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An Unconventional Choice to Scrub the Pentagon Budget

Earlier today I was chatting with a Pentagon official — anonymously, of course — about the Defense Department’s forthcoming fiscal 2010 budget. My source noted that Michael Vickers is one of a “small group” of people trying to harmonize the goodie-bag-filled budget request from the outgoing administration with the belt-tightening stipulations from the Obama team’s Office of Management and Budget, on behalf of Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

As a former CIA officer turned well-respected assistant secretary of defense for (deep breath) special operations, low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, Vickers is, on the face of things, an unusual choice for such a job. But the guy is also a bona fide budgeting expert, from back when he was at Andy Krepinevich’s think tank, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. (I thought I was all slick with the news of Vickers’ inclusion in this budgetary “small group,” but it turns out that InsideDefense had this already.)

I have a request out to talk to Vickers, but this is a reasonably good sign that Gates intends to make good on his recent calls to rebalance the way the Pentagon budget and acquisitions process buys a lot of stuff that isn’t relevant to the two wars the United States is currently fighting. Vickers has a long history of discussing imbalances in Pentagon budgetary priorities and how irregular warfare often gets the shaft. Indeed, a presentation he gave to a House panel in November 2005 argued that “the current defense portfolio is out of balance” and specifically criticized the Pentagon for having “excess capacity for traditional challenges — and not enough for irregular warfare (i.e., [the war on terror]), disruptive threats (i.e., China), and countering WMD.” (He did, however, urge greater purchases of the F-22 fighter jet in addition to greater surveillance capabilities, so it’s not as if he’s a zealot.)

Andy Krepinevich, Vickers’ old boss, said not to read too much into Vickers’ writings for the think tank, since he hadn’t been there in two years and “so much has changed — Iraq has simmered down, Afghanistan has bubbled up.” Still, it’s hard to see how the Pentagon’s budgetary priorities have privileged irregular warfare since Vickers left CSBA and entered the Defense Department.

One interesting footnote: one of Vickers’ old CSBA colleagues is Steve Kosiak — they’ve even collaborated on some reports over the years — and now Kosiak is head of defense programs for that very same Office of Management and Budget, so that might help explain Vickers’ inclusion in the process. “The two of them got along well,” said Krepinevich. “That relationship will come in handy.”

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