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DOD’s increasing reliance on brass is a sign of broader problems

October 6th, 2014

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The Pentagon is more top-heavy than ever before. How much does this bureaucratic bloat cost taxpayers? The Pentagon has no idea, and neither does the Government Accountability Office. Pentagon officials know they need more generals and admirals, they just can’t tell you why. Those are the conclusions from a GAO report released earlier this month.

In 2011, I testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and explained the problem, which I dubbed Star Creep—the Pentagon’s propensity to have generals and admirals (also known as Generals and Flag Officers, or GFO) fill positions once performed by lower-ranking officers. This has resulted in an unprecedentedly high ratio of generals and admirals to the troops they command.

Third Way has repeatedly shown how this hinders military effectiveness and wastes money. The GAO study corroborated many of our findings, including:

  • The number of generals and admirals increased by 8 percent from 2001 to 2013, while the enlisted ranks shrank by 2 percent;
  • “The ratios of enlisted to non-GFO officers and enlisted to GFOs are both at their lowest levels since prior to 2001 (5:1 and 1,200:1, respectively).”

Unfortunately, the study could not answer the burning question that we at Third Way and many members of Congress have: How much has this increasing top-heaviness at the Department of Defense cost American taxpayers? Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) have all introduced legislation to combat Star Creep, but we still don’t have a full cost estimate.

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R.I.P Isolationism

July 18th, 2014

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The foreign policy civil war inside the Republican Party is spilling onto the op-ed pages. The latest battle began Friday when Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried to brand Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul as an isolationist for Paul’s stance on Iraq. The senator was quick to reject the label.

Why was the senator so eager to dodge the isolationist moniker? Because it’s electoral kryptonite with the American public, whom, despite what you may have heard, do not support isolationism. Americans are not asking for a retreat from the world. They’re a pragmatic public that’s rejecting neo-conservative interventionism, but they’re also opportunistic, engaging and diplomatic. And, they’re looking to Washington for a foreign policy that matches those traits. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Back to the Future’ Foreign Policy

April 11th, 2014

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The 1980s are all the rage once again—from neon clothes to Robocop and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even America’s 1980s foreign policy is back in fashion amongst Neo-Cold Warriors longing to return to the Reagan era.

President Barack Obama quipped to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election that, “The 1980s called—they want their foreign policy back,” and he’s giving the military more money, even adjusted for inflation, than President Ronald Reagan ever did. But, the Neo-Cold Warriors still can’t abandon their Reagan nostalgia, especially after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which has led some to ask “Was Mitt Romney right about Russia?”

Obama’s military outspends Russian President Vladimir Putin’s by more than seven to one. Yet, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.,) rails against the president because, “For decades, defense spending made up roughly 50 percent of the federal budget. Today, it’s just 18 percent.” While ignoring the fact that defense spending hasn’t made up more than 50 percent of the federal budget since we put a man on the moon, Ryan is also concerned about the decline in defense spending as a percentage of GDP. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., similarly bemoans the fact that America’s defense spending falls short of the 6% percent of GDP it was under Reagan, and The Wall Street Journal claims that by this metric Obama will leave his successor a “weaker” country than he inherited.

Whether or not you think the current level of spending is sufficient, defense spending as a share of GDP measures militarization of our society, but that does not necessarily mean strength.  Applying Reagan’s magic percentage today ignores changes in our economy, the threat environment and our capabilities.

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Three Myths About the Defense Budget

March 14th, 2014

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The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget request has been savaged by Republicans and even some Democrats. Critics argue it’s “a skeleton defense budget,” that will “dramatically reduce the size of the Army to pre-World War II levels,” and all of this “will embolden America’s foes to take aggressive acts.” All of these critiques have one thing in common: they’re not true.

Here’s why: Read the rest of this entry »

Goodbye and Good Riddance

February 13th, 2014

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The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS, program was dealt a death blow last month when the Pentagon advised the Navy to purchase only 32 of the small, fast and much maligned ships that were originally designed to combat three distinct threats — submarines, mines and groups of small boats.

This was absolutely the right move for at least three reasons.

The first, and most glaring, deficiency of the LCS is that, as a recent Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report states, the “LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat.” While the Pentagon has used similar language in previous reports, the level of detail explaining why the boat wouldn’t survive a real fight is unprecedented.

The report indicates the ship’s vulnerability is inherent in its design. In dry Pentagonese, the LCS  does “not require the inclusion of survivability features necessary to conduct sustained combat operations in a major conflict as expected for the Navy’s other surface combatants.” Thus, despite having “combat” in its name, the LCS is pretty lousy at fighting enemies.

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The Costs Are Crippling

November 6th, 2013

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The bureaucracies that surround top commanders have grown drastically. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, military and civilian positions at the combatant commands that some of the military’s approximately three dozen four-star officers oversee has increased by about 50 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office. The number of support personnel that top generals and admirals command has grown so much that the ratio of civilian personnel to troops is higher than it has ever been.

War-fighters looking to make quick decisions on the battlefield are buried beneath this colossal bureaucracy.

“In some cases the gap between me and an action officer may be as high as 30 layers,” bemoaned the former secretary of defense, Robert Gates. The result, according to Gates, is “a bureaucracy which has the fine motor skills of a dinosaur.”

In addition to stymieing military effectiveness, the cost of the top-heavy military is immense. Just the basic pay and compensation of a four-star officer costs taxpayers more than $225,000 a year. When they retire, each of these generals and admirals can cost taxpayers over a million dollars a year. The taxpayer-financed perks these commanders enjoy is immense and, as a Third Way report documents, includes: mansions, private jets, chefs, gardeners, drivers, personal assistants and even string quartets for dinner parties.

But the greatest costs are from the expansive bureaucracies that have grown beneath these top commanders. According to the G.A.O., the cost to taxpayers of the combatant commands many of these generals and admirals sit atop more than doubled from 2007 to 2012 — topping $1 billion.

Despite efforts to curtail this problem, the trend toward a more top-heavy military has continued. This threatens the effectiveness of the brave men and women who fight to defend our nation, and wastes money the Pentagon needs to combat 21st century threats. Curtailing the bloated Pentagon bureaucracy isn’t simply a matter of promoting efficiency or eliminating waste, it’s a national security priority. Failure to act now will result in a military that’s more expensive, less effective and less capable of defending U.S. interests.

This piece was orignially published via The New York Times.