Tag Archives: Defense Budget

Top 5 Things To Watch In 2021 Defense Budget Hearings



“Military and civilian defense leaders will testify to lawmakers about the Defense Department’s $705 billion budget request for 2021. Here’s what to expect.


Defense Dollars for Immigration…Again

The Pentagon’s budget has stopped growing for the first time in this administration (excluding disaster-relief funding). Lawmakers are still processing the many tradeoffs produced by this belt-tightening. Few were expecting the administration once again to attempt to divert defense funds to border-barrier construction. Last year, Washington’s impasse over “more wall” led to a government shutdown. Ultimately, the president got most of what he wanted. 

HASC Chairman Adam Smith said it best: “If you can just grab $7 billion out of your budget, then I think we need to take a closer look at your budget and how to cut it.” 

The Defense Department cannot spend the money it currently has, so Congress rightly will want more details.

Divesting to Invest in the Defense Strategy

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is animated by his efficiency reviews to plow more funds into the defense strategy. Congress is generally supportive of the concept but often dissatisfied when the individual consequences become real. 

Nowhere is this truer than in shipbuilding and the retirement of existing aircraft. The Air Force has proposed expansive retirements of geriatric aircraft that strain tight budgets with increasing maintenance costs. Yet Congress has responded poorly to similar plans in the past, as former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James recently reiterated. “No member of Congress wants to lose, or stand by and silently lose, a fleet of aircraft or a capability from their state or district, which, of course, translates to jobs,” she said. 

The Navy faces a similarly steep charge. Despite commitment to a 355-ship fleet, the latest budget cuts Navy’s shipbuilding. Leaders have warned that the new nuclear submarine would eat into shipbuilding for years. But the Navy has also diverged from last year’s 30-year plan in other ways, cutting planned purchases of attack subs, littoral combat ships, and other programs. 

Again, rumblings have already started in Congress. Chair of the Seapower Subcommittee, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., held no punches: “The President’s shipbuilding budget is not a 355-ship Navy budget…I can say with complete certainty that, like so much of the rest of the President’s budget, it is dead on arrival.” 

Nuclear Weapons Bill is Big and Getting Bigger

Modernization of the aging nuclear triad has been repeatedly put off by administrations of both parties. The ability to continue extending the service lives of these strategic platforms has essentially run out. The bills are due, and they are large. 

In order to modernize bombers, boomers and ballistic missiles, the Pentagon had to cut other priority procurement to pay for it. One headline earlier this month summed up the difficult tradeoffs: “The U.S. Navy wants more ships but can’t afford them, admiral says.” The Navy’s unfunded priorities list reads like a casualty list of all the programs sacrificed for the new Columbia-class missile subs.

Nuclear forces upgrades alone will cost a half-trillion dollars over the next decade. The tradeoffs only get tougher next year and the year after that.

Space Force Quickly Becoming a Bureaucracy 

The sixth branch of the armed forces is quickly standing up and learning the ways of Washington. The Space Force might not have a headquarters yet, but it did have an unfunded requirements list totaling $1 billion

Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the U.S. Space Force reiterated the challenges ahead, saying, “Since the creation of the Space Force I’ve gotten questions from people along the lines of ‘So we’ve created the Space Force, but what is it going to do?’”

Over the next year, the new service must rapidly establish the bureaucratic structures it requires to sustain itself. Among various other charges, this means training personnel, deciding where talent will be pulled from, and launching their recruitment pipeline. Congress must be reassured the new service is progressing on schedule, while simultaneously avoiding the temptation to recreate old processes that will fail to serve this unique domain. 

Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Terrorists

There is much disruption in this year’s defense budget as officials try to instill “irreversible” momentum toward implementation of the defense strategy. But policymakers have seen reality continue to mug the military the past year with repeated flare-ups in regions where the Pentagon would like to shed mission. 

Just weeks ago, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, warned that “the Middle East is never going to let you pivot away from it.” After a challenging start to 2020, military brass will be pressed to justify their regional decisions. For example, the Army plans to draw down both counter-ISIS fund and Afghanistan security forces funds. It also intends to reduce the European Deterrence Initiative for the second year. 

As policymakers and service chiefs prepare for a long season of posture hearings, it’s clear the military has made hard choices. Congress must now live up to its end of the bargain to accept some political pain for great(er) power competition gain.”


Pentagon Plans to Triple Audits Amid Surge in Defense Spending

Image: https://www.smalltofeds.com/2008/02/dcaa-audits-and-small-business-job-cost.html


A surge of defense spending is prompting the Pentagon’s audit agency to triple the number of evaluations it will undertake in order to uncover or prevent unjustified profits based on incomplete, flawed or inaccurate cost data.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency intends to complete as many as 60 Truth In Negotiations Act reviews in the coming fiscal year, compared to about 20 in the year ending Sept. 30.”


“According to spokesman Christopher Sherwood. The agency completed 21 such audits in 2018 and 26 in 2017. About half the reviews focused on the top 25 defense contractors.

Efforts to bolster defense spending were aided by Congress’s decision to revise spending caps for the final two years of the 2011 Budget Control Act. That effectively added tens of billions of dollars potential defense spending to the Pentagon budget: $90.3 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $81.3 billion in the following year.

Congress has signaled its concern that the money could be misspent. The staff of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as investigators for Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, are already reviewing the Pentagon’s enforcement of the law intended to prevent unjustified profits based on incomplete, flawed or inaccurate cost and pricing data for military unique items.

“The committee is investigating whether defense contractors are providing complete and accurate cost data, as required by law,” Cummings said in an emailed statement.

The 1962 Truth In Negotiations Act sought to put government contracting officers on equal footing with company counterparts, requiring firms during negotiations to provide government buyers all the variables that influenced the final price of a product or service unique to the military. They must also legally certify that the information is accurate, complete and current.

The TINA audits are separate from Pentagon reviews that uncover instances of overcharging for basic spare parts such as nuts and pins. Those types of goods are considered “commercial items,” normally exempt from the law’s price data requirements since there is already publicly available data to compare them with.

Fraud Alert

Under the ramped up audit policy, the number of “work years,” or time devoted to compiling compliance audits, will increase by approximately 500%, Sherwood said.

Previous reviews show there’s reason to be concerned. As an example, Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s former director of defense pricing and contracting, said evaluations during his tenure showed that essentially 100% of the contracts examined at one top-25 defense contractor had suspect pricing.

“If one looks deep enough there is some element of fraud typically lurking,” he said.

Sherwood said the contracts most prone to significant risk of “excess profits” are large, firm-fixed price types. In 2015, the audit agency formed a specialized, 20-person unit to handle reviews of “high-risk” contracts.

Based on initial reviews commissioned before the team was formed, Assad said in a written statement that “it became obvious to us that we needed to step up defective pricing review efforts.”

80% Profits

“In a number of cases we expected profit outcomes of 12% to 15%,” Assad said, but they found levels of between 25% and 80% on some sole-source weapons contracts. “That does not happen by outstanding performance” but by faulty contractor cost estimating “or in the worst case, fraud,” he added. Assad retired this year.

Since 2015, the unit has conducted audits on 108 high-risk contracts totaling $74 billion. Of those, 79 — or nearly 75% — uncovered potential defective pricing of $589 million that could eventually translate into contractor repayments after the contested charges go through a negotiations process.

“If both parties arrive at a mutually agreeable settlement, the contractor will make a payment to the government,” Sherwood said. But if not, the government’s principal negotiator “issues a demand for payment, at which point the contractor may elect to make the payment or pursue legal action,” he added.

In that same period, the audit agency has referred 10 compliance audits with “suspected irregular conduct” to the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service. Eight of those 10 have resulted in active cases, Sherwood said.”


Tight Government Agency Budgets Bring a Silver Lining


Risk vs. Opportunitiy - alumni.bm.ust.hk

Image:  http://alumni.bm.ust.hk


“Growing funding pressures and uncertainty place a growing onus on agencies to navigate the turbulence in new and innovative ways.

Thus, far from being a market killer, it actually presents opportunity.

For years, the question of when the government might return to “regular order” –that is, a “normal” process in which appropriations are essentially completed by the end of September—has been a prominent one.

Agency leaders, industry, and others, have continually and appropriately harped on the deleterious impacts of the funding yo-yo that has dominated the scene for far too long.
And if there was one thing many hoped for as a result of having one party in control of both the White House and Congress, it was a return to regular order.

Well, it’s probably not going to happen. As virtually all recent reports have indicated, the budget debate within the parties, let alone between the parties, remains fierce and the chances of getting a full year fiscal 2018 funding bill by Sept. 30th are slim indeed.

President Trump’s budget blueprint – the “skinny budget” — generated plenty of debate; the release of his full proposed budget will only turn up the heat further. No  budget resolutions have yet been proposed, let alone passed, and no spending instructions given to the appropriations committees.

Beyond that, consider what else Congress has to deal with over the next four months: the farm insurance bill; the children’s insurance program (CHIP); health care; possibly tax reform; and, of course, the debt ceiling. In other words, while a complex and many-layered debate is virtually certain, it has not yet really begun and one or more continuing resolutions appear almost certain.

To complicate matters further, the Senate cannot even take up the budget until after it finishes with health care, because as soon as a budget bill is passed the rules change previously instituted by the Democrats (requiring only a majority vote) will revert back to the standard rule under which 60 votes will be needed.

Thus, the betting is that another continuing resolution, or a series of them, will be needed.

And that is never a good thing for smart planning and program execution.

Nonetheless, it would appear that over the years most agencies have actually gotten pretty good at adjusting to the external dynamics and finding a way to do their jobs. Even as agencies struggled with the White House’s early budget instructions, most continued to operate relatively normally. And that has mostly carried over to the market as well.

Unlike what we saw with sequestration—the impacts of which were seen and felt months before it went into effect—the impacts of the potential or expected spending reductions are not reflected in a broad market slow-down. In fact, with the exception of State and EPA,  just the opposite seems to be happening.

Through the first two quarters of fiscal 2017, civilian agency spending on professional services and IT both grew by double digits over the same period last year. At the Defense Department, for which we only have data for the first quarter, the pattern was the same (16 percent for professional services; 10 percent for IT).

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, this is actually consistent with what we’ve seen in recent years. Often, those agencies under the toughest budgetary pressures have also been those in which the market has performed best.

Again, this is in part the result of agencies having learned to operate amidst the chaos. But more importantly, it appears to validate another key market dynamic: as agencies are forced to be more and more selective with their funding, their highest priority missions, and thus those most fully funded, tend to be highly tech-centric (cyber, analytics, automation, etc.).

Almost by definition, those missions require more private sector support than other, more routine operations. Thus, market growth in a constrained environment is not only possible, it is likely.

Going forward, aside from major reductions in mission or service, agencies’ best hopes and strategies for dealing with the budget realities largely lie in aggressively expanding the degree to which they capitalize on opportunities to substantially reduce costs (and improve service) across the board, driven by the emergence of the digital economy.

It’s happening across the commercial sector; and this budget could well catalyze a similar transition in government.

This is not to say that predictability and stability should not still be a goal. It absolutely should be. Nor is it to suggest that some budget cuts won’t have very real negative impacts on segments of industry. They will.

But as the data and other trends suggest, stability may not be the holy grail it once appeared to be. ”


About the Author

Stan Soloway

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

More Defense Dollars Don’t Guarantee a Better Military


FY 2017 Defense Waste

Forbes Magazine


“Is it possible that, counter-intuitively, more defense dollars could make us less safe?

Yes. The fact is, that is exactly what’s happening. There are tens of billions of defense dollars being wasted every year. That’s not just bad for our checkbook. It’s bad for our military effectiveness.

Everyone agrees that federal spending is out of control, yet there’s little appetite to go after bloated Pentagon budgets. Americans from the left, right, and center all too often give the military a pass because they grudgingly believe current levels of defense spending are necessary for national security.

The problem is two-fold. First, there is the Pentagon acquisition system, which fails to deliver affordable and effective weapons on time. Then, this failed system is overseen by a Congress that rewards the waste with additional dollars for modernization at the cost of near- and medium-term readiness.

Consider the ineffective weapon systems the Pentagon tries to develop. One infamous example is the Future Combat System (FCS), an Army program that was meant to replace America’s workhouse armored vehicles that were built in the 1980s. After more than a decade, the program was cancelled after spending $20 billion and producing exactly zero new vehicles. Meanwhile, our potential adversaries have produced several new iterations of tanks and other armored vehicles.

A recent CSIS report estimates taxpayers lost $59 billion in acquisition failures from 2001 to 2010, and shows that the problem is systemic. Last year the Government Account Office (GAO) found that, despite years of recommendations on ways to correct development failures, the Pentagon “still lacks the capacity to fully implement reforms, particularly in the areas of cost estimating, program assessment, systems engineering, and developmental testing.”

Then, on top of the Pentagon’s inability to effectively manage major acquisition programs, Congress supports systems that primarily benefit its members’ constituents and campaign supporters, further compromising the U.S. military’s ability to field a force properly equipped and trained. A look at where the defense dollars go—and where key members of Congress get their financial support–is very telling.

Readiness determines whether our troops are fit to fight and is largely funded through the operations and maintenance accounts. But the U.S. Army has seen its training and maintenance funds gashed by almost 40 percentsince fiscal year 2012 while the amount of money the services spend on major weapon systems, even during sequestration and other dips in defense spending, has remained steady. The Associated Press reported last month that “the military services’ modernization portfolio in November 2008 was $1.64 trillion. The latest reports, from March 2015, show a value of $1.62 trillion.”

Last month Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb explained that it’s much easier to cut readiness than it is to cut a weapon system supported by and lobbied for by the defense industry. The pressure placed on Congress by the defense industry is relentless, with the defense industry spending a stunning $128 million on lobbying Congress in 2014 to support defense projects and bills that benefit them instead of training and support for our armed forces.

Open Secrets analysis found that the primary reason these private firms spend so much supporting and lobbying members of Congress is expressly to secure “government defense contracts and earmarks and influenc[e] the defense budget to make those contracts more likely.” Most contributions are steered toward members on the committees that authorize and appropriate this money. Chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee have been particular favorites.

In his final run for Congress in 2012, former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.)received a staggering $703,400 from the defense industry. After retiring from Congress in 2014, McKeon established a consulting firm in Washington, boasting to prospective customers that his company “adeptly crafts and implements messaging strategies, and raises the profile of a client’s initiative by getting it in front of key, influential figures.” In the 2014 election cycle, the current chairman of that committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) received $427,850 in campaign contributions from the defense industry, equaling almost a third of all his contributions. He has coincidentally been one of the biggest advocates for increased defense spending.

These major acquisition failures, and the sway the defense industry holds over legislators, will continue until ordinary voters hold the military and elected leaders accountable for the way they spend taxpayers’ dollars. We need to realize that our national security will not be strengthened by spending more on defense. We need to decide our funding levels, and how the funds are allocated, based solely on what will create the most effective military possible. Choices made with this mentality will produce a military that is both adequately trained and modernized. Maintaining the status quo will likely further degrade our overall ability to defend the nation’s vital interests.”



About the Author

Daniel L. Davis is a widely published analyst on national security and foreign policy. He retired as a Lt. Col. after 21 years in the U.S. Army, including four combat deployments, and is a member of the Center for Defense Information’s Military Advisory Board”

Eliminate Bureaucratic Redundancies Not Weapon Systems



Image: Truthout.org


“If you want to look at real money, 20 percent of the Pentagon budget, one dollar out of five, is spent on the Fourth Estate. 

The Fourth Estate comprises the office of the secretary of defense, defense agencies and the organizations run by the undersecretaries. All of that money spent is “pure overhead.”

As the Navy’s top line shrinks, those looking to make budget cuts should consider taking the fat out of the Defense Department bureaucracy as opposed to taking equipment from war fighters, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said June 2.

Mabus pointed to several agencies that should be scrutinized moving forward.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which provides supplies to military forces, was one. In theory DLA can buy fuel for the services at a cheaper, bulk rate, Mabus said. However, the Navy uses different fuel than other services because of the maritime environment it operates in. The Navy can buy its own fuel and pay less for it than what DLA charges, he asserted.

“In theory, we ought to be able to do stuff DoD-wide, and it should save” funds, he said. “In practice it doesn’t work very well.” The world is getting smaller, quicker and cheaper with the exception, too often, of the Defense Department, he added.

He also pointed to the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), the agency that oversees payment to service members, employees, vendors and contractors.

DFAS writes the Navy’s checks after receiving information from the service regarding recipients and payment amounts, Mabus said. “Last year they charged us $300 million to write the checks,” he said, adding that the service has its own finance and accounting systems in place that could perform the task.

In addition to the high cost, the agency’s methods have proven ineffective, Mabus said. As the service begins its 2014 audit, “we may not even have a shot at a clean opinion because DFAS cannot tell us how they spent our money,” he said. “Nine out of 10 of their internal controls have been found not to be effective.” It begs the question, “Do we really need this?” he asked.

That should be a question the Navy asks about all overhead functions, including those performed by the service itself, he said.

“I think we’ve got to look at the Fourth Estate more, but we should look at [ourselves] too,” Mabus said. The Navy has a finance arm, an acquisition arm and a personnel arm. These functions should be reviewed, and where there is duplication — whether within defense agencies or the service — cuts should be made, he said.

One way in which the service has already begun cutting back on its overhead costs is through “contract courts,” he said. Every year, each contracting officer must bring in their contract and defend it, answering critical questions about why each piece is needed, Mabus said.

“We’re saving already 10 percent, so $4 billion, doing that,” he noted. “That’s more than [the cost of] two Virginia-class submarines.”

Our Navy Is Big Enough


Diseno-art.com“THE NEW YORK TIMES”

“The $3.3 billion Zumwalt destroyer uses all-electric propulsion, employs stealth features, carries a huge arsenal of guided missiles, and mounts advanced cannons that can hit targets 63 miles away.

Most likely it will never be tested in battle, because no other nation is even attempting to build a warship like the Zumwalt, which symbolizes the gigantic advantage the United States Navy enjoys.

The Pentagon’s new budget request asks that the Navy receive a large increase: $161 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, versus $149 billion in the current fiscal year. Last month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the House Appropriations Committee that the Navy must get bigger — increasing to a total of at least 300 ships, versus the current 275.

Both houses of Congress are now under Republican control, with the Senate Armed Services Committee headed by John McCain, a Navy veteran. Desire for a larger, more expensive Navy has been a Republican political theme since the Reagan presidency. The Republican presidential aspirant Jeb Bush, who favors higher military spending, has called Navy budget restrictions “really severe.” Another potential Republican White House candidate, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told the American Enterprise Institute in October that if cuts were made to the defense budget, “America will not have a global Navy anymore.”

Yet no naval expansion is needed. The Navy has 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers — 10 more than the rest of the world. No other nation is even contemplating anything like the advanced nuclear supercarriers that the United States has under construction. China possesses one outdated, conventionally powered carrier, and is believed to be building two other carriers, neither of which is a nuclear supercarrier capable of contesting the “blue water,” or deep open oceans, where the United States Navy dominates. In aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, naval aviation, surface firepower, assault ships, missiles and logistics, the United States Navy is more powerful than all other navies of the world combined.

Some commentators engage in fearmongering regarding China’s carriers, new submarines and its anti-ship ballistic missile. But the carriers are modest compared with America’s, the submarines far less capable than ours. And there’s no evidence that its anti-ship missile has had a realistic test.

China’s neighbors are unhappy that the growing Chinese Navy may back Beijing’s claims regarding the South China Sea. But Chinese naval expansion does not pose any direct threat to the national security of the United States, or to its dominance of the oceans. For the United States to think there is something sinister in China’s projecting power in its own nearby waters would be like China’s asserting there were something sinister in the fact that the United States Fourth Fleet operates in the Caribbean. South China Sea jurisdictional disputes are an issue to be resolved by negotiation. Making the United States Navy even more powerful won’t matter to such clashes.

For many centuries, naval rivalry was a central aspect of great-power relations. Yet for more than half a century there has been no great-power naval rivalry — because the United States Navy rules. The last major sea battle was at Okinawa, in 1945. Piracy still occurs, but in the main, global trade has flowered because sea lanes are open and commercial vessels ply the oceans unthreatened by warships. Free commerce upon the oceans brings nearly all nations, including developing nations, higher living standards and less poverty.

Since Navy operations take place far from home, Americans may be unaware of their country’s nautical strength and of the progressive role the Navy plays in world affairs. Many Americans have never seen an active-duty United States warship; ships can’t march in Fourth of July parades or fly over football games. But arguably, naval hegemony is among the greatest American achievements, and one that makes all nations better off. That hegemony is secured by such a dramatic margin that no naval buildup is needed.”



Why the Military Has a Budget Message Problem




“The military message has not resonated, although that is not entirely the Pentagon’s fault, says retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. George Flynn, who is a former director of force development on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Defense officials have built the bulk of their case against the sequester on the premise that abrupt and steep cuts threaten military “readiness.” The problem is that few people outside the military understand what that means and, therefore, do not take it seriously. “Readiness to do what? We need to be able to answer that,” Flynn tells National Defense in an interview.In the meantime, the military continues to fulfill its duties without noticeable financial struggles, which perversely undermines its case for bigger budgets. The public doesn’t see that “anything is breaking,” he says.  

Defense leaders struggle to answer that central question, and that undermines their case for bigger budgets, he says. Further, the military is not able to correlate its funding requests with a national strategy of what the United States expects the armed forces to do. As a result, generals’ claims of being under-resourced are hard to demonstrate, he adds. The typical response to the readiness question is that “we need to be ready in case somebody calls,” Flynn says. “But what that suggests is that there is a lack of an overall strategy. What do we want to do in the world?”

During frequent appearances in front of Congress, top defense officials have sounded alarms that spending cuts will weaken the military. How exactly this would affect national security is unclear to many lawmakers and to the public, Flynn says. “We keep telling them that we have to be ready do to everything.”

The argument needs to be better informed, he says. “You have to be able to articulate, with this much money, this is what I can and can’t do.” Generals talk about “taking on additional risk” as forces are downsized and equipment programs are delayed or terminated, but that concept also is hard for many lawmakers to grasp, especially fiscal hawks who regard a 10 percent cut as reasonable and manageable.

“The key part that’s missing in the debate is ‘what do you want me to do?” Flynn says. “Nobody has articulated this well.”

In the meantime, the military continues to fulfill its duties without noticeable financial struggles, which perversely undermines its case for bigger budgets. The public doesn’t see that “anything is breaking,” he says.

The fuzziness of the readiness argument could continue to hamstring the Pentagon as it prepares for another round of budget battles. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s successor will be stepping into a perfect fiscal storm as the department waits for Congress to pass a 2015 appropriation, deals with the possibility of across-the-board cuts in 2016 and scrambles to fund long-term programs to equip the military to fight future wars.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledges that the messaging has been ineffectual. “We would go over to Capitol Hill and try to articulate risk, what risk are we taking because of our inability to build sustainable budgets over time. … I swung and missed,” he said this month at the Defense One summit. “Nobody really took notice. … I have to adapt my narrative to explain to the American people why they should be concerned.”

The Obama administration’s defense budget request for 2016-2020 exceeds the congressionally mandated spending limits by $110 billion. If Congress rejects that proposal and enforces the caps set by law, military budgets would go up by $43 billion over the next five years. The Pentagon has insisted that even that increase would put the military in a bind because it does not cover the rate of inflation.

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Joseph Dunford, describes the military’s budget problem as akin to living from paycheck to paycheck. It gets by, but at the cost of deferring equipment maintenance, home station training and modernization.

“We are meeting the combatant commanders’ requirements today,” Dunford said during a panel discussion this month at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “The issue is that we’re paying for today’s readiness by taking risk in modernization and infrastructure. That’s tomorrow’s readiness.”

Flynn notes that the traditional definitions of military readiness do not, by themselves, explain how spending cuts might reduce the combat power of the armed forces.

The Pentagon defines military readiness as the “ability of military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions.” It has four key elements: personnel, equipment, supply and training. But these measures of readiness are subject to interpretation, Flynn explains in a white paper published by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. “In the case of training, individual mission performance qualifications can largely be objectively measured, but unit mission training readiness is much more subjective,” he says. “We must constantly remind decision makers that it is the training of our force, people and units – and not superior equipment – that has allowed us to deal with unexpected security challenges.”

Some experts have suggested that it is time for the Defense Department to rework its definitions of readiness and how it allocates resources toward readiness.

“When we think about military readiness we should be thinking about how well our forces are able to do their job,” writes Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. In a study titled, “Rethinking Readiness,” Harrison contends that there should be a better way to report readiness inputs. Current inputs, like flying hours or tank miles, are treated like outputs, he contends. The budget debate, says Harrison, focuses on the resources applied to readiness, not the resulting readiness. Ways to measure outputs exist, but are not necessarily credible, he adds. “I am not questioning the integrity of commanders or their professional military judgment. I am simply saying that self-assessments are inherently subject to bias.”

Harrison recognizes this is easier said than done. “Understanding how to apply resources most effectively to achieve the desired output is a matter of resource management and more science than art.”

For now, the Pentagon’s best hope is a political solution that would de-trigger the sequester. Such a scenario today seems unlikely. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently predicted that it would take an extraordinary national security crisis on a par with the 9/11 attacks for Congress to roll back the spending restrictions it passed in 2011. “I don’t see a path where you’re going to get bipartisan relief on the Budget Control Act caps,” he said.

The idea that political deals are the answer to the military’s budget issues is “unacceptable,” asserts Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense and until recently on the short list to replace Hagel.

Flournoy says she was taken aback by Cantor’s comments. “We shouldn’t wait for a horrible thing to happen to wake us up. It’s not acceptable to say the politics won’t work.”

Like Flynn, she would like to hear a broader discussion about military global responsibilities and how much it costs to meet them. “Any discussion about strategy has to start with a conversation about the role of the United States in the world,” she said at the Reagan library. “There is a mismatch between resources and what we want to do. … We are accepting risk that we shouldn’t be accepting because we are underfunding the military.”

National security should not be a political football, she adds. “Rather than having a national discussion on where we need to be as a nation, as soon as someone stakes a position they’re attacked for tactical gain. We need to create a safe space where people can have a civil debate.”

Some pundits predict a Republican-led Congress next year might give the Pentagon a break from the sequester simply for political expediency.

“Next year, the GOP House and Senate are very likely to work together either to eliminate or, more likely, modify the sequester,” writes budget expert Stan Collender, of Qorvis MSLGroup. More likely, he adds, Congress will “raise the annual amount that can be spent by the Pentagon without triggering the sequester reductions.”