Choices the Parties are Avoiding
General Accounting Office, Congress's auditing and investigative
arm, is known in Washington for producing often excellent analyses
of government operations and departments that might serve as fodder
for a speech or two but are subsequently ignored. It has produced
an excellent report on military reform that the Washington
recently acquired that is likely to suffer the usual fate.
would be nice to hope that the GAO's debunking of Pentagon cost
estimates will receive something close to the attention it deserves.
But it implies that more difficult choices even more difficult than
the choice to conduct reasonably honest management evaluations and
audits will have to precede genuine reductions in military spending.
essence of the GAO report is that the Pentagon is overestimating
by billions of dollars the cost savings that will result from a
major quasi-privatization program begun a few years ago because
the four branches of the military refuse to give up troops personnel
even when they are no longer needed, at least theoretically. The
Pentagon's 1997 Defense Reform Initiative involves contracting-out
for a number of goods and services in ways that should lead to cost
problem is that if those goods and services are supplied through
contract, part of the way money can be saved is to reduce the number
of uniformed personnel who had previously been responsible for providing
them, in-house so to speak. But the military services, while going
forward with contracting out, at the same time refuse to give up
about 200,000 targeted positions in the military services that should
result is that even more money must be spent, even as Pentagon leaders
and people in Congress are recommending reductions. As Jay Spiegel,
executive director of the Reserve Officers Association of the United
States told the Times' Rowan Scarborough, "There are
no savings if the military position is converted to contract because
the military will still keep its end strength and now needs additional
money to pay the contract."
military services have delayed management evaluations, in part because
of the cost of those evaluations themselves, so it doesn't have
a realistic idea of the impact of the 1997 contracting-out reforms
on either cost or military readiness. But the projections from the
initial plan show that there should be cost savings of $12 billion
between 1997 and 2000, so the Defense Department is said to be ordering
the four services to cut their budgets accordingly.
draft GAO report studied two programs within the overall cost-saving
initiative, one to privatize some combat support jobs and the other
to develop better procurement practices through what is called "strategic
sourcing." In both programs, the report concludes, "anticipated
savings projections have not adequately accounted for the estimated
costs of conducting and implementing the studies or the estimated
cost for retaining its military personnel, all of which could significantly
reduce the anticipated level of savings.
department is already reducing future operating budget estimates
in anticipation of savings, and such reductions can create operational
difficulties for service components." No kidding.
natural instinct of a military bureaucrat, like any bureaucrat,
is to resist the idea of downsizing. Thus the four branches, especially
the Army, are resisting directives from defense civilians to reduce
the same time, service honchos are questioning just how far privatization
should go. The Army has hired a private firm to buttress truck capabilities
in the Balkans, for example. But that could push civilians into
close proximity to battlefields, which has some people concerned.
believe that war is not a commercial function," said Mr. Spiegel
of the Reserve Officers Association. "People on the battlefield
should be soldiers, not contractors. If a group of ground contractors
is killed in the next conflict, I'm not confident the company will
send over another group to do the job. That's not the case with
aside the potentially fascinating philosophical question of whether
war is in its essence a commercial function. Leave aside the fact
that private enterprises and endeavors have placed people at risk
of death in all sorts of situations up to and including war, from
providing security at an overseas office building to mineral exploration
to providing services for government soldiers. The discussion places
the cart before the horse.
Scarborough approaches the proper point obliquely when he notes
that "shrinking budgets coupled with increased overseas deployments
put a strain on training time, spare parts, equipment and retention
of key people." That hints at but doesn't get to the real problem.
Before it is possible to develop a budget for the Defense Department
it is necessary to agree on a strategy or at least a set of tactical
considerations to govern overseas deployments.
"national interest," about which we heard a great deal
of empty rhetoric during the Republican convention, with more to
come from the Democrats, is an amorphous term that doesn't provide
very concrete guidance to budget makers.
instead of asking the hard questions first does the United States
have a national interest in every potentially destabilizing conflict
in the world, only in those that involve our European "partners,"
only those that involve the supply of oil, only those where starvation
is an issue, those in which human rights violations are perpetrated
on a considerable scale, all of the above or none of the above we
simply take the current Pentagon budget as a given and adjust it
marginally, hoping that the future doesn't hold too many really
rude surprises and improvising through the political opportunism
any president will indulge in.
problem doesn't lie solely or even mainly with the military services
themselves although like any government organization they resist
change and will continue to do so. It lies with the political branches
that are supposed to control the military, and to some extent with
the American peoples' complacency and disinclination to make hard
DEBATE, NO STRATEGY
has been more than a decade since the fall of the Berlin Wall and
the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the nature of the world
we live in. But we still have not had a national discussion or debate
about what American policy should be in a post-Cold War world. The
administration undertook the Gulf War because it was about oil supplies
and because it was not especially difficult to demonize Saddam Hussein
(although Bush the Elder did make either visionary or ominous noises,
depending on your perspective, about it serving as a model for New
World Order multilateral interventionism). Since then the government
is a usually unstated assumption behind American foreign policy
that no remote corner of the earth is immune from being considered
vital to the national interest. Even those who implicitly hold this
view, however, do not agree on the criteria that would suggest when
an intervention is to be considered or carried out. Some think the
U.S. should be the guardian of human rights, calibrating interventions
to prevent the worst potential abuses. Some think we should think
strictly as a Great Power in a realpolitik world, intervening only
when it will enhance US power or influence. Some think we should
be the guardian of stability and of existing borders. Some think
we should be the last line of defense against famine and natural
some a surprisingly large percentage of ordinary Americans,
I suspect, if the issues were phrased accurately in opinion polls
believe the United States should be the friend of liberty
everywhere but the guardian only of its own.