DoD’s strategy doesn’t match its budget

From air strikes hitting the Islamic State group to troops mobilizing in Ukraine and Russia, U.S. military activity escalates worldwide. But the uptick in military action doesn’t quite match with the Defense Department’s flat or shrinking budgets.

“These sequestration-level budget caps Congress has put in place are not going to be sufficient resources to execute the defense program and strategy that DoD is trying to execute right now,” said Todd Harrison, senior fellow for Defense Budget Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA).

Harrison spoke to Tom Temin on the Federal Drive Friday about the center’s new analysis of the fiscal year 2015 defense budget.

The report examines gaps between DoD’s projected budgets and its long term strategy laid out in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.

Time for a new strategy

Based on his analysis, Harrison says DoD will need between $200 billion and $300 billion more than budget caps allow to move forward with its current strategy.

“I think we’re at a point — because of the changing strategic environment, the threat environment and the fiscal environment — that the U.S. military’s got to stop and rethink its strategy and its roles and missions,” Harrison said.

He says Congress needs to give the Pentagon more flexibility, including reforms to military compensation and health care system, reductions in force size and the leeway to retire legacy weapons systems.

“We’re not going to be able to afford the size force that we would need to execute the strategy that we’ve developed,” Harrison said.

To cope with budget caps, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in February proposed shrinking most of the services, including reducing Army force structure to 490,000 by the end of next fiscal year.

The Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) proposes changes to compensation that would slow the growth of personnel costs and implement a 1 percent pay raise instead of one at 1.8 percent. DoD estimates these changes could save $31 billion over the next five years.

Support for BRAC

Harrison also supports Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which has faced reluctance from Congress. DoD currently is at an estimated 20 percent excess capacity .

Lawmakers “are saying, ‘No way. We don’t want you to get more efficient and more effective. We want to keep that waste, because that preserves jobs in our districts,'” Harrison said.

Many members of Congress are slow to grow receptive to BRAC because of the expenses incurred during the round of BRAC in 2005. According to CSBA’s analysis, the 2005 BRAC was the most expensive BRAC to date, costing more than all previous rounds of base closure combined.

In the long run, however, BRAC results in net savings because “the savings achieved during the implementation period continue to accrue while the costs do not,” the report said.

Whether Congress allots DoD a greater budget, or DoD realigns its strategy to fit into the given appropriations, Harrison says the “key conclusion” from his analysis is for the department and lawmakers to “break the cycle” of disagreement.

“Everyone wants the same thing. They want strong national security. They want to keep America safe and keep our interests safe around the world,” Harrison said. “The disagreements tend to come on how to do that. … There are no easy answers.”

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