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Pentagon Budgeting Secrecy: A Good Thing?

In the abstract, this sounds like a terrible idea, but in this particular case, it might be worthy. Subscription-only Inside The Pentagon reports that Defense Secretary Bob Gates is forcing all participants in his fiscal 2010 defense-budget review to sign non-disclosure agreements. Sounds awful, right? An outrageous affront against openness and disclosure?

Well, it might be a reformist measure.

As ITP’s Jason Sherman explains, what usually happens in budgetary meetings is representatives from a military constituency see their ox at risk of being gored, so they blab to the press or to sympathetic Hill staffers or affiliated contractors about The Great Calamity About to Befall National Security. Miraculously, everyone’s ox is spared, defense budgets bloat, and wasteful programs perpetuate themselves.

“Obviously, he is trying to break the iron triangle,” said the former Pentagon official, referring to the trio of forces — lawmakers, defense contractors and the Defense Department — that shape military spending. “The goal is to buy enough time to make an honest evaluation before you start responding to all the outsize buzz. The longer you can hold those guys off and look at it internally,” the former official said, the better the chance to construct a comprehensive proposal that can be presented in its entirety.

It appeared last night from President Obama’s speech that difficult budgetary choices are indeed forthcoming from the Pentagon. That surely got the attention of every defense lobbyist on Capitol Hill and northern Virginia. Gates’ battening of the hatches is an indication that he just might mean what he says about cutting Pentagon waste.

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