A “growing gap” is forming between the military’s mission and the resources it needs to achieve those goals, according to a Congressionally-mandated review released Thursday.
The National Defense Panel (NDP) delivered “Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future” — an assessment of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review put forth by the Defense Department.
“This gap is disturbing, if not dangerous, in light of the fact that global threats and challenges are rising,” the review said. The report cited international crises that DoD must be prepared to respond to, including Ukraine-Russia tensions, the threat of nuclear missiles in North Korea and Iran, and Syria’s civil war.
Paul Hughes, executive director of the report, said the panel looked at resources available to DoD under current sequestration-level budgets.
“It is better for [DoD] to have a capability in hand that it may not need, rather than to need the capability and not have it,” he said in an interview with Federal News Radio. Hughes said having more capabilities available allows the President to choose from a greater number of options when faced with a crisis.
But the capabilities DoD requested in the 2014 QDR “clearly exceed the budget resources made available to the department,” the report stated.
The panel calls for Congress to repeal the Budget Control Act, which imposed sequestration cuts across all government agencies. In the report, NDP called the BCA a “serious strategic misstep.”
“National defense needs should drive national defense budgets, not the opposite,” the report said.
Hughes said DoD cannot work under persistent budget uncertainty. “The things that the department has to have take time to train, to create, to educate, to design and build. You can’t just do it overnight.”
Shrinking the forces
To cope with limited appropriations, the 2014 QDR proposes cutting the active-duty Army force from a war-time high of 570,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. The Army National Guard would downsize from 358,000 to 335,000, and the Army Reserve would shrink from 205,000 to 195,000.
The numbers are even lower if Congress imposes sequestration-level cuts in fiscal 2016 and beyond. Under those cuts, the Army could shrink to as few as 420,000 active-duty members.
NDP said DoD’s vision of a smaller force is “insufficient” to combat global threats.
“We are convinced the 2014 QDR’s contemplated reduction in Army end strength goes too far,” the report said. “We believe the Army and the Marine Corps should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 end strengths — 490,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army and 182,000 active Marines.”
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, agrees with many of NDP’s findings. He said DoD requires more resources than outlined in the 2014 QDR, in order to maintain readiness and make advances in technology.
“Anything less than this jeopardizes our international defense posture and damages our security,” McKeon said.
Is BRAC economical?
As troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, the panel recommends corresponding cuts to DoD’s civilian and contractor workforce. NDP said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should be granted the authority to conduct reductions in force (RIFs) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP).
Since 2011, the civilian workforce has grown by 15 percent, to more than 800,000 employees. Likewise, the contracting workforce now totals 670,000. Together, these numbers are about three times the size of the activy-duty Army, Hughes said.
“Controlling or reducing civilian pay costs is essential to ensuring that the operations and maintenance accounts can be effectively leveraged to provide for the readiness of the Joint Force,” the report stated.
The panel agrees with DoD’s push for another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
“Current estimates show the Pentagon has roughly 20 percent excess infrastructure capacity. Continued delay is wasteful,” the report said.
But Congress is hesitant to allow BRAC, because it’s concerned the realignment is not economical.
“You work with the civilian community and you transform military infrastructure into something that can be productive and useful for the civilian community, it can be a win-win situation,” Hughes said. “The panel urges both branches of the government to come together and explore this.”
Although NDP agrees with the BRAC proposal, the panel is concerned overall by a lack of prioritization in the 2014 QDR. Rather than labeling which missions are most important, the QDR organizes many of it missions into pillars.
“How do you decide that you’re going to do mission A over mission B, without understanding which one’s more important,” Hughes said. “If they’re all important, then nothing really is important.”