Fox News is reporting that President Obama met with senior military aides and told them to reduce spending for FY2010 by a little more than 10%. To put this in perspective, the Defense Budget, along with the other components of the President’s Budget is submitted to Congress next week. The military takes about 15 months to analyze requirements, determine the costs, prioritize and edit the surviving program which actually takes thousands of pages to describe in detail. So the President has basically given them the task of redoing the whole thing in the next week.
We did this before with the Clinton administration in the 1990s. The resulting budget chaos took several years to get under control, and it deferred a lot of necessary things which would have put us in better shape in 2001 had they been accomplished.
Cutting 10% out of the Defense Budget is not an easy task. Doing it overnight is virtually impossible to do well. A series of rapid, stupid decisions will be made to meet the target, and the impact of those decisions will not be easy to trace back to the stupid decision. So much for accountability and transparency.
Reducing the military budget is a complex task because of the size and scope of the Pentagon’s operations and responsibility. Setting arbitrary targets such as this 10% reduction are never the right way to manage the complexity. No one argues that the military should be exempt from pressure to reduce cost, and in fact the services have been doing things continuously since the 1990s to re-invent the way they supply the troops and manage their equipment. The military is more efficient now than it was 20 years ago, and still has much to improve. But this sort of draconian, mindless budget cutting is not the way to get there.
In the end, the money removed from the budget results in fewer people employed and fewer supplies available to meet the military’s mission. Reducing the number of people employed in the midst of ‘the worst economy since the depression’ doesn’t appear to be an effective thing to do. Limiting the military’s ability to operate by reducing fuel, food, ammunition or spare parts in the midst of deploying additional troops to Afghanistan and fighting piracy off the coast of Africa is similarly misguided.
This is old school management of the wrong kind. The nation deserves better.