Defense Pundits Tackle Myths and Truths about the Military Budget

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Pentagon’s budget, for the first time in more than a decade, is coming under intense political fire. Critics from the right and the left are raising a ruckus about the Obama administration’s decision to shelter the Pentagon from the painful cuts that other agencies are having to make. Even the U.S. top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, has called out the soaring federal debt as a threat to national security.
The heated debate only will intensify as the nation’s deficits spin out of control. To shape the conversation, one of Washington’s watchdog think tanks, the Center for Defense Information, is publishing a book of essays by 10 insiders and retired officers. Collectively, the essays are intended to help understand how the defense budget sausage is really made. Titled, “The Pentagon Labyrinth,” it covers topics such as, “Decoding the Defense Budget,” “Penetrating the Pentagon,” and “Evaluating Weapons: Sorting the Good from the Bad.”
Inside the Beltway, the defense cognoscenti constantly are being flooded by news stories, think tank studies, congressional and inspector-general reports about defense issues. Nonetheless, there are widespread misconceptions about military spending, and about how key decisions are made, contends Pentagon Labyrinth editorWinslow T. Wheeler. This book, he writes, “aims to help newcomers as well as seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense.”Wheeler, a former Senate staffer and longtime critic of Pentagon spending, is director of theStraus Military Reform Project at theCenter for Defense Information, which is funded bypublic donations and foundation grants.
“Given the uncertainty of the DOD budget environment, continuing questions about how to proceed with Afghanistan, the Middle East and China, and Americans' tentative sense of security in a time of extremely high defense spending, we believe the release of this unique publication is timely,” Wheeler said.
A few “Labyrinth” nuggets:
• Despite the doubling of the defense budget since 1998, equipment and weapons are being worn out and not replaced.
•Congress has abandoned critical oversight functions, especially with regard to providing the common defense and to declare war.
• Acronyms have long played a part in the language of a wide variety of human communities. Few other realms, however, can compete with the American defense establishment when it comes to the number, variety and pervasiveness of such synthetic words. Indeed, we have reached a point where there are communities within the defense establishment that use acronyms made up of other acronyms.
• It is difficult to find another process that has been studied more than Defense Department weapon acquisitions. Every three to four years, yet another high-level study is commissioned to review program management. Yet, the same problems persist. The U.S. government has the tools and expertise to make substantial reductions in the cost overruns, performance disappointments and schedule slips that plague our weapon programs. What we do not have, or have not had consistently, is the determination to apply the available tools.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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