Thursday, January 6, 2011

Whisper of the Axe?

SecDef Gates announced today that he is going to take an axe to his own budget.

Not that the Defense budget is going to be CUT, exactly. Next year's budget request (FY13), estimated at about $530 billion, is still (adjusted for inflation) the largest since 1945. It will still be more than the combined military expenditures of every single nation on Earth. It will still - regardless of the global strategic situation or the geopolitical aims and interests of the United States - be divided within a percentage point of 33% into equal thirds for each of the three major services.

But Gates' proposal reduces the DoD growth to 3% this year and to inflation level (about 1-2%) for FY14 and FY15. He proposes to reduce the flag officer billets by roughly 100, and senior DoD civilian positions by as many as 200.

Included on the chopping block are the Marine's EFV, the Army's FCS (pretty much already dead at this point, but this is the official death certificate), and delays for the USAF's F-35 JSF. Several other programs are also scheduled to be taken out behind the Pentagon and given two in the back of the head.

What I will be intrigued to watch now is the reaction from Congress.

Not so much the Republicans, the (insert hysterical laughter here) "Daddy Party", the "Party of Fiscal Responsibility". Smaller government interests the GOP only if the government that is getting smaller gives money to brown people instead of kills them. No, the GOP will go batshit, because...well, because the GOP is batshit. Where military spending is concerned they are like a fourteen-year-old huffing glue and playing "Gears of War" nonstop for two days; they have not a lick of sense in them. Whatever useless knick-knack some overage-in-grade bull colonel says he wants they will want to give him, regardless of whatever dry-humping they have doing to their fiscal responsibility girlfriend in the meantime. We all know that regardless of what they say, they just want the feeling of that sweet, sweet, drone controller in their hands, a Paki Talib in their sights, and their heads ringing with the heady combination of Testor's and 4-Loko.

No, it's the Democrats I'll be watching. Here's their opportunity to make a principled stand, to act like statesmen instead of your tweaker uncle who shows up near the end of the month to mooch a couple of twenties and a half-rack of Natty Light off you to hold him over until the eagle shits. There will be quite a few of these guys, mostly in the House (which is the New Home of Batshit Crazy anyway), whose districts are going to take an economic hiding when they lose some of these defense contracts.

Supposedly Dwight Eisenhower chose to avoid the term "military-industrial-congressional complex" during his famous 1961 address to make nicety with the boys on Capitol Hill. It's too bad; in my experience among the worst offenders in the U.S. in terms of making poor choices about spending tax money on war toys are the ones lolling about the Congress, and that comes from someone who had the M792 GAMA Goat on his DA 348.

I'd like to get my hands on the sonofabitch who got that piece of used food through the acquisitions process...

So it will be interesting to see what happens now. Will this signal some real changes in the way the Pentagon does business? Or is this just another serving of cherry jello at the Five-Sided Funny Farm?


  1. Chief,

    Sorry, but this is one of my pet peeves: Sec. Gates can't cut his own budget. He's simply stating what he would like the Congress to do.

    Secondly, this is clever subterfuge by Sec. Gates. This "cut" is two parts: The $100 billion isn't a cut at all, it's just canceling programs and redirecting that money to other areas. The true "cuts" in this proposal (the $78 billion) are supposedly going to come from "efficiencies" and bureaucratic streamlining. You'll note that money from the "real" cuts - canceled procurement programs and the like - is going to be spent in other areas, while the vaporous savings from "efficiencies" will supposedly reduce the budget. I'll believe it when I see it.

  2. I heard an NPR radio report on this where several beltway insiders expressed tremendous admiration for Gates' bureaucratic skills.

    Gates gets to remove $100 billion from programs he doesn't like (admittedly some of them sound like real stinkers so he is doing some good with this move) and transfers it to programs he likes and gets credit for cutting $100 billion from the Pentagon budget.

    Nice work if you can get away with it.

    The Republican House says they want to challenge him on it and Gates has said that he'd be glad to meet with them. I'm sure he would. He'll give dozens of newbie congressmen a lesson in why you don't mess with Gates all at the same time. I'm sure the You-Tube videos will be priceless.

  3. Andy, Pluto: That's why I only called out the $78b - yeah, the other 100 is just juggling change from one pocket to another.

    Mind you, to us just-citizens, do you know how fishy it looks like that the SecDef can hold the bludgeon over the services heads and they suddenly, magically, manage to "find" $100b in "unneeded" programs, personnel, equipment, etc.? Makes us non-boot-wearers suspect that there may be a ton more stuff just "lying around", too...

    And it says something about the "never-never" world of defense accounting that reducing the GROWTH of the defense budget by $78b can be touted as a "cut". WTF, over?

    Like I say, I'll be watching this with interest when the FY12 DoD budget appropriation bill is presented next month. As discussed, the GOP will go all fruit bat, and that's just the kids in the toddler room having their little hissy. But if the Dems don't play ball, well...we've talked about how far down the road to dysfunctional our system is now. That will be another dead canary, IMO...

  4. "He proposes to reduce the flag officer billets by roughly 100, and senior DoD civilian positions by as many as 200."

    I love that line. But I think it is going to be tougher than the program cuts.

  5. mike: Very likely, and that's kinda sad, too. We have more flag officers now, with a military of about 1.5 million, than we did in 1945, when we had something between 10 and 12 million guy and gals in uniform. This SHOULD be a slam dunk. One of my complaints with DA when I was in was the sheer number of commissioned bodies that you could find lying about every headquarters. The state Guard head sheds, the STARCs, were a scandal of such proportions that even the Guard Bureau noticed and ordered the states to reduce the numbers there. Oregon did this, for example, by "farming out" their STARC officers to places like Camp Rilea and the other training sites.


  6. Great blog. Great post. However, i don't understand the partisan remarks. History didn't begin with W & Cheney. The Dems. have actually been more effective @ killing "brown people". White people too. Consider that, before the neocon takeover, wars were largely a dem. thing. The imperial presidencey didn't start with W/Cheney. Also, our current nobel peace prize winning POTUS is not only carrying on, but rammping up violence against the "brown people". The dem/repub. paradigm is a fraud. The welfare/warfare state goes on either way.

  7. Um, Anonymous, what partisan remarks? The only person mentioning W & Cheney is you. You'll find that everybody here is very well aware that a change of administration has no impact on the Pentagon budget.

    And why are you bringing a "killing brown people" comment to an admittedly cynical discussion on Pentagon budgeting and staffing practices?

    P.S. - Your last comment intrigued me a bit. What do you think will happen when the money starts running out, do we cut the welfare or the warfare first?

  8. I am having a hard time understanding the cynicism here. Okay, I take that back, I understand the reason for being cynical. Perhaps I am just being fooled, (but my FY 13-17 budget doesn't feel fooled) and don't understand Pentagon level Jedi Mind Tricks.

    The plan, as it has been communicated to me, isn't the old "do more with less", it is "do more with no more." And that is accurately reflected in the FY 13-17 budget proposal, as the graph in the article shows. Where the budget has steadily increased by at around 10% each year (which, by the way, is the standard, approved number used for inflation when we calculate our budget in the out years), I consider a leveling off of that tread as a reduction in future spending and a reversal from previous years.

    In this case, sure he is only truly slashing the budget by $78B when you look at from the current baseline, but if you the math, and project what the budget would have been in FY 17 if the current trend continued, he is actually reducing the cost of DoD close to $400b (based on a 10% increase per year per the previous trends).

    IMO, this FYDP (13-17) represents a plateau. The SecDef is trying to end the addiction and expectation that DoD has for growth in funding and the use of OCO (overseas contingency funds, the surplus given for the wars). Trust me, I am among the addicted. My name is Brian, and I am an OCO junkie. He is easing us off, trying not to break us at a time when we are still heavily deployed, but all the writing is on the wall that in 5 years, the severe cutbacks and reduction in force is coming. Thank God I only have 6 years left, if this year's food fights are any indication, I can see myself and people like me spending more time each year begging, borrowing and fighting for money than doing anything else.

  9. Good post and concur 100% on the points that proposed cuts are not even a mere trifling, that DoD cannot be in charge of cutting its own throat, that Gates is engaged in a diversion of sorts and that cutting flags is most likely the hardest of all!

    The 47K in endstrength that Gates is giving back are the same 47K that W and Rummy added in the darkness of 2006 Iraq failure.

    As for the Dems, no way they'll stand tall on principle and enact cuts against DoD. Not after they think they've gotten cred as a national security party. Why would they give the GOP more bashing points about cutting defense? They went thru this in the 80s and 90s (esp the 90s) and only just recently began to ease the right wing canard that Dems are anti-defense, anti-military and anti-troops.

    Nope. The only austerity will occur with a (an inevitable) great crash of the economy... a la USSR. Once the dollar cannot buy the troops, retirees or equipment - and the allies refuse to pay their tributes - it will be all over. And that will be a trauma! Taxes, or a war tax, might even be raised! Oh, teh horror!

    A realistic DoD budget in our current economic and true geo-political condition is about 1/2 to 2/3 of the existing budget - think FY00. Slicing the graft and over-reliance on contractors will so some, but not at all enough.


  10. Very interesting comments, bg. Thanks for sharing.

    Speaking solely as a civilian sitting far, far away from the whole process; I've become accustomed to being told that having only a 9% DOD budget increase might lose us the war on terror.

    Also the Republicans have a LOT of input in the budget these days and they tend to reflexively pump up the DOD budget (funny thing, a lot of DOD contractors live in their districts...) so things might not go Bob Gates' way this time. It wouldn't be the first time that Congress has given the DoD more money than they requested.

    So please forgive my cynicism if this time truly IS different.

  11. To be honest, even a reordering of priorities for spending would be a breath of fresh air. Reducing flag officers is one. However, Congress wants hardware (spelled jobs in their district) whether DOD does or not. Since we have no real strategic vision for the future, it's all a crap shoot.

  12. I doubt anyone around here is more cynical about Robert Gates than I am. In fact, I suspect that most who spent any time in the intelligence community while he was there share that with me. Having said that, I'm going to give Gates high marks for what he's doing here. Slowing down the defense pork barrel has always been a real bitch; in today's environment, it's well nigh impossible. Gates is at least trying and he's taking the right political tack: small steps.

    He's at least got the courage to call out programs such as the USMC's EFV as the worthless boondoggles they are. The Marines will be unhappy, just as they won't like the decision to stretch out their variant of the F35, the "B" model, which is yet another pig in a poke. The Army won't be happy about the cuts in their FCS boondoggle, but, hey, at least somebody in a position of authority is willing to publicly say that the emperor has no clothes.

    Our current acquisition model, with the individual services being able to pretty much spend their procurement dollars as they see fit, is fatally flawed. The fact is the USMC has absolutely fucked up the EFV procurement (and the V-22 as well), while the Army has been shooting itself in the foot with their FCS wet dream for 20 years now. Gates is seemingly alone in the highest reaches of government in his ability to tell the truth about these shitty programs.

    So I say good for Gates. What do you think? He should announce a sweeping one-third reduction in defense spending? Which is what's needed, of course. No. That's just not feasible, not in the good old USA. He's getting the ball rolling. And even the small steps he's taking might actually end up having long-term impact. Note BG's comments. BG's on active duty and he already sees that the gravy train is in trouble.

    Retired Patriot, one of my favorite commenters, is a cynic after my own heart. But I think he's a little off here. The great crash of the economy has in fact already occurred, and that's why Gates is the canary in the coal mine. Our crash just hasn't been dramatic. It's turning out to be a slow death, but it's a death nevertheless. Everybody knows the good times are gone. There will be a lot of posturing and inflammatory rhetoric, but everybody knows. Yeah, the generals and admirals will go away.

    And recent events in Tucson will not be helpful to certain parties.

  13. Pluto, You sir are correct. No 1 mentioned W/Cheney the imperial Pres. etc. I got ahead of myself there. However, re. this post, there are partisan implications to it. There is a brown people reference, with it's implications. No big deal. RE. my last comment, the money has run out a long time ago. We're now on a conterfeit operation. I'd give to Caesar his due.

  14. Publius - "The great crash of the economy has in fact already occurred, and that's why Gates is the canary in the coal mine."

    Hate to say this, Publius, but you're wrong here. The great crash in the economy started to occur but was prevented by a large number of legal and illegal government actions.

    The current economy is running on faith, both inside and outside the US, in the US government. As Anonymous indicates, that faith is already running low in certain areas. The crash will resume when the faith reaches a low enough point. I'm not sure when that will occur but think it will be in the next 6-10 years at the current burn rate.

    Anonymous, thank you for the polite response. Please explain the partisan implications you see in our statements (other than my comment about the Republicans, which I view as a statement of fact rather than a partisan slam). The Republican's love beating up the Democrats for being soft on foreign policy and one of the ways they "prove" this is by continually increasing the DoD budget.

    But the D's love to run up the DoD budget just as much as the R's do. Just look at Johnson's "Guns and Butter" program of the 1960's and Obama's 10% per year increases in the US military budget for proof of my statements. Some years the two parties get into contests over who can raise the budget more than the other party.

    As for your comment on the money (confidence in the US government); no, it most definite HAS NOT run out yet. I would argue that virtually every intelligent person who has any understanding of the facts can see that it IS running out, the only questions are WHEN will it run out and WHAT will happen then.

    Anybody who tells you that they know what and when is lying to you. I know this because I thought for a long time that I knew what and when and I was continually wrong.

  15. Bg, Publius,

    Ok, you guys have made a compelling argument and convinced me. We've got to start somewhere and we've got to start soon and kudos to Gates for getting the ball rolling. Hopefully our venal Congress will show some stomach and in that regard I remain a cynic.

  16. @Publius, thanks for the compliment! I guess I am with anon and Pluto re: the current economy. Not only is it a counterfeit zombie, but it is running almost solely on petroleum. none more so than our "warriors" posted to the far edges of the Empire -- places notoriously far from any energy sources at that. So while the canary might be dead (as Gates sorta indicates), true recognition, followed by informed debate, strategerizing and prioritization have yet to occur. Or even really get discussed (except by the demagogues).

    No. Gates is tinkering at the edges. At best. Like Chu, Clinton and the rest, they are neither thinking anew nor acting anew in what might be the last period of time available to cushion the empire's fall. And I'm not at all convinced that these fine servants could even think in these ways -- if they were allowed. As for the majority of their cohorts, they're only after one thing before the party ends - to have the most since that seems to be the only accepted metric of success in America today.

    Believe me when I say that I have no joy in my cynicism and weep for what we've become -- and what we could have been.


  17. bg: 10% was your baseline? For inflation? WTF? Inflation hasn't run above 5% since '91, and to get double digit inflation you need to go all the way back to Reagan I, and that was just for the worst kick of the "oil shock" period between '79 and '81.

    I need to talk my boss into setting my budget growth the way your boss did. 10% p.a.? I'd be in tall cotton!