Navy executive: DoD budget process must keep up with real needs

Juliet Beyler describes herself as the “money, people and things” person for her region of the Navy. She is one of three people with the title of executive director, each working for one of the Navy’s four-star commands. Those are U.S. Fleet Forces at Norfolk, Virginia; Pacific Fleet in Hawaii; and Naval Forces Europe and Africa, where Beyler works from Naples, Italy.

The top uniforms focus on the fleet as fighting unit. “My job,” Beyler said, “is to focus on getting the the things they need to fight.”

That requires more than ensuring the fleet forces have enough fuel, gray paint and potatoes. Naval strategies, Beyler said, must align with national defense strategy. Therefore the executive directors also focus on what joint commanders in the respective theaters “are looking for us to do as the naval component of those theaters.” This while also supporting the force commander’s “cardinal priorities,” she added.

Planning for the future – ensuring sufficient money, people and things are there to support the strategy – is neither simple nor linear. Threats change, the Navy must move resources and deploy numbered fleets in different ways. Congressional priorities change, and even then appropriations are almost never available on the first day of a fiscal year.

Beyler said her challenge is balancing all this against the multi-year spending system known as the planning, programming, budgeting and execution process. PPBE starts with a document known as the POM, or Program Objective Memorandum. The core of the PPBE, originally known as PPBS, was established under Robert S. McNamara in the 1960s and has undergone alterations from time to time. Congress recently established a commission to study reform, but it won’t have even an interim report until early 2023.

For now, then, the PPBE is what it is, and military leaders must deal with it.

“It’s a very dynamic theater, and things are changing,” Beyler said. “But of course, the POM cycle is, you identify something, and it’s two to three years later that you might see the initiation of that resourcing. That’s a challenge that we’re facing right now.”

Beyler cited the need for systems and operations to blend with NATO forces, and the developing plans for more “laydown” strength in the Arctic region as the types of dynamics that somehow have to translate into the right resources at the right time through the four-year PPBE.

She added, priorities have sometimes changed by the time money comes through. “In military construction, for instance, we have projects that were planned five, six, seven years ago, and now we’re getting ready to break ground. They finally made it all the way through the budget process.” Sometimes that gives rise to the question, “Is that really where we need the construction dollars right now?”

Spreadsheets still rule

With respect to the planning and budget process, Beyler noted that the Navy is working on a project to make a digital POM.

“But at least in Naval Forces Europe and Africa, unfortunately, we are still very much working with spreadsheets,” she said. It’s often difficult, she added, to gather the data needed to evaluate programs and make the case for budget requests.

The various operating groups, Beyler said, have a good handle on their immediate budgetary needs. What’s more difficult under the PPBE is how to match up long-term plans and budgets.

In the Arctic example, Beyler said, “We say we need to operate up there. We say we need more access, but have we actually put in everything that we need to make that happen. Do we have the logistics? Do we have the international agreements? Do we have the military construction? Have we looked at the IT infrastructure? Do we have the theater logistic lines? For us, it’s looking at what we have in the POM and making sure that we’re covering everything that we need to cover.”

Often, the Navy can reallocate current dollars for an operational need – itself a time-consuming process. For example, the need may arise to deploy a certain number of P8 submarine detecting aircraft. Should that develop into a longer-term requirement, Beyler said, it can also turn into a budgeting challenge.

“What we haven’t done very well is then work that back through the process to say, okay, how do we ensure that we build the budget to ensure that we fund that requirement moving forward? We’ve solved an emergent problem, but we’ve created a longer term problem for ourselves, because we haven’t actually tied it into the PPBE process.”

Beyler doesn’t find the PPBE process totally inflexible, but says it can present difficulties in dynamic situations. She added, “It’s trying to be everything to everybody, from the acquisition community all the way to … the very operational day-to-day Echelon 2 level. And so, how do you make a system that works for everyone?”

Pulling together data for long term planning can also present a challenge.

“We are very much trying to work to how we are measuring the return on investment on the operations activities and investments that we make throughout the Europe and Africa theatres,” Beyler said. “And then, how do we articulate that value not only to our combatant commanders, but as well to the Navy.”

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