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Spinney on the QDR

Boyd Acolyte Franklin “Chuck” Spinney writing on the QDR ( Hat tip to Kev Hall).

The Pentagon Goes Intellectually AWOL

….Even by the dismal intellectual standards of Pentagon bureaucracy, the QDR and the FY 2011 budget, taken together, establish a new standard of analytical vacuity, psychological denial, and just plane meaningless drivel. I will keep this short by using just one important case to prove my allegation. Judge for yourself if it is necessary and sufficient to make the point.

First, I must bore you with a little background: The Pentagon has been producing FYDPs since 1962. But these FYDPs have been repeatedly criticized for producing defense budgets that were disconnected from the national military strategy — and because the dollar allocations made in any budget determine what any government’s policy really is, the critique was logically equivalent to saying there was no strategy. The congressional legislation in the mid 1990s that established the QDR was only the most recent attempt to deal with this long standing criticism. The aim of that legislation was to require the Pentagon to lay out an intellectual framework for matching its military strategy and ambitions to the resource constraints shaping those ambitions, especially budgetary constraints, but also constraints relating to people, the limitations imposed by available technologies, etc.

The new FY 2011 budget and its accompanying FYDP, therefore, are supposed to attach budgetary and programmatic meat to the strategic skeleton that is the QDR, both of which were completed at the same time and made public on 1 February — itself a somewhat illogical sequence, given that one is supposed to precede the other. In theory, these documents should permit an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses implicit in the matchup between resources and strategy. Therefore, these documents should enable the Secretary of Defense to send the President and the Congress a comprehensive set of priorities, opportunity costs, and risks associated with his strategic plan. This information would then become the grist for a rational national debate by linking strategic considerations to the inevitable compromises made in the sausage making factory that is Congress. Moreover, as this is President Obama’s first budget, and because it represents $700+ billion that Mr. Obama just put off limits in the coming national debate over whether or how to shrink the federal deficit, it was crucially important for the Pentagon to get the QDR and the accompanying FY 2011-2015 FYDP right in a logically consistent and transparent manner.

If we apply this standard to the Pentagon’s recently completed handiwork, only one conclusion is possible: the Pentagon flunked the test by being intellectually absent without leave.

Read the rest here.

Defense acquisitions and budgeting process arcana are not my forte, but Spinney is not the only defense analyst giving the QDR a thumbs down for being insufficient on important issues. If the process is rigidly determinative of the kinds of outcomes generated and if that process is dysfunctional or broken, then even a talented top DoD civilian staff armed with an ocean of money and a deep reservoir of political capital will not be able to translate our national security priorities into concrete military results.

“Methods are the masters of masters.” – Talleyrand

One Response to “Spinney on the QDR”

  1. J. Scott Says:

    Spinney is correct; the DoD budget is a mess, but his solution of freezing the budget for a year and forcing the Pentagon to give it a re-look would not work. To correct the "mess" would require a wholesale replacement of the bureaucrats (career types) as these people are not institutionally capable, nor do they have any incentive to make the changes necessary for clarity in our defense budget. Presidents and defense secretaries come and go, the bureaucrats are entrenched and will simply "wait-out" any attempt at reform. As far as I can see, Spinney may have been the last of a handful of guys who knew just how FUBAR things are at the five-sided puzzle palace. Thanks for the post, Zen…nice to consider on the occasion of our east coast blizzard.

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