Fiscal Cliff 2013: Here Is the Right Way to Reform the Defense Budget

The upcoming fiscal cliff has forced Congress to identify spending cuts across the federal budget. The cuts will include reductions to the Department of Defense budget currently proposed at $613 billion. Even though the DoD has reduced its budget from $645 billion, more reductions will be expected. While the DoD will have find those savings, Congress will have to refrain from manipulating the budget for their own convenience.

A recent report identified that the DoD should accept short term risks as part of budget cuts. The report, provided by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, stated that accepting these risks was not ideal but they would be better than reductions in force structure or modernization efforts. Special operations forces, cyberspace warfare, and other programs should be exempt from cuts according to the report. While the exercise was designed to be strategy drill and not a budget drill, it overlooked two important DoD strategies that can create long term cost savings.

The first strategy that DoD should review is its acquisition strategy. A Government Accountability Office report identified that in 2011 the DoD had 96 major defense acquisition programs. In that year, the total cost of these programs grew by over $74.4 billion. Increasing funding for a program does not guarantee its success, as indicated by the number of program cancellations in the past. This was money that was wasted and should have been cut off sooner rather than later. The DoD must ask itself what it is funding and why in order to prevent future waste. It should also set parameters to prevent funding programs that are outdated or have limited value to the modern battlefront.

The second strategy review for DoD is its use of contracted support for engineering services. In fiscal year 2011, the DoD spent almost $33 billion for this type of support. The DoD should ask itself who it has on its payroll and why in order to reduce this amount. While some of the costs may be attributed to military efforts in the Middle East, many are not. If the DoD is going to reduce spending, then this funding should be scrutinized to ascertain its effectiveness. Ongoing support may be transferred to military members, the civil service, or possibly other DoD components.

As part of the budget process, the DoD budget, part of the president’s budget proposal, is reviewed by various committees and sub-committees in Congress. It is here that the “all politics is local” mentality takes over. Representatives and senators change the amounts of funding for various programs based on the impact on their constituents. As they increase the number of ships or aircraft for some programs, they force a decrease in others. This action is more than one man’s pork is another man’s problem. It forces DoD components to make sacrifices based on politics instead of strategy.

The seriousness of the fiscal cliff cannot be overstated. If the DoD is serious then it must look at its’ acquisition strategy as well as reducing the numbers of contractors. If Congress is serious about reducing the DoD budget, then they have to stop playing politics with it. Ultimately, the pain and suffering will be felt by the taxpayers. They are not the “experts,” but they do pay the bills.