Defense Secretary Robert Gates: Enjoying his last few weeks on the job
Well, the outgoing SECDEF is not exactly going quietly into that good night. Robert Gates’ farewell tour has spanned the globe, and his opinions on a wide range of issues have kicked up dust at just about every stop. The latest? That grand ‘ol punching bag known as Europe, which leads to my favorite headline of the week: “Gates to NATO: You Guys Suck“.
From DoD Buzz:
Have you ever imagined quitting your job and telling your old cretin of a boss exactly what you think of him? Of course — it’s the American dream. And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is living it right now, having gone to the doorstep of one of the world’s most ossified, stultifying bureaucracies — NATO — and delivered this message: Get your act together.
Click here to read Philip Ewing’s full article. It’s a great piece.
Ashton Carter, the Sheriff of Acquisition at the Pentagon
Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s acquisition boss, made news today by announcing plans for a detailed “soup to nuts” review of defense spending. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. What is somewhat newsworthy is the way in which the plans were laid out: an invitation only meeting with officials from the major industry players. From Defense News:
“Sources said the acquisition executive told industry brass the review will examine competition for contracts; requirements; specific fees; how to ensure strong small-business participation in the DoD acquisition process; the differences between planning for what programs should and most likely will cost; how to bolster the acquisition work force; and affordability.” (Read the Full Article here)
This announcement tracks pretty well with Secretary Gates’ plans to keep Defense budget growth to 1% per year over the next few years by moving costs from “tail to tooth”. It’s a good sign that the administration is keeping industry at the table, and that (at least for now), industry is playing along. From the perspective of PNDC, it’s good to see some language about small business participation, but I’m still deeply suspicious of phrases like that. I’ve spent a little time in the rarified world of big dollar acquisition, and those folks haven’t got the foggiest clue about how industry actually works at the ground level. Still… platitudes are better than nothing, so we’ll take it.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: A Guy Whose Job I Don't Want
Appointed by a Republican president, serving in a Democratic administration. That’s quite an accomplishment for anyone. As if that hasn’t burnished his credentials enough, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the middle of picking a fight (or many, many fights) with just about everyone. Here’s a short list of the aggrieved:
- Veteran’s Groups
- Defense Industry Lobbyists
- Capitol Hill
- The Pentagon Bureaucracy
- My Grandma, my little sister, and even my puppy, who growled at Gates on CNN last night
In all seriousness, this has been coming for quite a while now. Some of the best thinkers out there saw this coming a mile away, and most of the experts I’ve spoken to were pretty confident that we were in for this fight no matter who won the last presidential election. The red ink we’ve got across the board in the US is not going to go away on its own, and the Executive branch is looking for any way it can to contain ballooning budget deficits.
The good news? It looks as though the Obama administration is looking to avoid a repeat of the 1990’s, when military readiness was impacted by big shifts in the budget. The noises coming from the corner office at the Pentagon seem to emphasize the status quo when it comes to force structure, which is a net positive.
The bad news? Well, there’s plenty. Military pay has seen huge escalation over the last decade, and Congress shows no signs of stopping the steep increases. These costs are starting to add up, leading some in the Pentagon to worry about how long they can keep this up. Another major cost driver is the ever escalating price tag for health care. The Pentagon’s Tricare program is shoveling out huge amounts of cash to cover our healthcare obligations to current and former service members, and the costs just keep heading north. On top of this, major weapons systems acquisitions are still an unholy mess. The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is getting more expensive by the hour, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has seen substantial cost growth of its own. That’s not to mention the hundreds of other acquisitions that are busting cost and schedule milestones.
Underlying all of this is something you should keep in mind: nearly everyone who thinks about these things for a living saw this coming. That doesn’t mean these fights aren’t going to be ugly and acrimonious, but they are going to follow a very predictable script. Many SECDEF’s in the past have tried to reform the Pentagon…I think you know how that went. Here’s my prediction: It’s going to be one long summer for Robert Gates. You can take that one to the bank.