At the annual Defense Forum at the Reagan Presidential Library, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered a much-publicized speech last Saturday about how to make sure our military is ready to defend the nation’s vital interest in these difficult days.
But Hagel didn’t describe a plan to deliver “game-changing” technology; he gave a speech about planning to have a plan. That’s not much of plan. Like much of what has passed for “defense” planning from the Obama administration, the speech bears all the earmarks of more empty rhetoric, while our military continues to atrophy and the global security environment continues to degrade.
As the sun sets on the Obama administration, it is becoming increasingly clear that real defense reforms will have to be the first task of the next administration. The Heritage Foundation has long advocated reforms that would give Americans a dollar of defense for each dollar invested.
But when the next team takes the Oval Office, the pressure to make the Pentagon run better and free up resources to put more planes in the air, ships at sea, and boots on the ground will be daunting. The administration will need a deliberate, sequenced, doable plan to get the job done. That plan could well start with a four-step process which starts with making sure the military has the capacity and capabilities it needs to protect us.
Step 1. Right-sizing the Defense Department. Paying for all these paper-pushers while shedding military capabilities such as troops, planes and ships aside—excessive bureaucracy slows the capacity of the services to respond. Getting that mismatch right ought to be job one.
Step 2. Adopting better business practices. To get the Pentagon running right, it is essential to sequence reforms properly and build on them systematically. So where should the next administration focus its attention to wring savings from and for defense? For its first few years in office, at least, the best answer is: consistent use of performance-based logistics.
Step 3. Managing the Pentagon’s global real estate. As I’ve written, “The Pentagon’s 200+ golf courses are only a tiny fraction of the 29 million acres of land and hundreds of thousands of buildings managed by the Department of Defense.” Making sense out of all that has to be top priority for the next administration.
Step 4. Building a defense acquisition system for the 21st century. “Rather than pursue another round of all-or-nothing, ‘comprehensive’ reform legislation or small-ball tinkering around the edges, the next administration should embark on a systematic, disciplined effort to remake defense acquisition based on a simple, practical plan.”
These steps may not give the America the world’s cheapest military. But that is not what Americans want. They expect armed forces that can defend their interests—and they expect a White House that’s a responsible steward of the national treasure committed to provide for the common defense.
James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is The Heritage Foundation’s Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Heritage Foundation.