More Bureaucrats, Fewer Jets and Ships

12/11/13
 
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by John Lehman,

from The Wall Street Journal,
12/9/13:

More than half of our active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs.

As we lament the lack of strategic direction in American foreign policy, it is useful to remember the classic aphorism that diplomatic power is the shadow cast by military power. The many failures and disappointments of American policy in recent years, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Russia and Iran are symptoms of the steady shrinkage of the shadow cast by American military power and the fading credibility and deterrence that depends on it.

Although current U.S. spending on defense adjusted for inflation has been higher than at the height of the Reagan administration, it has been producing less than half of the forces and capabilities of those years. Instead of a 600-ship Navy, we now have a 280-ship Navy, although the world’s seas have not shrunk and our global dependence has grown. Instead of Reagan’s 20-division Army, we have only 10-division equivalents. The Air Force has fewer than half the number of fighters and bombers it had 30 years ago.

Apologists for the shrinkage argue that today’s ships and aircraft are far more capable than those of the ’80s and ’90s. That is as true as “you can keep your health insurance.”

While today’s LCSs—the littoral-class ships that operate close to shore—have their uses, they are far less capable than the Perry-class frigates that they replace.

Air Force fighter planes today average 28 years old.

There is one great numerical advantage the U.S. has against potential adversaries, however. That is the size of our defense bureaucracy. While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled. According to the latest figures, there are currently more than 1,500,000 full-time civilian employees in the Defense Department—800,000 civil servants and 700,000 contract employees. Today, more than half of our active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs. The number of various Joint Task Force staffs, for instance, has grown since 1987 from seven to more than 250, according to the Defense Business Board.

The Pentagon, like Marley’s ghost, must drag this ever-growing burden of chains without relief. As a result something close to paralysis is approaching. The suffocating bloat of overstaffing in an overly centralized web of bureaucracies drives runaway cost growth in weapons systems great and small. Whereas the immensely complex Polaris missile and submarine system took four years from a draft requirement until its first operational patrol in February 1960, today the average time for all weapons procured under Defense Department acquisition regulations is 22 years.

The latest Government Accountability Office report, released in October, estimates that there is $411 billion of unfunded cost growth in current Pentagon programs, almost as much as the entire 10 years of sequester cuts if they continue. The result has been unilateral disarmament.

What is to be done? As with most great issues, the solution is simple, the execution difficult. First, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel must be supported in his announced intention to cut the bureaucracy of uniformed and civilian by at least 20%. Each 7,000 civilian reductions saves at least $5 billion over five years. Second, clear lines of authority and accountability, now dissipated through many bureaucratic entities, must be restored to a defined hierarchy of human beings with names. Third, real competition for production contracts must be re-established as the rule not the exception. Fourth, weapons programs must be designed to meet an established cost and canceled if they begin to exceed it.

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