The Defense world is all atwitter at the upcoming peek at the DoD 2015 budget that Secretary Hagel will be giving today and thus kicking off a new round of olympic games, the Budget Olympithon (let’s just call it the Bolympics), which will most likely last until at least Christmas. After two weeks of the NBC olympi-blitz I was growing just a bit weary of yet another human interest story. Unfortunately never-ceasing “breaking news” about the olympics will be replaced with never-ceasing “breaking news” about the DoD budget for the next 8 months . I know I sound a bit cynical, but after scanning the copious quantities of DoD budget-related news this morning I had to sigh. I am always fascinated at the obsession of the press with the “Winners and Losers” angle. Given the huge barrel of bucks residing in the Pentagon coffers it’s hard to picture a loser. My experience is that there are big winners and some not so big winners and then the rest of the pack. Ironically the winners are generally the ones who deserve to win the least, while the solid performers wind up paying the bills. It’s the ultimate penally for being good–they take your money to reward another program for being bad. Particularly interesting given the recent “focus” on ethics and truth-telling at DoD. Let me see…”Rob the poor to pay the rich?” Did I get that right?
Anyway, there is huge swirl around the DoD budget this year and SECDEF Hagel will increase the vorticity today at 1PM EST as he divulges the worst kept secret in DC-The DoD Budget. Already we know it will basically ignore sequestration and come in around $496 Billion with $30 Billion or so in war costs, plus another $26 Billion in “unfounded”….. oooppsss, I mean “unfunded” requirements (see Kids in the Grocery Store Checkout Aisle). Your losers: Less Army, less Marines, less ships, less airplanes, less ground vehicles, less commissary subsidies, more TRICARE premiums, less compensation, fewer overseas bases, less of this and less of that. Your winners: Less JSFs but at higher cost (odd how that is considered a winner isn’t it?), more ethics, more readiness, more American-made flags flying over our bases and more technology investments. There are a few that I have a hard time placing in a category: Like a pay freeze for top brass (already the most richly compensated group in DoD, especially considering the fact that many of the top guys will actually make 10-15% or more more in retirement than on active duty). But alas, we all have to make sacrifices, don’t we? Or how about the National Defense Strategy itself? It’s hard to see where the money for the shift to Asia-Pacific region ( a major part of the strategy) resides in the budget. Are they winners or losers? Only our panel of Bolympic judges (sometime known as Congress) can tell.
I also am fascinated by the disconnect between the concern by leadership to be ethical and the budget submission. The happy talk is that people are DoD’s most important resource, yet that’s where a big chunk of cuts are placed. I’m not talking about reducing the number of people, but all the other promises that were, oh so easy to make, when we were at war…like Tricare benefits, commissary subsidies, robust training funds, and a few more. Compared to the waste in the procurement system, the money spent on those programs is not significant, yet that’s where the focus goes. What’s ethical about that? So in my mind, when the smoke clears here’s the message I hear: The outstanding day-to-day performance of our people is DoD’s most important asset, so let’s cut that funding so we will have money to pay for our poorly performing programs like JSF or Enterprise Resource Planning IT systems.
So get ready for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! I predict there’s going to be a lot more agony that thrill in the Bolympics this year.