Tales of the Unbelievable

by Dave Schuler on February 18, 2013

Can anybody seriously believe that the Pentagon is unable to cut $55 billion a year from its budget without compromising national security? Based on the prescriptions that are being offered, I see that a “firemen first” strategy is being employed, i.e. they’re proposing cuts where they will hurt the most rather than where they will hurt the least, hoping to build political support for a reprieve from any cuts at all.

Here’s my modest proposal for reducing costs: cut the number of general officers in half. That will do a lot more than just reducing the payroll by a few highly compensated individuals. For one thing, all of those general officers have their own spending priorities, some they’ve been advocating for decades.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew February 18, 2013 at 9:54 am

As I have noted before, I have no idea what the proper military budget is. Mr. Joyner has posited cut by half. Intuitively that seems too much.

That said, I share the sentiment that it is inconceivable that significant reductions cannot be made, just like all government (and large corporate) budgets.

What prompted this comment was the – correct and spot on in my opinion – observation that it is the individuals involved who build their empires and drive up expenses. Government employees and pols. This is the root of the problem, and what no one in Washington, state or local government wants to admit. Better, arguments about Armegeddon…

PD Shaw February 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm

What I’ve understood is that its not the size of the cuts, but that they constitute arbitrary across-the-board cuts, treating more important programs the same as less important. It was designed for hostage-taking purposes.

If so, two questions: (1) Can the Republicans (the presumed hostages) present an alternative selection of military cuts equal to $55 billion? (2) Would Democrats (presumably in the Senate) act to block the Republicans from unilaterally freeing themselves from the hostage crisis?

I don’t have the answer to either of those questions.

steve February 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Across the board cuts are nearly always a bad idea. Make Panetta and the JCOS earn their pay. Tell them how much they have to spend. Let them decide what to cut.

Steve

jan February 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm

If the sequester goes through is it going to be straight across-the-board cuts, or does the president have the power to make the call on where these cuts will be made? I’ve heard that the WH is at the helm on this, and is threatening to make the cuts painful should the republicans not heel to his demands.

Drew February 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

“Across the board cuts are nearly always a bad idea. Make Panetta and the JCOS earn their pay. Tell them how much they have to spend. Let them decide what to cut.”

I think this is exactly correct. That’s how a real business would do it: target an aggregate number. Line by line expense items always have a constituency. The one caveat is what jan points out. In our companies the board will step in if it feels things are getting out of hand. It will surprise no one that I don’t trust Obama one wit. Just look at the triumph of ideology over sense with solar power.

Andy February 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm

A couple of things,

First, the fiscal year is 1/2 over, so the cuts for this year will have to be implemented by Sept. 30th. Granted, many agencies have been “saving” the past two quarters in preparation, but it hasn’t been enough.

Secondly, the sequestration was specifically designed to not allow a simple top-line budget cut. That was part of the “gun-to-the-head” strategy to force Congress and the President to avoid the sequestration. Obviously, that was a miscalculation and the cuts will likely go through. The result is that each program or account will have to be cut. OMB’s guidance does provide the maximum flexibility allowed in the law, which isn’t much. The sequestration is coming on top of about $50 billion a year in planned defense cuts over the next 10 years. That $50 billion is manageable because it’s a top-line number and is part of the long-term defense planning and the cuts are “programmed in.” The sequestration isn’t. The DoD is a huge bureaucratic, inflexible institution. It is not capable of dealing with these kinds of cuts on this timeline without programmatic adjustments. Again, the people who created the sequestration knew this and knew the DoD and the various other affected agencies would not be able to manage these cuts in a coherent, efficient manner.

Third, I completely agree there are way too many generals in the US military (it’s been a personal complaint of mine for close to 20 years), but I think it would be very difficult to essentially force the retirement of 50% of the general officer corps in the next six months. Many positions are created by statute and can’t simply be dispensed with – at least not for long. Besides, the President has the authority under the sequestration law to exempt military personnel and the word on the street is that he intends to do so. Hence the bulk of personnel actions will fall on temporary workers and the civilian workforce.

All this just highlights what I’ve been saying for a long time, which is that the national security institutions need reform on the scope and scale of the 1947 NSA. The sequestration was specifically designed to be difficult under the current structure and cause a lot of problems – it was never meant to actually take effect. It was designed to prevent easy solutions. And it was designed to be costly – some of the “savings” will undoubtedly be lost due to increased costs down the road, contract penalties, lawsuits, etc. so the cost is likely to be more than the advertised $55 billion.

At the end of the day this isn’t as bad as the rhetoric suggests, but it’s bad enough that the negative impacts will be substantial and lasting. I’ve long said we need to cut defense spending, but this isn’t the way to do it.

PD Shaw February 19, 2013 at 7:54 am

Thanks for the input, Andy.

jan February 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm

“At the end of the day this isn’t as bad as the rhetoric suggests, but it’s bad enough that the negative impacts will be substantial and lasting. “

While I think you’re right, Andy, IMO nothing will change in this country unless economical impacts, on everyone, do become substantial and lasting. People don’t listen, let alone support difficult changes, absent a painful catalyst.

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