Nation Paying Steep Price for Rash Decisions

Article excerpt

* Actions, especially those that embrace large swaths of human endeavor, can generate many outcomes, some of which are intended. But they may also produce consequences that are unintended and harmful to the original design.

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Systems engineers understand this well. Their training and experience teach that the many variables of any large design take time to work out and that a system is best deployed in increments after much design and testing. Big Bang implementations--like deploying advanced blocks of a new weapons system or a full-up enterprise management system all at once--always add significant additional cost and extend schedules. The result is delivery of fewer systems, and often cancellation of the procurement after the investment of billions of dollars.

Unintended consequences are not only relegated to actions related to systems design for weapons or enterprises. They also apply to political decisions and budgets that are made without sufficient analysis, and with assumptions that prove to be shortsighted. These are decisions that satisfy short-term needs with little consideration of long-term effects.

Today, there are numerous examples that would provide grist for major academic studies. Many of these rash decisions have driven harsh consequences for the nation's defense establishment, security and financial stability.

First case in point is the Budget Control Act of 2011, and its accompanying sequestration of funds. The United States is suffering the consequences of the actions of a congressional committee that failed to come up with $1.2 trillion of budget savings over 10 years, or approximately 3 percent of federal spending. To encourage the committee to come up with an acceptable proposal, a sequester action was formulated that would take money indiscriminately from discretionary accounts across the board. The assumption was that no one would accede to this arrangement. But it happened when the committee failed in its assignment.

Everyone assumed that sequester would never come to pass, and that its consequences were so dire that it would force compromise. Well, we all know that never happened. The government is now in a sequester reality, and its unintended consequences are yet to be seen.

A taste of this can be found in the military chiefs' testimony last month before the House Armed Services Committee. They testified that under sequester, the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance is unexecutable. For the Army, troop levels could plummet in the active-duty force, National Guard and Reserves. There will be much deferred maintenance, reduced investment and canceled training rotations. By 2014, the nation would have an Army where 85 percent of its brigades are unable to execute the strategic guidance. It is an Army heavily dependent on overseas contingency operations funding to satisfy day-to-day training, modernization and operational needs. It is an Army that would have to wait until after 2018 to rebalance readiness and modernization. The service could possibly lose up to 30 percent of its captains, many with multiple combat tours.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno points out that this is the first time that we are drawing down forces while still at war.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh cites the huge uncertainty of the present situation. We don't know how much funding we will have, when we'll have it, or the rules for executing it. This year the Air Force has grounded 33 squadrons--including 13 combat-coded flying squadrons--and has limited seven others to take-off and land training only. …