Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy makes an unpersuasive case that there is a right way to apply the ongoing cuts to the defense budget.
Flournoy argues that in restructuring the defense enterprise in response to the cuts, failure is not an option. In reality, given the budget numbers, failure is not an option—it is a certainty.
Flournoy’s specific proposals for increasing efficiency at the Department of Defense (DOD) are a mixed bag. She is right in arguing to shed excess civilian positions at the DOD. Civilian positions in some areas of the defense bureaucracy have grown too large and reflect overly bureaucratic and inefficient procedures.
Flournoy’s proposal to reform the military health care system is vague and therefore difficult to assess. It fails to recognize that there is a positive alternative to the present system that is based on systemic reform and the migration of the military health care system to a defined-contribution approach.
Flournoy proposes reducing excess infrastructure within the DOD. It is unclear, however, how much excess infrastructure there is within the DOD, because it depends on the overall size of the military’s force structure and its required national and global presence. Accordingly, the scope of savings in this area will diminish if these force structure and presence requirements are larger than Flournoy may be contemplating.
Flournoy’s final efficiency proposal is for acquisition reform. There have been many acquisition-reform proposals over the past several decades, and all have been found wanting in some way or another. Flournoy’s proposal fails to recognize that the current acquisition system is over-regulated and overly bureaucratic. Counterintuitively, effective acquisition reform would require a large measure of deregulation. An earlier Heritage study argues that deregulation should come from Congress as well as the executive branch. Flournoy does not detail the proper role for Congress in defense acquisition reform.
It is clear that the most damaging outcome for the military will come from sequestration. Flournoy was still Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the time the Budget Control Act was being crafted. Flournoy could have publicly opposed sequestration at the time, which could have served to nix a proposal that she now acknowledges is likely to come out badly for both the military and the DOD as a whole.
The adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly applies in this case. The DOD would be better off today and in the years ahead if Flournoy had objected publicly and forcefully to the inclusion of defense sequestration in the Budget Control Act prior to its enactment.