The Obama administration released its second defense budget and an accompanying Pentagon strategy on
Q. In addition to releasing several strategic planning documents, the Obama administration unveiled its fiscal year 2011 defense budget request -- a
A. It's significantly more than last year's budget request, because last year's budget request did not take into account the surge in
Q. What did they get, and what will they be left wanting?
A. They got continued increases in military personnel in terms of pay, not as much as last year, but costs of employment haven't gone up as much in the past year. They got significant increases in Operation & Maintenance (defense dollars spent on everything from fuel to training, spare parts to healthcare); it's up over 7 percent over last year. A good portion of that is due to increases in military healthcare programs. They are increasing again as DoD said they would. Military healthcare now tops out at
Q. Over the last decade or so, personnel numbers haven't really changed, while the percentage of personnel costs in the budget have. How will this increase affect the Pentagon's ability to provide the most advanced equipment?
A. That really is the tension within the DoD budget right now. In this budget, about 62 percent goes to operations and support, and that includes direct costs of personnel in terms of pay, and also the cost of training and recruiting. That's 62 percent of the budget, and it's growing. It was only 60 percent last year, and this is a long-term trend we're seeing. There is a tension between funding for the people and the benefits, and funding for the equipment that they need to succeed in their missions. That's a tension that's only going to grow over time if the current trend continues.
Q. Does it suggest that the size of our armed forces is not sustainable?
A. That's a difficult question. Given the level of funding that we have, it certainly calls into question whether or not we can continue funding the military the way we have, and spending the money the way we have. What I'd suggest more than anything is that the benefits, particularly healthcare, are getting out of control, and DoD is going to have to do something to reign in these costs so they don't continue growing at the rates we've seen the past ten years.
Q. When Secretary Gates rolled out the budget, he said the funding priorities are meant to orient the Pentagon to fight today's wars while preparing for future threats. What's Gates saying, and how well does this budget meet his objective?
A. There's some evidence of this transition that Gates has talked about, this rebalancing, in the budget. There's increased funding for things like UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), rotary aircraft, and there's new programs that were called for in the QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review). But the thing that's troubling here is that the secretary is saying that we need to place a greater priority on the wars that we're in today and the most likely threats of the future, but that inherently means that other things must be lower priority. If you're actually going to prioritize things other things, things have to be moved down [the priority list]. We're not seeing evidence of that in the budget. There aren't any major weapons systems that are terminated, nothing new, and there's no real indication of where the department intends to take risks. That is, where's the department going to do less, or where is the department going to go without something in order to focus resources more on new priorities? We're not really seeing that in this budget. What that shows is that this rebalancing is not that great of a shift after all.
Q. What hasn't been addressed in this budget, and what should be done to address the holes?
A. Number one, like we were just talking about, is personnel costs. They really haven't done anything in terms of healthcare or the other personnel costs to get that part of the budget under control. So that's been left open. Also the programs that are in the DoD portfolio. If Secretary Gates is saying we're going to shift to focus more on irregular warfare and high-end, asymmetric-type warfare (from) this middle of the spectrum of conflict like the first Gulf War . . . you would expect to see (spending on middle of the spectrum warfare costs) reduced and that money used to fund programs that are at either end of the spectrum -- irregular warfare, or high-end, asymmetric-type warfare. And we're not seeing that.
Q. But each time you bring one of these programs to
A. Since (Gates) didn't propose as many this time, the real focus will be making (cuts) stick for the C-17 and the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine. Of course, these are two items that they proposed cutting last year, and
Q. In addition to the FY11 budget, the Pentagon released the 2010 QDR, a congressionally mandated roadmap of the U.S. military's future strategy. The budget funds the priorities laid out by the QDR. How do these two documents fit together?
A. I think it's safe to say that the 2010 QDR was not intended to be a big change. It's basically a continuation of the evolution of the previous QDR (from 2006). In that respect you wouldn't expect to see dramatic changes in the budget. Although it does call for rebalancing and reforming, reforming is hard to quantify in the budget. There are items like the addition of twenty thousand employees to the acquisition workforce, so that's part of acquisition reform, but a lot of reform is just really being smarter about how we do things. Being more transparent. In terms of rebalancing, there aren't many big program terminations; there aren't that many new starts, so there isn't that much money being moved around relative to the overall budget.
In fairness to the QDR, it's a very long-term-looking document. It's looking five, ten, fifteen, twenty years into the future, so you don't necessarily have to see money between accounts in the first year (budget), but you would expect to see it over time. There's a few examples of that, like with long-range strike (capabilities). They're putting a little over
Q. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
A. It's less monumental than it may appear. Secretary Gates said (on
Q. Secretary Gates has announced he's firing the general in charge of the beleaguered F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) program because of cost overruns, and he's withholding reward fees to
A. It's consistent with what Gates has said about acquisition reform in the past; programs that don't perform need to be held accountable. The difficulty here for the (
Q. So we shouldn't read too much into it?
A. The only thing to read into it is that (Secretary Gates) does not have much tolerance for poor performance. But this program is a critical program; the
Q. Given a bigger defense budget and few major program cuts, the defense establishment is elated, if stock values are any indication (
A. Part of what's happening in the defense-industry base is people read too much into a Democratic administration coming into office and there being real pressure on the federal budget overall because of soaring deficits. They read too much into it and construed massive cuts in defense spending in the future, particularly in acquisitions. That hasn't proven to be true. This administration hasn't cut defense spending at all but increased it to record levels, and it looks like for the foreseeable future defense acquisitions are going to continue increasing. What happened (on
America Rides off Into the Sunset
Victor Davis Hanson
National leaders have only long-term self-interests and so seek to expand their influence whenever they can. Obama better understand that. As such, a world without strong U.S. leadership really would become a far more dangerous place where the strong do as they please and the weak obey as they must.
U.S. Must Remain Active Diplomatic Player in Iraq
Henry A. Kissinger
So far, the Obama administration has recoiled from discussing Iraq's geo-strategic significance and especially America's relation to it. Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude itself on our consciousness. America's withdrawal from Iraq will not diminish the geo-strategic importance of the country even as it alters the context of it.
The Future of the U.S. Economy: 2050
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Mortimer B. Zuckerman
Class warfare, American style, is being waged between Main Street and Wall Street. With President Obama and Democrats in Congress turning up the populist heat against Wall Street, the financial community is losing. Its back is up against the wall. But the administration is also getting its share of the public's rage. So, Who's really to blame?
Fort Hood Report Reveals Deeper Dilemma
There were a couple of points that immediately stood out in the Pentagon's report on the shooting that left 13 dead and 43 wounded at Fort Hood in November. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton made note of them this month in the first of two congressional hearings on what went wrong.
Should the TSA Trust in Full-Body Scanners
The Heritage Foundation's James Jay Carafano recently argued that scanners will help stop terrorists, while FlyersRights.org's Kate Hanni wrote that they won't work. A sampling of your thoughts
Fast Trains Are Cool ... and Very Expensive
Of all the ways Florida could blow through $1.25 billion in federal recovery funds, a bullet train is certainly the flashiest. Connecting Tampa, Orlando and Miami by high-speed rail is a scheme that's been chugging around for decades, and the prospects for profitability are the same today as they always were: nil.
'People Movers' Ease Airport Hassles
Dulles inaugurated its new billion-dollar 'people mover,' and it should make life a lot easier for you whether you live in the area, visit the area, or have to change planes there. Dulles joins a number of other airports around the United States -- and the world -- that offer an easier and more convenient alternative to trekking through endless corridors or schlepping on and off buses
Our Census Reflects our Confusion
It is time to take another census, as we Americans do every 10 years, which means it is time again to argue about the census. If the census is designed to take a snapshot of our nation, the initial reaction looks like a family feud.
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