Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The War over Defense James

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The War over Defense James

Article excerpt

The U.S. Armed Forces are in quite a battle these days. They're caught between a president determined to make substantial cuts in defense investments and a Congress increasingly intolerant with wasteful spending.

All this while following a Rube Goldberg set of legislative mandates and having a nation to defend. In today's Washington, there is little the military can do to run this gauntlet without getting bruised and beaten.

The Pentagon cannot keep the president and Congress from playing politics with the budget. But it can adopt practices that make it harder for politicians to make military procurement the scapegoat for the bloated federal budget -- by showing that the Armed Forces are good consumers.

President Barack Obama is not just slowing the growth of defense; he is cutting defense spending. Under his plan, the level of investment in defense wouldn't return to fiscal year 2010 spending levels for a decade.

That would make it a real challenge to replace equipment worn out by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as aged systems remain in the field long past their expected service life -- as well as buy "next generation" systems that will ensure that the U.S. can best potential adversaries.

Acquisition, the process of developing and buying new systems, has been chronically underfunded for decades. The president's proposal worsens the problem by calling for a reduction of almost $38 billion (17 percent) in the budget for getting new capabilities in just three years, without accounting for inflation.

By contrast, the proposals submitted by the House Budget Committee and the Republican Study Committee call for sustained levels of defense investment. Even that wouldn't be enough to make up for the prolonged post-Cold War "procurement holiday" imposed on the Pentagon. But they would stem the dangerous erosion in the capabilities needed to defend U.S. vital interests worldwide.

It remains to be seen what Washington will spend to give the men and women of the U.S. military what they need to defend the nation. But Pentagon officials don't have to wait to get their own act together in the meantime.

They can lay the groundwork for a renaissance in defense investment -- and create trust and confidence -- by using the resources Congress has allocated wisely. …

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