US Defense Planning
July 21, 2010
There is no doubt that the US is capable of conceptual thinking about national security. What is far less clear is that the US is capable of efficiently translating such concepts into practice: The need to effectively manage defense programs and budgets, and deal with immediate and near term needs. The US often seems to lose sight of the fact that concepts are not a strategy – which must be defined in terms of specific milestones for action, credible forces and resources, and meaningful tests of its effectiveness.
This is not a casual need. Ever since the end of the Cold War, the Department has struggled to create a stable mix of force plans, procurement plans, manpower plans, and readiness plans it can actually afford. The resulting failures did not matter much, as long as it could draw on the surplus assets freed up by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. But this surplus is now long gone. It has been consumed in two long wars, and by a series of failures to control costs.
Report after report by the GAO has documented the procurement side of these failures, and they are only part of the story. The steady escalation of personnel costs presents growing failures, as does maintaining readiness. At the same time, the US faces major new pressures on all federal spending because of massive increases in the deficit and in entitlements costs, and because its aging population has not saved for retirement.
US national security planning must continue to examine new ideas and concepts, but it needs to put far more emphasis on effective near and mid term planning and decision making. Speculating about what may be necessary more than a decade in the future has its place, as do efforts to set a broad policy context for national security. It is time, however, to focus on the period that current decision makers can actually affect, and the forces and defense posture that they can actually shape.
To date, the Department has failed to deal with these issues at any meaningful level. Its planning tools are decoupled from its budgeting and program efforts, and its efforts at reform consist largely of cuts in force or equipment strength, and procurement cancellations, reductions, and deferrals. Even if one ignores the problems caused by rising entitlements and deficits, the Department faces growing pressures on its baseline budget at a time it cannot effectively control either its manpower or its procurement expenditures, and is still groping to find a way to plan, program, and budget for America’s ongoing wars.
The Burke Chair has developed a five part series analyzing these issues. The first analysis covers the critical problems in creating an effective planning, programming, and budget system that can be linked to meaningful strategy documents. This analysis is entitled US Defense Planning and can be found on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/100721_PerformanceBudgeting.pdf.
The other four analyses will be issued over the coming weeks and include the following reports:
- The Coming Challenges in Defense Planning Programming and Budgeting: This brief analyzes the budgeting and planning challenges the Department of Defense (DOD) faces at it enters FY 2011. In particular, it focuses on the budgeting and planning challenges raised by rising Operations and Maintenance costs, sustained high tempo of operations, rising Military Personnel costs, procurement process inefficiency and expanding entitlements for military personnel and their families.
- The Macroeconomics of US Defense Spending: This brief begins by comparing US economic prospects and defense spending with those of the rest of the international community. It then focuses on the interaction of the US federal budget and defense spending in the context of the domestic macroeconomic realities with which the US is faced. In particular, this brief gives special attention to the potential threat that rapidly rising entitlements spending and debt service payments pose to national security.
- The Uncertain Cost of War(s): This brief attempts to reveal the difficulty of accurately assessing the real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This brief then focuses on the problem of the Department of Defense’s over-reliance on “emergency” supplemental funding for Overseas Contingency Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and identifies a few implications past budgeting and planning errors might have for future operations overseas.
- “Unplanning” for Uncertainty: This particular brief focuses on recent changes in and additions to the DOD’s planning priorities as laid out in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Report. Moreover, this brief analyzes how planned outlays stated in the DOD’s FY 2011 Budget Request reflect or fail to reflect these stated planning priorities.