War over Defense Jobs Diverts Attention from Bloated Spending

Article excerpt

When asked 18 months ago what parts of the defense budget were ripe for picking, then-Vice Chief of the Ai my Gen. Peter Chiarelli mentioned spy aircraft as one of the obvious ones. Each branch of the military owns multiple fleets of surveillance and armed drones, creating unneeded duplication. Chiarelli said at the time that the Army would be seeking to save billions of dollars by axing redundant programs.

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Similar budget scrubbing was taking place across most Defense Department procurement offices after the Pentagon received marching orders from the White House to cut spending by $487 billion over 10 years.

But plans to begin a prudent shedding of bloat in weapons procurements were short lived. Congress' failure to negotiate a deficit-reduction deal last summer put deliberate budgeting on hold and threw Washington into chaos by setting a January 2013 deadline for automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion. A possible outcome for the Pentagon is that its 2013 budget may have to be pared down by at least $50 billion.

The looming "sequester" has, for now, derailed any attempt at rational downsizing at the Defense Department. It also set off an intense lobbying campaign by defense firms, which are threatening to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers due to a business slowdown and overall uncertainty.

The screaming about jobs over the past year has drowned out a long-overdue debate about which weapon programs the Pentagon really needs. Any talk of setting sensible priorities as Chiarelli suggested is passed off as blasphemous if jobs are on the line. Amid the hysteria over sequestration and election-year madness, the Pentagon has found the perfect cover to protect every program.

Maj. Gen. William "Tim" Crosby, program executive officer for Army aviation, said that none of the service's unmanned aircraft will be terminated, despite the review that Chiarelli had recommended. Crosby said the entire portfolio of aviation programs he oversees had been deemed necessary and spared from cancellations, although some orders might be scaled back. Echoing industry warnings, Crosby said he would oppose closing down aircraft production lines because it "messes up the economy." Crosby appeared genuinely worried about the employment consequences of Army decisions. "You're talking about jobs. That's defense workers," Crosby said during a recent meeting with reporters at the Pentagon. "We want to minimize the impact of cuts."

The National Association of Manufacturers unveiled estimates that defense budget cuts would result in losses of 1.2 million jobs in 2014, jacking up the national unemployment rate by 0.7 percent. Similar numbers had been circulated earlier this year by the Aerospace Industries Association. The American Legion warned that sequestration would result in 500,000 unemployed veterans.

Crosby's statements are proof that industry's messaging campaign is working. It has not always been easy for U.S. defense firms to get such vocal support from military brass. …