Pentagon’s Budget Under Hagel: Let the Guessing Begin
By Sandra I. Erwin
President Barack Obama announced former Senator Chuck Hagel, second from left, as his nominee for Secretary of Defense in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 7.
President Obama’s nomination of former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel to become the next defense secretary has touched off a parlor game about the impact his appointment would have on future military spending.
Hagel’s wide-ranging remarks on national security issues over the past several years reveal a portrait of a deficit hawk and a foreign policy realist who would draw the line on questionable spending and military overreach.
His endorsement of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan also implies that Hagel sees significant bloat in the Defense Department’s budget.
The notions that the United States must reduce government spending and cut back on military commitments have been “consistent themes” during the 2012 presidential campaign, according to James McAleese, a defense industry adviser at McAleese & Associates.
Hagel’s strong support of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles debt reduction plan — which proposed to slash the federal deficit by $4 trillion via a mix of 43 percent discretionary cuts, 33 percent tax increases, 11 percent Medicare Cuts and 8 percent Social Security cuts — is leading to speculation that Hagel would be less tolerant of over-budget weapon systems than current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been.
McAleese’s analysis suggests that most big-ticket weapon programs would come under “immediate scrutiny” during a Hagel administration.
McAleese points to Dec. 2012 remarks by Hagel when he called for restraint in military interventions and for government agencies to be more disciplined in “distinguishing between the necessary and the merely desirable.” He also cites Hagel’s August 2011 interview with the Financial Times where he lamented that Obama opted to not embrace the Simpson-Bowles blueprint, although Hagel noted that the plan should only be “used as a starting point.”
If Hagel were to adopt Simpson-Bowles line by line,the outcome would be devastating to defense contractors, officials have said.
McAleese points out that the debt-reduction panel recommended a 15 percent cut to military procurement, including the termination of major programs such as the V-22 Osprey, the cancellation of 50 percent of the Air Force’s and Navy’s planned purchases of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and the termination of the Marine Corps’ F-35 variant. Other Army vehicle programs also would be jettisoned under the Simpson-Bowles plan.
In the Financial Times interview, Hagel said the “abuse, the waste, the fraud has been astounding. So I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down... I don’t think that the military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically, in a long time.”
McAleese warns that his analysis is only preliminary. But the message to defense industry is clear: Hagel might be more willing to crack down on big-ticket hardware and be more inclined than his recent predecessors to pare down the generals’ and admirals’ wish lists.
Military spending critic Winslow T. Wheeler, of the Project on Government Oversight, says that,whoever is the next defense secretary, faces tough choices.
“With the Department of Defense budget looking at no real growth or even reductions in the next few years, there will be a clear need for defense systems that offer more performance for less cost,” Winslow writes in ForeignPolicy.com.
Photo Credit: White House