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Report on U.S. Security Budget

In July 2011, The Unified Security Task Force made public their report outlining a set of cuts in unneeded military programs.The following is a summary of this report.

“The enduring security resource imbalance detailed in this report has created all manner of piggybacking by civilian agencies of U.S. foreign policy on the far-better-endowed military. It has led the State Department to protect its budget by taking on responsibilities it may or may not be able to fulfill in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has USAID ceding formerly core functions to the Pentagon, functions that, in many cases, the Defense Department knows it is ill-equipped to manage and does not want. This is bad security and foreign policy. It is destined to continue until we have a budget process that looks at our security challenges as a whole and allocates resources in a way that is commensurate with the lip service everyone in government pays to the co-equal importance of military and non-military security tools” (p 81).

The task force calls for a rebalancing of U.S. security accounts; the goal being to strengthen our ability to prevent and resolve conflict with non-military security tools. Many top security leaders agree that there needs to be a rebalancing in security spending, especially in terms of non-military security spending, but there have been no actions behind their words. Due to the current budget deficit, where everything needs to be on the table for potential cuts, it is the hope of the task force that the Defense budget will be cut, putting an end to the expanding military budgets that have dominated U.S. discretionary spending in this century. The task force, in their Unified Security Budget proposal, outlines cuts in unneeded military programs that will result in $1 trillion cuts over a period of 10 years.

In FY 2011, the proposed budget by the Obama administration laid out five and ten year plans that restored some of the security balance. “Indeed, the improvement in the security balance itself is almost entirely attributable to the drop in OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) funding for the military and the increase in its funding slated for the State Department” (p 2). However, the budget deficit negotiations impacts on security balance were reflected in his FY 2012 request, when his FY 2011 plans were dramatically revised and the rebalancing almost vanished completely.  Obama did not follow the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility whose chairman laid down a marker pegging cuts to the military budget at an annual average of $100 billion over 10 years, for a $1 trillion in savings.  Instead, his plan for FY 2012 would only cut $78 billion over five years, which would still leave the Pentagon with a 5 percent increase in spending for 2012 over the amount budgeted for 2011. It is only a cut in so far as it is a reduction in the larger increase the administration had previously planned. 

The Obama administration, in its FY 2012 request, did attempt to modestly improve the security balance by allocating more toward non-military international affairs. This request, however, is not politically feasible. Congressional action continues to slash the regular budget for international affairs, while fully funding the OCO account. The presence of funding for OCOs in the State Department’s budget has saved the unbalancing act from being made worse, but the funding is to be used for the State Department’s increasing responsibilities in Iraq, not to strengthen their capacity to prevent conflict. When OCO funding is taken out of the equation, the security balance remains unchanged between 2010 and 2012.

Given the current political reality, the Unified Security Budget Task Force proposal “…would cut $77.1 billion from the FY 2012 request for unneeded military programs, while adding $28.1 billion to investments in defense and prevention (including climate change)…The difference between our recommended cuts and additions would leave a remainder of nearly $50 billion” (p 4). The Task Force would then allocate the $50 billion to both deficit reduction and to job-creating public investment, which would create new employment and increased revenue. The reallocation differs from former proposals because “…much of the past savings the administration has claimed have simply been reprogrammed back into other areas of the Pentagon’s budget” (p 10).  See Table and Figures 3 and 5.

The task force states that the U.S. currently places too much emphasis on picking up the pieces, instead of preventing the pieces from falling; therefore, their main argument lies in the fact that more money should be allocated to prevention instead of offense; more money should be put into the State Department instead of the Department of Defense. They maintain, “Deficit reduction requires actually cutting military spending” (p 5). This means that three things need to happen: we need to get serious about waste, there needs to be reviews of necessary vs. unnecessary roles and missions, and there needs to be budget process reform, which means ending the “disconnect between the current discourse on the need for deficit reduction and security budget rebalancing and the bloated, unbalanced budgets that we continue to fund” (p 5).

Getting Serious About Waste

In 2010, former Defense Secretary Gates outlined his plan for cutting military spending. This included having each military service cut $100 billion by 2016, cutting back on advisory reports, cutting intelligence contractors, and setting up an “affordability target” at a program’s launch. His reforms, however, have two problems: the first is that they depend heavily on enforcement and Gates will not be around to enforce his reforms; two, Gates promised that the savings that resulted from the $100 billion from each military service by 2016 would go back into the military “…to pay for underfunded ‘modernization and force structure’ priorities, as well as $200 billion in new programs” (p 21).

The Task Force reiterates that in this time of financial crisis Gates’ reforms are not enough. They argue that, in order to get serious about waste, there are three key items.  First, the Defense Department must identify real priorities and tradeoffs and that savings from the efficiency reforms must be sent to the Treasury for deficit reduction, not back into the military. Furthermore,  the Pentagon’s financial system must be audit-ready by 2017, as required by law.  And in addition, there must be cost constraints incorporated into any future review of military roles and missions.

Roles and Mission Reviews

Since the 1990s, and most especially since September 11, 2001, America’s security has grown in several ways--efforts have grown much more ambitious, the geographic scope has widened significantly, U.S. action and investment have become more comprehensive, and the U.S. presence in foreign nations has grown much more prominent.

Currently and throughout the above-mentioned period, “…policy and expenditure is overwhelmingly weighted toward military, rather than non-military, instruments” (p 24).

The call from the task force is to move toward more non-military tools.  “What would prove more manageable, reliable, and sustainable would be greater discretion in dispensing military assistance and a more refined focus in conducting counter-terrorism operations. The broader pursuit of regional stability requires a more patient and longer-term approach, one that emphasizes the de-militarization of regional relations, the emergence of stronger regional institutions, equitable economic development, and progress toward democratic governance” (p 29). See Table 1.

Additionally, the Pentagon must, minimally, take three steps. The first would be to revise their current military missions.  Secondly, clarify the costs, in dollars and operations associated with current major missions. Finally, the Pentagon must be willing to set “hard and fast” priorities for those missions deemed essential.

Budget Process Reform

Before President Obama, separate presidential offices existed for security: one dealt with national security policies, one dealt with homeland security, and a third dealt security budgets. The Obama administration created the National Security Staff, which combined the national and homeland security offices into one. However, “No entity at the White House level currently has the capacity or the time to conduct integrated, long-term planning, risk assessment, and tradeoff studies, or to identify key longterm federal priorities constrained by realistic future fiscal guidance” (p 32).

The task force argues for a better link between strategies and resources. They propose A Quadrennial National Security Review (QNSR, which could strengthen the links between strategies and budgets for issues of defense, international affairs, and homeland security. The review would help prioritize strategies for critical missions and then identify programs, infrastructure and the budget needed to implement the strategy successfully.

The root of the problems with security spending is that “…the process is dominated by fragmented, parochial, and overlapping jurisdictions that obstruct consideration of the big picture” (p 31). Currently, the budget is decided by different appropriations committees and in different forms (i.e. State vs. Homeland security). 

The task force emphasizes that “…security spending should be considered as a unified whole, and defined as including non-military as well as military tool” (p 13). This means offensive, defensive  and preventive spending (military, homeland security and international affairs spending) into one place. By bringing all security matters into one budget, the imbalance will be both better scrutinized and more easily adjusted and improved. It “…will entail putting the national interest before parochial interests” (p 33).The only danger would be to make sure that offense does not assert its “long-standing dominance.”

They propose A Select Committee on National Security and International Affairs, which could “…examine our overall security needs and the best balance of available tools to achieve them. And it could be tasked with recommending possible changes in the committee structure that could build this kind of examination into the budget process” (p 35). Similarly, Congress could create a Commission on Budgeting for National Security and International Affairs, which would “…examine the current balkanized budget process, and recommend a restructuring that would enable decision-making on security that more effectively considers the overall balance of security tools and puts the national interest over parochial interests” (p 36).