By Megan Scully
January 11, 2008
The Pentagon's fiscal 2009 budget request marks Defense Secretary Robert Gates' first real chance to set military spending priorities, but analysts do not expect to see a major shake-up in the department's longstanding plans for high-priced weapons systems.
Defense budget watchers agree that the budget, due on Capitol Hill next month, is more likely to continue trends from the first seven years of the Bush administration than to present a new spending strategy. Programs falling under the umbrella of military transformation, which former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld outlined years ago, will continue to dominate the procurement budget, they said. Gates, who took over as Defense secretary in late 2006, "certainly has brought a new personality to the job," said Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate Budget Committee analyst who tracks military spending at the Center for Defense Information. But he added he is "not aware that anything .. is the slightest bit different."
Typically, major program cuts get leaked weeks before the Pentagon sends its budget to Congress. But it has been much quieter this year.
"The silence suggests people are getting what they want," said Gordon Adams, former deputy OMB director for national security programs.
"There could always be a surprise, but I'm sure not hearing any screams," he added.
Analysts cited several reasons for a largely status-quo fiscal 2009 budget request -- not the least of which is that the clock is ticking down on the Bush administration.
"Typically, the biggest changes happen the first year or two," said Steven Kosiak, a budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Gates has been focused on the Iraq war, leaving little time to reshape spending priorities to reflect his vision for the U.S. military.
"Remember, when he first came in he said there were three issues he was going to address -- Iraq, Iraq, Iraq," quipped Jacques Gansler, Pentagon acquisition chief during the Clinton administration. Several analysts suggested there will be changes "at the margins" to defense program budgets.
A former Defense official said cuts are possible to some of the military's space programs and shipbuilding efforts that have been over cost and beyond schedule. But other programs that formed the core of Rumsfeld's "network-centric" transformation, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, will likely continue to get a boost. And special operations forces, which have grown during the Bush administration, could receive boosts in their budgets, the former official said.
Last year, the Pentagon projected that procurement accounts would increase in real terms by 11 percent between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2013. But in an analysis released last year, Kosiak questioned whether expected cost growth in military personnel and operations and maintenance accounts would undermine efforts to spend more on procurement. Several analysts raised questions about the uncertain future of the hefty annual supplemental spending bills, which have significantly augmented the Pentagon's budget.
With no wholesale cuts anticipated in the next request, difficult decisions on military spending might be punted to the next administration.
"That's kind of my fear," Gansler said.
By Megan Scully
January 11, 2008