In this era of downsizing government, one area seems relatively insulated from such efforts. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Federal defense budget was overwhelmingly the principal beneficiary of government spending, during which time the national debt quadrupled. Then, it experienced disproportionately minor reductions during the 1990s, despite base closures and reductions in force, while many other agencies and programs suffered cutbacks. In the 2000s, defense spending has catapulted once again to the top of the Federal-spending heap, with disproportionately high percentage increases while other programs are being reduced.
The categories of defense spending that are genuinely tied to domestic homeland security, global military preparedness, and technical and strategic complexity should not be inappropriately reduced. Yet, there is no excuse -- other than political ones -- for not embracing opportunities to reduce defense spending in other areas. In fact, there are some categories of DOD spending that are altogether ludicrous.
Ideas / Solutions
The DOD needs to aggressively identify and achieve efficiencies by consolidating operations at multiple branches which are fundamentally similar, and Congress needs to closely monitor this initiative to ensure that it occurs.
Only the entrenchment of established bureaucracies prevents the DOD from availing itself of certain obvious efficiencies. Since the days when the US had separate Secretaries of the Army and the Navy, there has been segregation and duplication of many of our defense activities. But, within the past few decades, the corporate community has illustrated the value of, and efficiencies achievable through, consolidation.
It is difficult to ascertain a rational reason for maintaining separate Testing and Evaluation operations at each branch of the military when multiple branches will be deploying the same final product. The same is true of separate Research and Development programs, human resources administrations, recruitment advertising, procurement of non-weapon supplies, storage and accounting of supplies, military construction, and other activities.
It is as if the DOD is the last bastion of the concept of the government as the nation's employer of last resort, i.e., an agency that keeps people employed even if they are not fully needed. Ironically, many of the same proponents of outsourcing and ending government-subsidized jobs are the greatest opponents of making similar reforms in our military. Sure, they offer explanations of how our national security would be jeopardized by any changes, and they suggest that the current system is vital to a strong defense. But such arguments are wholly unsupportable when discussing consolidation of, for example, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), or the Training and Evaluation, and Research and Development divisions of each of the branches of the Armed Services. It is a question of common sense efficiency.
The Pentagon has only begun to dip its toe into the water of consolidation in recent years. A study and report were completed, and a few relatively minor initial steps were taken. But the mindset is still slanted toward segregation of the branches. There remains an institutional resistance to replacing that mindset with a preference for consolidation. The goal should be the unity of all defense operations, with very selective exceptions for circustances and needs that are particularized to a specific branch.
It is time for some consistency in the Federal government. Smart management and fiscal discipline must pull rank over organizational structures.