Earlier in the year, as part of the article that details the 2011 Department of Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed into law Jan. 7, 2011, we asked a select group of people how they would rewrite the current defense budget, with an eye toward the cuts everyone expects are just over the horizon. While we didn’t immediately run these sidebars with the online reprint of the budget piece, we are sharing them now because of their interest in light of current events and future budgets.
I don’t know that I would have done anything different in terms of the presidential budget submission. I say that because I believe Secretary [Robert] Gates, when he comes out with his 2012 budget, is going to add several program terminations that one could argue should have been made when he made the other program terminations last year. I believe whether it’s the Army’s portfolio capabilities, the review process that the Vice Chief Gen. Chiarelli is spearheading, and/or the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] decisions on weapon systems that compete in the same mission area, I’m convinced that some of them are going to be cancelled by the secretary of defense. Now the question is: Will Congress go along with it?
Secretary Gates, I think, has been extremely intelligent in saying: “I doubt whether under any scenario, under any congressional split between Republicans and Democrats, we’re going to see a 1-, 2-, or 3-percent real increase, taking into consideration inflation, in the defense topline.” So correctly, he said, “Look, I am going to do everything in my power to drive this department to find $101 billion in internal savings in order to reinvest those savings to maintain at least a 1-percent real growth margin in the defense topline.”
Also, I think it’s a mistake to say rising personnel costs are the single greatest obstacle to a sustainable defense budget. Secretary Gates’ initiative to find $101 billion in internal savings between 2012 and 2016, across the entire defense budget, is designed to appropriately fund force structure and modernization. Often, force structure and modernization have been competing interests in terms of the defense topline. Now, if one assumes the secretary can be successful, one can argue that force structure and modernization will be appropriately funded. But I believe – although he hasn’t said this in so many words – the secretary is also assuming there can be some slowing in the growth of our personnel cost structure for the active component, the Reserve component, and retiree benefits and pensions.
So it’s wrong to say that personnel costs are the greatest obstacle to a sustainable defense budget, because if one assumes that a sustainable defense budget is one that only grows from the base now of 1 percent per year in real growth – if that’s the definition of a sustainable defense budget – then you not only have to look at how one can manage the growth of personnel costs, but one also has to look at finding the internal savings to maintain an Army at 570,000 active-duty members and modernize … because if the cuts, the so-called savings, the so-called efficiencies, are going to be put on the backs of the Army and the Marine Corps from the point of view, “Well, we don’t need to have as many of you anymore,” that is in my view taking an enormous risk and one that’s not a very smart decision.
This text first appeared in The Year in Defense, 2010 Review, Winter 2011 Edition.