By Winslow T. Wheeler, director, Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight – 11/01/12 10:45 AM ET
Mitt Romney’s proposal to boost defense spending until it reaches “a floor of four percent of GDP [gross domestic product],” as he proclaims at his official website, is an insult to history.
This graph [below] shows how unprecedented it is. It tracks spending for the Department of Defense (DOD) from 1948 to 2022, expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars normalized to 2012. The data up to 2012 are actual spending. The data for the years after 2012 show Romney’s plan (in red), President Obama’s (in blue), and the spending to be imposed by sequestration (in green) – the result of the Budget Control Act’s automatic reductions now scheduled for January 2, 2013.
The Romney Plan shown assumes a gradual build up to his four percent goal, as calculated by Travis Sharp at the Center for a New American Security. Compared to other calculations of Romney’s declared intent, it is one of the more modest. The data for the Obama plan are from his 2013 budget, and the data for sequestration is from the Congressional Budget Office. In each, money has been included to accommodate a rapid drawdown from Afghanistan: all three data lines assume the Obama budget for overseas contingencies in 2013, $88.5 billion; an arbitrary assumption of $50 billion for 2014, $25 billion for 2015, and nothing after that. In other words, the spending levels shown are about as low as one might conceive.
Romney’s plan would boost the Pentagon’s budget more or less $300 billion above the previous post-World War Two highs, namely the Korea and Vietnam wars and the Reagan Cold War peak, and it would more than double the average amount of DOD spending during the Cold War: $440 billion compared to $900 billion.
Assessed against the low points after the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Reagan era, Romney’s nadir is about $250 billion higher. Even Obama’s lesser plan and the so-called “Doomsday” of sequester are well above the previous draw-down lows — between $150 billion to $100 billion higher, they are extraordinarily well stuffed with money, and yet President Obama, horrified that the lesser might occur, promised that sequester “will not happen.”
Romney would massively outspend Cold War budgets that addressed hundreds of hostile Warsaw Pact divisions in Europe, a Soviet navy that at one point numerically outnumbered ours, and a dogmatically communist Peoples’ Republic of China. Today, we face al Qaeda and its ilk who spend in a year less than we spend in one day; the big bogey man of the future, China, is our second largest trading partner.
Just what is Romney trying to address?
For years the mantra of the Republican defense-politicos, for example at the Heritage Foundation, has been four percent of GDP for defense. It is a wonderfully facile gimmick: it sounds like only a modest increase from our current 3.5 percent, and it presents an image of paltry defense spending today compared to the Cold War, when we spent up to nine percent. The four percent mantra was de rigueur during the Republican presidential primaries for anyone hoping to win; candidate Romney dutifully complied.
Also, with his gigantic DOD budget increase Romney is also clearly signaling that he intends to achieve his force structure goals not through reform, which would cost far less, but by simply throwing money. If he is the businessman he claims to be, Romney knows that is stupid. However, the money would not be thrown just at the Pentagon, but also to contractors, who have been expressing their appreciation with campaign contributions sufficient to bring him almost even with Obama.
Romney’s four percent solution has nothing to do with the real world.
Winslow T. Wheeler is the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. He worked for 30 years for Republican and Democratic senators and the Government Accountability Office on national security issues.
ROBERT STEELE: Brother Winslow is juxtaposing two different realities — the first is the percentage of Gross National Product (GDP, itself a corrupt measure because it includes prisons, toxins, and all manner of insane goods and services that are not in the public interest) while the second is what one gets for that percentage. 4% is a good target for two reasons: first, if and when the US Government begins to measure productivity (and employment) honestly, it will be closer to 3%; and second, DoD is so broken as to need every penny we can spare once we stop borrowing a trillion a year, stop corporate welfare as well as excessive government employment and hand-outs, flush the top-heavy personnel system, and start holding managers accountable for returns on investment. What we do NOT need is the beef up the hack DoD that we have gotten along with on a foundation of zero accountability and too much money. The next version of DoD needs to adhere to the wisdom of Senator Sam Nunn and Dr. Russell Ackoff combined with my own emphasis all these years on the need to redirect the craft of intelligence so as to provide all who need it with ethical evidence-based decision support.
I am constantly being asked for a bottom-line defense number. I don’t know of any logical way to arrive at such a figure without analyzing the threat,; without determining what changes in our strategy should be made in light of the changes in the threat; and then determining what force structure and weapons programs we need to carry out this revised strategy. (Nunn, 1992)
“The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our society is a result of the fact that our public policy makers are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter.” (Ackoff 2004)
To the above I would add my own considered judgment that the next incumbent of the White House needs a Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who has the brains and the balls to appoint an absolutely ruthless wizard to do what OMB has never done before: manage. The Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System/Execution (PPBS/E) has been out of control since it first came into vogue. Nothing the Secretary of Defense “approves” today is evidence-based, and sad to say, DoD is the best of all the government agencies at the semblance of PPBS/E. The US Government needs a zero-based budget review that flushes the base budget, mandates common open source solutions across such vital mission areas as C4I, and builds to a Whole of Government model intended to serve the public interest, rather than the existing stovepipe model that allocates taxpayer dollars to special interests.
Having said that, I also believe strongly that reform can and should be revenue and job neutral from district to district and state to state. I learned this hard lesson watching Senator John Warner (R-VA) stop the National Security Act of 1992 in its tracks because none of us was wise enough to outline for him how a 450-ship Navy and an Open Source Agency based in Virginia, would be an absolute off-set for redirected resources. We need a 450-ship Navy, a long-haul Air Force, an air-deliverable Army. My expectation is that the Marine Corps, fully integrated with a distributed 450-ship Navy, including the Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships as C4I and VSTOL platforms, will be able to put a platoon with a Cobra overhead anywhere on the planet within 24 hours; a company with Harriers within 48 hours, and a Battalion Landing Team (-) with organic air within 72 hours. The Coast Guard should share with the Navy the 25 new Expediters and 75 patrol craft/littoral small ships, properly designed, while we deep six the ships emerging from the Coast Guard and Navy bureaus that have lost the ability to actually design and build a ship that does what it is supposed to do, at an affordable price.