Bob Gates Against the World excerpt)
(Source: CATO Institute blog; issued Aug. 10, 2010)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has again made headlines with a proposal to slow the growth of the Pentagon’s budget — already higher than at any point since World War II — by cutting overhead, waste and a top-heavy command structure.

The proposed shuttering of Joint Forces Command (Jif-Com) has elicited most of the press attention today, and prompted an impassioned plea from Virginia politicians, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, that the command remain open. Unhelpfully for Gov. McDonnell, outgoing Jif-Com head James Mattis (who will assume the title of CENTCOM), reportedly supports Gates’s decision.

But this isn’t the first time that opportunistic politicians have latched onto defense spending as a way to sprinkle economic benefits to their constituents, and at the expense of the rest of us. (In the same vein, Gates reportedly repeated his pledge to kill the entire DoD appropriation if it includes the unwanted C-17 and the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter that some members of Congress continue to push.)

Leaving aside the predictable political wailings, the reforms that Gates proposed are neither revolutionary, nor particularly controversial to most objective observers. Politico’s Gordon Lubold and Jen DiMascio in their ever-helpful Morning Defense newsletter point out that “The cuts seemed to take several pages out of the Defense Business Board task force led by [Arnold] Punaro that recently recommended many of the same trims.”

The true object of Gates latest round of economizing is to forestall calls for deeper cuts by a public frustrated by the high costs and dubious benefits of our military’s exertions over the years. Gates explained:

“What we need is modest, sustainable growth over a prolonged period of time that allows us to make sensible investment decisions and not have these giant increases and giant decreases that make efficiency and doing acquisition in a sensible way almost impossible.” (my emphasis)

But Gates either misapprehends or mischaracterizes the true source of the problem. U.S. military spending has grown for 13 years, 86 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1998 to 2011. Claiming that uncertainty over future military spending impedes effective planning and creates waste ignores that relative certainty over ever-rising defense budgets has enabled the very waste and mismanagement that Gates now proposes to cure. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full article, on the CATO website.

Gates Struggling To Prevent Defense Cuts By Congress
(Source: Lexington Institute; issued August 10, 2010)
(© Lexington Institute; reproduced by permission)
History will remember Robert Gates as the defense secretary who averted U.S. military defeat in Iraq. Right now, though, he is struggling to prevent a different kind of military setback: congressional budget cuts that could compel the military to reduce its force structure.

Gates remembers how congressional sentiment for defense cuts coalesced when the Vietnam War and Cold War ended, and he can sense the same sort of dynamic unfolding today. So he is two years into a series of measures aimed at proving the defense department can become more efficient without help from Capitol Hill. Last year weapons programs the department deemed unnecessary were cut by $330 billion, and now it is the bureaucracy's turn.

The latest installment in the efficiency drive came on August 9, when Secretary Gates proposed hiring freezes, reductions in contracted services, network consolidations and organizational shutdowns within his own office, various combatant commands and the defense agencies. Like the much larger savings in “overhead” he earlier directed the military services to identify, the goal of the August 9 proposals is to free up money for military modernization and personnel. His basic thesis is that the department can live with a flat budget in future years if it transfers money from non-essential functions to more important activities that currently look under-funded.

For example, Gates is convinced that funding for naval shipbuilding needs to be increased to cover the cost of developing a new class of ballistic-missile submarines without imposing corresponding cuts on other types of warships. But that money won't materialize within the flat budgets dictated by White House spending guidance unless it is freed up from other defense functions. So the defense industry has a real stake in seeing that the efficiency push succeeds, because even though it will lose money that might have gone to contracted services, more money will become available for next-generation military systems like the F-35 joint strike fighter and the Littoral Combat Ship.

One wrinkle in the August 9 announcements that may provide some additional good news for industry is that Gates does not intend to replace departing contractor personnel on a one-for-one basis with newly-hired civil servants. Instead, the ranks of federal workers will remain relatively stable as the contractor workforce engaged in administrative support declines. Gates thus appears to be defusing industry concern that the department might be hiring many thousands of new workers even as it asks companies to economize. That is a real step forward in departmental thinking that will make it easier to generate savings.

However, when you strip away the details of the August 9 proposals, a stark reality emerges: for all of his economizing, Secretary Gates does not want to cut the defense budget at all. He aims to shift money around within the budget so that it can be applied more productively, but he does not intend to return any money to the federal treasury for deficit reduction -- even though the government is spending $4 billion per day it does not have, and even though Gates himself noted last Summer that America is generating nearly half of all global military outlays. Gates thinks any cuts in force structure will make America less safe, but by refusing to entertain ideas for cutting the defense budget, he may be setting up his successor for a rough ride with Congress when it gets serious about deficit reduction. (ends)
Gates Preserves Military Muscle
(Source: Center for a New American Security; issued Aug. 10, 2010)
Caspar Weinberger was known as ‘Cap the Knife’ because of his ability to hold down government spending before he became Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense. Robert Gates may in the future leave the Pentagon with the moniker, ‘Bob the Belt-Tightener’ for his courage to champion responsible spending as Defense Secretary. And if Gates can successfully reallocate money to focus on military modernization priorities such as shipbuilding, he may well also be dubbed, ‘Bob the Builder.’

The Secretary’s speech will be viewed by different audiences through very different lenses. Those inside the Washington Beltway will tend to look at budget implications. Those abroad—allies, partners, and erstwhile foes alike—will examine its implications for their defenses. Some will worry about abandonment or, at a minimum, pressure to shoulder greater responsibly. Others may see it as a harbinger of American decline and deeper budget cuts yet to come, and thus an opportunity to assert more power in the years ahead. And still others may read it for what it mostly is: namely, a clear-eyed look at how to rebalance costs to preserve muscle and trim less urgent spending (though not necessarily fat).

No doubt Secretary Gates is concerned about America’s ballooning federal deficit. That deficit, if left unchecked, may by decade’s end consume more than 100 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Earlier this year the Secretary evocatively raised the specter of an out-of-control military-industrial complex, something that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against upon leaving the White House. “The gusher has been turned off,” the Secretary promised in May.

Nonetheless, his landmark speech on Monday was unabashedly not about balancing the federal budget or even cutting defense spending. Instead, it was aimed at salvaging America’s diminishing military force structure during an era of mounting security challenges. As he observed, the number of failed states, the military modernization programs of potential adversaries, and the breadth of challenges are hardly in retreat. The decades ahead look more hazardous, not less, to security planners.

The Quadrennial Defense Review released in February of this year discussed the need for making tough choices on spending but stopped short of linking its strategic assessment with a specific future force structure, except in broad brush strokes. Monday’s clarion call for new priorities was the next step in follow-through. The aim is to support the a U.S. defense strategy of “rebalanc(ing) the capabilities of America’s Armed Forces to prevail in today’s wars, while building the capabilities needed to deal with future threats.”

In other words, Gates is trying to not just articulate policy but to implement it as well, something we often forget about in Washington. He clearly wants Congress and the American people to know that he is willing to break existing iron rice bowls to ensure investment in the highest priorities.

His advocacy for closing the Joint Forces Command and trimming back contracting costs by a third are thus crucial steps for maintaining military modernization in the face of mounting threats. It is essential for the United States to invest in its muscle, even if means making sacrifices by retracting other parts of the organization.

The Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) has become a major employer in Virginia, and no one should be insensitive to job insecurity, especially in the current recession. Nonetheless, the Command—even under the venerable leadership of General James Mattis—never matched its initial promise to bring joint doctrine and joint force innovation and readiness to the U.S. Armed Forces. These requirements will once again have to be folded into other parts of the bureaucracy, whether that is the Joint Staff or Combatant Commands. If closing JFCOM can save enough money to halt the precipitous decline in American Naval power (and allow the Navy to head back up at least in the direction of the 313 ships judged to be needed to keep pace, for instance, with a rising China’s anti-access strategy and increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea), then it will have been a laudable tradeoff indeed.

Having written earlier this year on the need for ‘restraint’ to help bring growing U.S. commitments in line with our constricted means, I want to emphasize that it was never my intention to detract from American leadership. Instead, I simply want to help continuously underscore the economic foundations of our security and highlight the need for other allies and partners to contribute to the global collective good of security, broadly defined.

In the short term, the United States is likely to continue to seek to do more with less. But unless we find a way to invest in our people, our infrastructure, our innovation, our education, and our attractiveness as an economic and political model, all while using our hard power softly, we will have no alternative but to do less with less.

Secretary Gates has done about as much as one member of Cabinet can do to help steer the world’s largest defense budget in a more sustainable direction for protecting American interests. In doing so he has eschewed financial trickery for common sense. Common sense is worth a great deal in a century when information floods our lives. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, common sense is really “genius dressed in working clothes.” Those clothes are worn by Robert Gates.


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