looks to Cut $960 Trillion From Bloated Budget « The Washington Independent -- Topsy.com
Pingback posted June 11, 2010 @ 10:56 am

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by attackerman, DR, Jason Steed, Max B. Sawicky, WashIndependent and others. WashIndependent said: Left-Right Defense Wonk Coalition Looks to Cut $960 Trillion From Bloated Budget – http://bit.ly/bjR88Y [...]


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Right Vs Left - How to trim $1 Trillion from defense
Pingback posted June 11, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

[...] The Washington Independent Left-Right Defense Wonk Coalition Looks to Cut $960 Billion From Bloated Pentagon Budget Few communities of Washington wonks run into greater structural and institutional obstacles than advocates of reduced defense spending. Defense companies put billions into PR campaigns for the necessity of this or that project that runs over cost. Legislators have every career incentive to lard the defense budget with job-creating bloat for their districts. The media treats civilian and military spending as two entirely different entities, with military spending emerging from a magical, never-ending fountain of cash. And then there’s the general jingoism that equates curbed defense spending with a deficit of patriotism. The task force isn’t just offering not budget discipline. It’s offering a way to distinguish adventurism from prudent responses to security threats. Will anyone listen? [...]


christophercarr
Comment posted June 11, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

“It’s that second part, about avoiding poorly thought-out missions, that too rarely gets factored into budget-cutting discussions, as if budgets and strategy aren’t mutually reinforcing. But that also adds a political obstacle to an already burdensome task. Flournoy spoke yesterday about avoiding “national security adventurism.” The task force isn’t just offering not budget discipline. It’s offering a way to distinguish adventurism from prudent responses to security threats. Will anyone listen?”

Didn't our best and brightest “predict” 30 days in Iraq?


Brett
Comment posted June 11, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

Interesting link. Some of it was good (for once, they actually talked about reducing US commitments), and some of it was bad (their ignorance about the history of ABM, which they conflate with SDI, and the suggestion for cutting a huge chunk of the F-35 order).

Department of Defense programs that are based on unreliable or unproven technologies,

And how exactly do you plan on building state-of-the-art stuff, without doing the above?

Besides, there are benefits to buying cutting edge technology. It has less of a tendency to turn into flying/floating coffins as time goes by.

Missions that exhibit a poor cost-benefit payoff and capabilities that fail the test of cost-effectiveness or that possess a very limited utility,

This is nice, although I'd like to see more specifics.

Assets and capabilities that mismatch or substantially over-match current and emerging military challenges,

You want some degree of over-match, because it discourages challenging. Case in point – one of the advantages the US gained from having F-16s and F-15s more than two decades ago was that it deterred nations from even attempting to challenge our air superiority with their own fighters.

Not to mention that over-age saves lives. It was the US's overwhelming military superiority that allowed us to win Gulf War Number One so effectively against Iraq – a less effective military would have taken significantly more casualties and time to do so.


Commission outlines $1 trillion in defense budget cuts | The Crotch Shot Radio Show
Pingback posted June 11, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

[...] despite the political appeal of lower deficits, Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent suggests the commission’s proposals won’t become law because “[f]ew communities [...]


Commission outlines $1 trillion in defense budget cuts – Dark Politricks
Pingback posted June 11, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

[...] despite the political appeal of lower deficits, Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent suggests the commission’s proposals won’t become law because “[f]ew communities [...]


Matthew Yglesias » Joint Left-Right Task Force Proposes Defense Cuts
Pingback posted June 12, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

[...] as Spencer Ackerman observes, the report calls on policymakers to be more careful about the missions they undertake, rejecting adventures “that exhibit a poor cost-benefit payoff and [...]


Coalition Budget: Thinking the unthinkable | Government Grants for Citizens
Pingback posted June 12, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

[...] Left-Right Defense Wonk Coalition Looks to Cut $960 Billion From … [...]


Joint Left-Right Task Force Proposes Defense Cuts
Pingback posted June 13, 2010 @ 12:04 am

[...] as Spencer Ackerman observes, the report calls on policymakers to be more careful about the missions they undertake, rejecting adventures “that exhibit a poor cost-benefit payoff and [...]


Guest
Comment posted June 21, 2010 @ 9:43 am

It's so much drivel. How can you trust a guy who thinks defense companies spend “billions” on PR? Billions of what, cents, rubles…?


Follow the Money: Pay freeze for civilian federal workers « The Ludic Ledger
Pingback posted November 29, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

[...] in the defense-spending tab look like? Earlier this summer, a bipartisan group of defense wonks tallied up $960 billion in potential cuts over the next decade. And Preble, along with Benjamin H. Friedman put together a plan to slash $1.2 trillion. You might [...]


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