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Cordesman: Enough With the Empty Defense-Reform Talk Already

Anthony Cordesman, a longtime defense wonk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has been around long enough to see effort after effort of Pentagon procurement, acquisition and contract reform founder. He doesn’t appear impressed with President Obama’s new attempt either.

Jason Sigger publishes an email Cordesman’s apparently sending around laying out some cut-the-crap approaches to reform. He’s not interested in adjudicating disputes over this program or that one. He’d rather set parameters for how to think about Pentagon reform across the board:

  • The third is that any meaningful strategy must be based on detailed force plans, procurement plans, program budgets, and measures of effectiveness.
  • The second is that no improvement in process can compensate for decisive and timely leadership.
  • The first is that there are no good intentions, only successful actions.

It’s hard to disagree with that, but it does leave the question of how to instantiate it. To Cordesman’s credit, he contends that Pentagon leaders are making decisions about reform in a strategic vacuum:

Is $533.7 billion in FY2010 and 4.2% of [the gross domestic product spent on defense] enough? Enough for what? Our most recent [Quadrennial Defense Review] is a morass of half thought-out ideas-many calling for further study or otherwise deferring tangible action. We don’t have a force plan. We don’t have a clearly defined, defenser-wide procurement plan. We don’t tie the QDR to end strength goals that are clearly defined and costed. We haven’t provided meaningful budget figures because the QDR is not tied to the FYDP. We haven’t set clear goals to be achieved. We have no metrics.

It might be worth adding that we also don’t have a clear vision on what the place of the military is in foreign policy and what the relative place of civilian agencies in missions like state-building or counterinsurgency or stability operations are, either. Without that, it’s hard to establish the supporting priorities and goals that drive the decisions Cordesman calls a morass. The Quadrennial Defense Review is an attempt, as it sounds, to reassess defense priorities every four years; there’s one due later this year. Perhaps it’ll introduce greater clarity on these questions.

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