There were several good articles in the papers regarding the DoD budget over the weekend. The Washington Post had a good one that provided a pretty good summary. As an old Intruder guy I have to point out that the article notes the cancellation of the A6 Intruder, with a nifty link to some information on the Venerable Intruder. It’s not often one gets to scoop the vast reporting resources of the WaPo so here goes:
Dear WaPo Editorial Board,
The Intruder was retired on 28 February 1997 and most of them are either in an underwater reef of the coast of St. Augustine (known as Intruder Reef), collecting dust at Davis-Monthan AFB or residing on a stick at some NAS front gate. It is hard to believe you confused the handsome, sleek Intruder with the Warthog, but to ensure future OpEds are factually accurate, I offer my services (at the standard rate!).
OK, that’s off my chest! Back to the 21st Century. The Post article was entitled “A Defense Budget Based on Hope” and outlines some disconnects between rhetoric and reality. As those of you non-military folks who read my musing know: Hope is not a strategy, and that is just as true in the budget world as it is in the tactical world. To be sure the building of the DoD budget is a complex spider web of interconnecting elements, each of which is generally independent of most others. Each element is likely to have an evangelist associated with it (Congress, Combatant Commander, Contractor, Administration, Special Interest Group, Service Chief or Secretary, etc.) and each evangelist has some varying degree of veto power. Most decisions, especially the big ones, require consensus, so you can imagine how difficult it is to make cuts to any one program. That’s why the preferred method of budget cutting is the tried and true salami slice. By the way, sequestration was just a salami slice, albeit a big one. One of DoD’s points when countering sequestration was they weren’t allowed to make the decisions. I contend that even if Congress had just handed DoD an undefined cut, given the decision making rules, in the end, DoD would have sliced the salami, just in a different way. It’s the only thing that works because the “salami slice” method requires no accountability, affects all programs equally, doesn’t usually kill anything and makes all equally unhappy. The art to surviving “Salami Slice” budgeting is to demonstrate that your program is so critical to national defense that it should be exempted (usually personnel, health care, etc). In the Navy, these were described as “Flagship Programs.” Not only were Flagship Programs exempt from cuts, you generally had to plus them up. Of course, all exemptions do is off-load a larger part of the bill to those programs who were not smart enough to come up with a reason for exemption.
As one of the old Dinosaurs, I was accused of always reverting back to the Salami Slice, despite the well-meaning intentions of all to make the budget process all about informed choices, analysis and supporting the strategy. I tried but failed. In the end the people who cried loudest about being allowed to make choices were unable to do so. As the Head Miller of the Budget Grist Mill, I was required to grind whatever grist the mill required to submit the budget on-time (which is no longer apparently the case). That required a trip to the deli, slicing the salami and living with unhappy people ever after. All in a day’s work. Bob’s your uncle. That’s that!!!!!!!
By the way, this isn’t what I wanted to write about today, but I got lost in the salami thing, so bear with me. Tomorrow’s topic: Budget Risk and How I Learned to Love It.