Tuesday, February 08, 2005

 

Slate's Fred Kaplan Really Dislikes Rumsfeld.

That's okay; I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

In Fred Kaplan's latest "Look at me! I can download the defense budget!" polemic (link here), he complains that the Fiscal Year 2006 (FY06) defense budget plays a shell game with Army funding.

Specifically, Kaplan takes issue with how the FY06 budget lowballs the required Army funding, ostensibly so the upcoming Iraq supplemental can fund it. This way, Kaplan alleges, the Pentagon can have its cake and eat it too: deliver a defense budget that looks modest, but still end up funding all the Army requirements "off budget," i.e., via the emergency supplemental process.

What's today? February 8th? Readers of Garfield Ridge already heard me make Kaplan's argument way back on January 24th. Sheesh, Fred; speed the hell up, will ya?

Anyways, while on the surface Fred Kaplan and I seem to agree-- the supplemental process is broken, and as such is open to just the kind of abuse Kaplan highlights-- as always, our differences are in the details.

You see, Kaplan smells rats where I merely smell bullshit. The system sucks, but that doesn't mean there's nefarious intent behind every old bureaucratic trick.

Let's look at a few of Kaplan's complaints in detail:
-- The FY06 defense budget isn't really $419 billion; it's $428.9 billion, because it also includes the Department of Energy's efforts to research, produce, and maintain nuclear warheads.

Again, I'm simply astounded at Kaplan's ability to read a PDF file. I'm sure this factoid is interesting to everyone who doesn't know it, but it's basic knowledge to everyone in Washington. In fact, the origins of the DoE funding lie in post-World War II directives concerning civilian management of nuclear weapons development and sustainment.

Also, by giving only the barest descriptions of the efforts, Kaplan neglects to mention that DoE is no longer researching or producing nuclear warheads-- since the end of the Cold War, activities have focused nearly exclusively on maintenance of the existing nuclear weapon stockpile.

-- "This year, the Pentagon is using the supplemental option for purposes that go way beyond standard practice."
First, Donald Rumsfeld and his comptroller's office are not even taking an educated guess at how much the Army might need in Iraq next year. For the budget, they are requesting peacetime levels of funding and intend to put all war costs into the supplemental.
Uh, Fred? That's the definition of a supplemental: additional funding purely for war costs. The FY06 defense budget funds standard military requirements, while unique annual requirements for war are included in the supplemental.

Why? So Congress can consider wartime costs separate from the standard defense budget, and modify the wartime costs as necessary. Since the only real authority Congress has over the Commander-in-Chief is the power of the purse, by maintaining that strict separation between "peacetime" and "wartime" costs, Congress can, in theory, prevent the Pentagon from funding wartime operations it disagrees with, all by denying the supplemental funding.

The Pentagon *could* put the wartime funding requirements into the FY06 defense budget-- and they would immediately be slapped down by Congress-- bipartisanly-- for doing so.

-- "Rumsfeld is also putting into the supplemental items relating to the expansion of the U.S. Army- not to the war in Iraq."

It is well known, and widely reported, that the Pentagon plans to restructure the active Army's combat brigades and to expand their number from 33 to 43. This will require more soldiers, more equipment, more training, and more of everything that goes with such things. This isn't the unpredictable cost of war; this is the very predictable cost of restructuring the Army. And yet the FY06 military budget contains not a dime for any of this. It will all get shoved in the supplemental.
Here's where Kaplan scores a point, although it isn't quite the huge one he thinks it is. Yes, a lot of funds in the supplemental are going towards items that, in most cases, would properly be funded through the standard annual Fiscal Year appropriation. These items include more soldiers, more equipment, training, support, etc. As I posted before, I have a visceral distaste for these sorts of budgeting maneuvers.

That said, without knowing what the "official" Pentagon line is on this funding, I can make an educated guess as to what Secretary Rumsfeld would say: these extra soldiers, equipment, etc. are just as supplemental as the other "wartime" funding included in the emergency request, because the only reason we're spending money on these efforts is to fight the war we are in, today, in Iraq.

Remember, the Rumsfeld Pentagon doesn't *want* these extra troops and equipment, for multiple reasons. First, they're not really needed-- what's 30,000 extra troops in a million man force? Second, even if they are needed, the training investments in both time and money mean they're likely to never be ready in time for effective use. Third, once the war is over, these troops-- not to mention many troops currently on active duty-- are unlikely to have a role in the "transformed" military the Pentagon is trying to build.

Now, on that last point, one may disagree whether that transformation is either necessary or wise, but if you accept the precepts of the current wave of Pentagon strategic reform, it makes no sense to add what you can't use.

To put it another way, you may argue whether we need a motorcycle or a car, but if I end up buying the motorcycle, we should all be able to agree that I don't need to buy a passenger door.

-- "If Congress decides to pursue this inspection, it might want to check out the following weapons programs, which seem particularly out of whack with the president's State of the Union wish to fund only "essential priorities":

Good Lord; here we go again. How come is it that, every time the Pentagon opens its books, the anti-military media harp on a litany of military programs, as if they're elimination would either A) balance the Federal budget, or B) result in the Age of Aquarius among men and nations?

It's so predictable: don't like something in the Pentagon budget? Cancel the F/A-22!!!

If Kaplan jerked his knee any harder, he'd have a bruise on his inflated egotistical head.

Anyways, I'm going to address the F/A-22 program-- and the other efforts Kaplan wants eliminated so he can sleep soundly at night-- in my next post.

---
This posting was made on my personal computer.

Comments:
There are some in Congress who would like DOD to put the war funding in the budget. Last year, there were Democrat Members on HASC and SASC who were pressing Rumsfeld to put the war spending into the budget rather than putting it into a supplemental. Rumsfeld's response was that even during Vietnam, the operations funding was a supplemental.

There was a little of this during the late 90s when some Republicans were saying that the deployments in the Mid-East (particularly enforcing the no-fly zone) and the Balkans had graduated from "contingencies" and should be put into the budget as "permanent" deployments.

Simon Oliver Lockwood
 
Simon--

Good points. If you visit my earlier post from January, I too mentioned them, in case you're interested.

I'm curious whether this will be a big debate this year or not. Obviously, it's struck a nerve with some folks on the Hill, but in the end, I just don't see anyone making too much hay over a supplemental.

Although, the question is whether or not the lack of an election emboldens or weakens the critics. The critics obviously don't have to bite their tongue as much in attacking the supplemental dynamics, but at the same time, they may not feel compelled to yap about it, as the media is less likely to pay attention outside of an election year.

Who knows?

Cheers,
Dave
 
Fire, Water, At Home Hot Tubs Wyoming
. I take At Home Hot Tubs Wyoming
. :)
 
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