Military faces stark choices in coming budget battles

Reforming an out-of-control acquisition process, reshaping the workforce as two long wars wind down, coping with shrinking budgets -- Defense Department officials have a lot on their plate. Now, those management challenges have been magnified in the aftermath of the nation's debt deal.

In a panel discussion Tuesday titled Innovation and Management in the Military, hosted by Government Executive, senior Pentagon officials discussed these concerns and their outlook for the future of the military.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' 2010 efficiency initiative, through which the department sought to reform management to reap $100 billion in savings over five years, was an important beginning in reshaping priorities and cutting budgets, according to panel members.

"I think everyone in the department saw the coming downturn in spending," said Robert Work, undersecretary for the Navy.

Recent increases in Defense spending have not kept pace with Navy personnel costs, which have increased 27 percent since fiscal 1998, faster than the rate of inflation, Work said.

The Air Force also is coping with rising personnel costs, despite the fact that the service has shrunk during the last decade. Hypothetically, the service would have to let go of 47,000 employees to maintain personnel costs in the coming fiscal year, said Erin Conaton, undersecretary of the Air Force.

"There are a lot of ideas on the table, ranging from retirement changes to health care and allowance for housing," she said. "The challenge for the chiefs is trying to get a sense of which things can you change without breaking the faith of those who decided to serve and which things can you change without negatively impacting retention in the next decades."

Although those issues will become a top focus for the department, Work said it was premature to discuss the details of potential tough choices.

The panel expressed concern that the decisions made by a bipartisan deficit reduction committee could drastically affect the Pentagon's budget, which already has been targeted in cuts Congress would impose if the super committee cannot meet its deficit reduction targets.

"We're tying our hopes on the committee rather than sequestration," said Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the Army, referring to the process of automatic cuts that will occur if the committee does not reach a deal later this year.

The lack of defense experts on the committee is also a concern, said Conaton, who previously served as the House Armed Services Committee staff director.

"What we would like to make sure is if they're going to take additional reductions, that they do so consciously with an understanding of the implications, not only for the military, but for what the United States can do around the world," Conaton said.

Despite impending budget cuts, panelists said they saw opportunities for future improvement.

"I tell people all the time, if you're going to be in government, this is the time to be in government. Because the decisions we make over the next eight to 10 months are going to shape the department over the next ten decades," said Work. "If you aren't excited about that opportunity, then you're in the wrong damn business."

Clarification: Air Force Undersecretary Erin Conaton's comments about hypothetical personnel cuts were intended only to make a point about rising personnel costs. The Air Force has no plans to reduce the service by 47,000 personnel, nor did Conaton suggest such plans were under consideration.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.