Panel Critiques Defense Review

Congress should repeal several regulations that prevent the Defense Department from privatizing many jobs, an independent panel appointed to assess the Quadrennial Defense Review has recommended. The panel also supported two more rounds of base closures.

The National Defense Panel, appointed by Secretary of Defense William Cohen to comply with a congressional requirement for an independent assessment of the QDR, commended the review as "an important step down the evolutionary path that must be taken to reshape our military capabilities," but criticized the review for not tying DoD's strategic plan to force structure, operations and procurement decisions and for not fully taking into account new challenges the military will face in the 21st century.

"To the extent that the QDR views major theater warfare as a traditional force-on-force challenge, this view inhibits the transformation of the American military to fully exploit our advantages as well as the vulnerabilities of potential opponents," the panel said.

In addition to supporting Cohen's request for two additional rounds of base closures, the panel urged DoD to ask Congress for deregulation to free the department from provisions that require 60 percent of depot maintenance work to be performed by government employees. The group also recommended full public/private competition for any function involving more than ten employees before it can be outsourced, and that all firefighting and security functions be performed by government personnel.

The panel argued that DoD and other agencies with a role in national security should work more closely in the future to avoid redundancy and make better use of the armed forces.

"A coordinated and coherent strategy and synergistic plans that look beyond the bounds of DoD will further our national security objectives and ensure more effective use of U.S. military forces," the panel said.

While the panel supported DoD's decision to keep 100,000 troops in Europe and 100,000 in Asia, it warned that over time the military will probably find it difficult to justify their presence to foreign governments for political reasons and as other countries' military power improves with technological advances and weapons proliferation.

The QDR's modernization plan relies on some risky budgetary assumptions, the panel said. To reach the $60 billion procurement goal set for 2001 and beyond, the Pentagon assumes savings from additional base closures, infrastructure and acquisition reform. It also assumes that its annual appropriations will remain at a constant $250 billion a year.

"The panel considers each of these assumptions to be somewhat tenuous. Collectively they represent a budget risk which could potentially undermine the entire defense strategy," the panel said.

Phil Odeen, president of BDM International, a defense consulting and research firm, heads the National Defense Panel. Other panel members are: Richard Armitage, former assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs; Richard Hearney, former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; David Jeremiah, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Robert M. Kimmitt, managing director of Lehman Brothers, an investment banking firm; Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; James P. McCarthy, former deputy commander-in-chief, U.S. European Command; Janne Nolan, senior fellow, Brookings Institution Foreign Policy Studies program; and Robert R. RisCassi, former commander of U.S. forces in Korea.

The panel will submit a report on alternative force structure options to Congress by Dec. 15.

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