Defense Budget

Hagel weighs major reforms, Pentagon priorities

Chuck Hagel is considering reforms to minimize the effects of budget cuts. (File photo)

Driven by steep budget cuts and a changing national security environment, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is pushing forward with a comprehensive review of Pentagon strategies and operations, he said April 3 in Washington.

Speaking at National Defense University, Hagel reiterated the need for Defense Department leadership to reassess force and command structures and spending priorities, signaling potential major reforms that could change much of the way the Pentagon operates.

"The task ahead for the department is to prepare for the future, but not in a way that neglects the present," Hagel said. "We are therefore undertaking a process to develop options, choices and priorities to deal with further reductions in the defense budget...all anchored by the president's defense strategic guidance."

Hagel said his goal in the strategic choices and management review, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, "is to ensure we are realistically confronting the bulk of our strategic and fiscal challenges."

Hagel pointed out that there has been little in the way of changes to command structure since Goldwater-Nichols in 1986 – a reorganization effort that targeted interoperability, but did not account for costs and efficiencies, he said.

The secretary admitted that implementing sweeping reforms likely will require overcoming significant institutional resistance.

"It is already clear to me that any serious effort to reform and reshape our defense enterprise must confront the principal drivers of growth in the department's base budget – namely acquisitions, personnel costs and overhead."

Some of Hagel's decisions already have proved unpopular, even as he has taken steps to show solidarity. Acknowledging the damage to morale that looming furloughs are inflicting on DOD personnel; Hagel earlier in the week said he will voluntarily return part of his salary to match pay cuts resulting from the $41 billion in cuts the Pentagon must institute this fiscal year.

Despite receiving additional defense spending under the recently passed continuing resolution, civilian furloughs remain on track to happen, although at a reduced length of 14 days instead of the originally planned 22 days.

"I wish we had other options, but the reality is…we are dealing with a $41 billion shortfall that was not planned," Hagel said, adding that shoring up shortages of resources in DOD's most critical area of readiness must take priority. "We have to make decisions based on what we think is the most fair way to do this, but our readiness capabilities have to always come first, because it is the first mission of this institution. If we can do better, we will do better."

While readiness remains a top area of concern, Hagel also said he is focused on determining other priorities as the military draws down from Afghanistan and the threat landscape changes. And cybersecurity is a growing priority.

"Cyber attacks [that] barely registered as a threat a decade ago have grown into a defining security challenge, with potential adversaries [having the] ability to strike at America's security, energy and critical infrastructure with the benefit of anonymity and distance," Hagel said. "Most of the pressing security challenges today, and the most important political, economic and cultural elements, do not necessarily lend themselves to being resolved by conventional military strength."

In a statement issued after the speech, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "As encouraging as many of the secretary's remarks are, the fact that he is being driven to consider dramatic reform not because of strategic threats but because of an irrational budgetary environment remains troubling. The Armed Services Committee will do what it can to prevent the Pentagon from making ill considered short term cuts at the expense of long term strategic need. We cannot allow inadequate budgets to drive unacceptable strategies."

Reader comments

Thu, Apr 4, 2013

Is "Buck" McKeon really this clueless? The problem isn't inadequate budgets, the problem is many, many years of waste. My guess is Buck wants to make certain the large defense contractors who are funding his re-election campaigns can maintain the level of prosperity they have become accustomed to!

Thu, Apr 4, 2013

I agree with the previous comment post. And now there are talks of military pay cuts. Some efficiencies that could be looked at are:
1. Redundant logistical structures. Each branch of the service has its own logistical structure. Why not expand DLA to provide a single source of logistical processes and infrastructure.
2. Information network security, IA, processes, etc. Move all IT support requirements under DISA.
3. MFD requirements and standards. Each branch of the service handles their copier requirements differently and not always the most cost effective. The Navy just entered into an agreement with DLA to have DLA provide and contract for its copier fleet requirements. A single source for copier support could save DoD millions.
I’m sure I could go on with more examples of potential money savings and just as importantly personnel savings. As I understand it, military personnel levels are controlled by congress. If, for example, the services have a combined 15K military personnel in IT positions. If say 10K of these positions can be combined under one organization, like DISA, using fewer personnel then those 10K could be allocated to combat personnel.

Thu, Apr 4, 2013

Senior leadership over the last 20+ years has allowed the large defense contractors to be running the show with insufficient oversight and either their arrogance or their ignorance has allowed the situation to get this bad. I am NOT a fan of the furloughs and feel that senior leadership is using the civil servant work force as a shield and a pawn but I am a fan of sequestration. I am genuinely concerned about the national debt that continues to grow out of control (not for me but for our children) because of the ignorant decisions and senior leadership's unwillingness to take responsability to work smarter. I'm tired of hearing the same BS from senior leadership when they say "we need to work smarter" only to watch them continue down the same path! One DoD agency recently decided to replace 90 firewalls that had never been compromised and was supportable by the manufacturer for 4 more years. $3M+ for just the acquisition and who knows how much for installation support. Somebody needs to find the people that supported this decision and give them all permanent furloughs and put them all on the EPL. This is NOT a unique situation, I see it happening everyday within every branch of DoD. These folks know what they are doing is wrong and they simply don't care!

Thu, Apr 4, 2013

Hagel does have other options to furlough. Cut programs that are vote buying by Democrats. Navy BioFuel, Army-Missile to Nowhere, JSF variants that provide no military utility. He won't. He would rather throw civilians under the bus than make the tough decisions.

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