Friday, November 11, 2011

Intelligent Defense Cuts

There has been a lot of kerfluffle over the national debt in politics today. The Tea Party has called for massive government spending cuts to agencies they believe superflous, while the Occupy Wall Street Protests allege that the government has been favoring the rich and budget cuts are only meant to weaken the middle class. Yet despite all of these complaints, there hasn't been much meaningful discussion about sensible budgetary reform to the defense department (one of the largest single expenditures in the national budget).

This isn't to say that there is no discussion of the subject. The problem is that such discussion comes in one of two forms. The first is when policymakers say that defense should never be cu because it would compromise its effectiveness. An example would be Secretary Panetta suggesting that large defense cuts would leave the military a paper tiger, or the standard GOP tactic of never cutting defense spending. This type of stance is naive because cuts can be made to the military without compromising its effectiveness (such as by reforming the TRICARE health system), yet still extract meaningful savings. Also, as Admiral Mullen (former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) said, debt is the top national security issue because the support, strength, and resources of the military are directly related to the health of the American economy.

On the other hand, you have the supercomittee suggesting blanket cuts to the defense department to the tune of approximately $315 billion or more, which Mullen said in September would make us "look into the abyss" if a crisis were to occur. The main complaint on Defense's side is that the committee is simply imposing cuts to meet a certain budget saving goal. And while it can be said that DoD often uses the rhetoric of an "ineffective" military to avoid budgetary scrutiny, simply making cuts across the board isn't the correct approach. Then you risk taking away money from programs that actually require a constant amount of funds.

The appropriate approach is to look at what in DoD can be made more efficient and what areas are truly unnecessary. Although there will be vested interests working to keep those unnecessary programs up and running and it will take time to properly evaluate what can be cut without compromising operational effectiveness, this is the appropriate approach to take when seeking budgetary savings in the defense department. Unfortunately, policymakers, thanks to the two-year election outlook, are much more likely to either prohibit cuts altogether or make cuts across the board because that's quicker than intelligent evaluation.

No comments: