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Posts Tagged ‘defense budget’

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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Keep Your Friends Close, But Keep Russia Closer

May 20th, 2014

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As Russia’s stock market continues to plummet, so too has Russia’s stock among the American people. Polling from earlier this year indicates a majority of Americans view Russia “as unfriendly or an enemy,” the highest unfavorable rating since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some in Congress are capitalizing on this discontent by inserting a section into an upcoming defense bill that suspends “contact or cooperation” between the Pentagon and its Russian counterparts. This break in relations would continue until Moscow left Ukraine alone and fulfilled its obligations under two military treaties.

Slashing military ties with Russia after its Crimean land grab might feel emotionally satisfying in the short term, but it’s ultimately counterproductive in the long term. After all, unilaterally halting the Pentagon’s contacts in Russia would undermine our ability to collaborate on shared interests, confront shared threats and manage global crises.

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‘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 »

The Wrong Way to Measure ‘Strength’

March 10th, 2014

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The ancient Greek military historian Thucydides famously noted that in war, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Today, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, concurs.

“It’s a dangerous world, and we’re making it more so by cutting defense,” said McKeon,  responding to the president’s defense budget. “We weaken ourselves, and that is how you get into wars. You don’t get into wars if you’re strong.”

The idea that “weak” countries must fight to uphold their status might seem self-evident. However, while McKeon’s logic might have made sense in the Bronze Age, it makes little sense in the modern age.

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Too Many Generals

July 24th, 2013

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Troop levels are being cut. Civilians are being furloughed. Planes are being grounded. Ships are being docked. But the Pentagon’s top ranks are thriving.

Over the past 10 years, as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan raged, the U.S. military’s enlisted ranks shrank, while the officer corps – particularly the general and flag officer ranks – and the bureaucracy supporting these top commanders, grew immensely.

Earlier this month Third Way released a report on this trend, reaching a disquieting conclusion – the U.S. military is more top-heavy than it has ever been. While I, and others, have documented this trend before, it’s only gotten worse. The U.S. military now has an officer-to-enlisted personnel ratio that’s at an all-time high; this imbalance will only worsen with the recent announcement of further reductions to the force.

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