Pentagon budget planning ‘out of sync’ with operational needs

The Defense Department's planning, programming, budget and execution system is too slow and inflexible to adequately support operations and makes it unnecessarily difficult for the military services "to adjust resources in a volatile world of unpredictable new threats," according to a new survey of managers.

In addition, Defense finance professionals deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan said they need more help from their colleagues back home to better support troops on the battlefield.

The use of supplemental funding for overseas contingency operations since 2001 also has complicated matters for managers, because "such funds were not always calculated using full life-cycle costs, leaving a legacy of unfunded operations and maintenance resource demands, which will plague defense budgets for years to come," the questionnaire found.

Those are just some of the findings of a survey of 1,014 civilian and uniformed Defense financial managers the American Society of Military Comptrollers conducted and the Alexandria, Va.-based consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP sponsored. It is the eighth such annual survey since 2003.

According to respondents, the system for developing five-year budget plans, known as PPBE, is too rigid to meet rapid changes in battlefield needs. One executive interviewed for the survey said, "PPBE takes 18 to 24 months, while the warfighter needs 18 to 24 days' reaction time -- and sometimes even a few hours. We need more flexibility to support the warfighter."

Another respondent said, "[PPBE] consumes a tremendous amount of man-years to complete, and then in the end it always comes down to critical, last-minute decisions made by a handful of people to make it balance. Even then, there is always a lot of broken glass that is left up to the execution year financial managers to fix."

Survey respondents said the financial management workforce needs to be rebalanced to use fewer contractors and more government employees, but that first, the cumbersome civilian personnel hiring system must be addressed.

Respondents included personnel from all military branches, including the Coast Guard, but the bulk of them were from the Army (37 percent), the Air Force (34 percent) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (12 percent). The survey also included interviews with 26 executives: 11 Navy, seven Army, four Defense, three Marine Corps and one Air Force.

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