Readiness Trap Sprung - Battle of Encirclement Looms as Budget
Pincers Slice into Clinton Administration

September 22, 1998

Comment: #190

Discussion Thread:  #s 53, 105, 114, 159, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 172, 177, 182, 183, 184, 185, among others.


[1] Douglas J. Gillert, "Clinton Briefed on Potential Readiness Nose Dive," American Forces Press Service September 17, 1998 Attached. (original is online at 

[2] George Wilson, "More Money is Not the Answer," Air Force Times, September 28, 1998. Excerpt attached.

The Fall Budget Battle is about to begin, and it is no accident the President is trapped between pincers of the Pentagon and the Congress.

In Reference #1, Douglas Gillert of the Armed Forces Press Service (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pentagon available on the Pentagon's web site 'Defense Link') reports that the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Service Chiefs warned the President of a readiness "nose dive" on September 15. This meeting was the latest in a series of battlefield shaping operations aimed at conditioning the American people and dissenters in Congress to the need for an increase in the defense budget. Two weeks earlier, on September 2, for example, Jacques Gansler, the Under Secretary of Defense of Acquisition, told the Association of the US Army that he might have to terminate some programs, because the Defense Department was in a "death spiral" [see Comment # 182].

In Reference #2 to this Commentary, veteran defense reporter George Wilson reports that the Pentagon and its allies in Congress are mobilizing for a two-front budget war with an emergency increase in the Fiscal Year 1999 budget and even larger budgets over the longer term. The opening battle will be a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 29, where, according to Wilson, the Commandant of the Marine Corps told him the Joint Chiefs of Staff are going to paint brutal portrait of the current situation. Wilson's report is the most recent of series of such warnings that he has been issuing since April [see Comment #s: 53, 131, 157, 165, 166, 183]

As I have stated repeatedly in past emails, the top civilian leadership of the Pentagon has refused steadfastly to address three central problems that have brought this disgraceful state of affairs to a head. These are (1) a modernization plan that cannot produce enough new weapons to modernize the smaller forces of the post-cold war era on a timely basis, even if it is executed perfectly; (2) a rapidly deteriorating readiness posture that is, in large part, a product of the aging weapons, shrinking forces, and increasing technical complexity that are consequences of the modernization: and (3) a corrupt accounting system that protects the status quo by making it impossible to understand, let alone design solutions to, the first two problems.

At the roots of the crisis are an ingrained set of military-industrial-congressional practices (front loading, political engineering, cost-plus contracting, simulation in lieu of testing, revolving doors, etc.) that subsidize and reward cost growth. Taken together, these relations produce an asymmetric economic condition wherein the costs of buying and operating weapons ALWAYS rise faster than the defense budget, even when the budget increases rapidly, as it did in the 1980s.

Over time, the compounding effects of the mismatch between cost growth and budget growth produce inevitable and, I might add, predictable consequences: declining forces, aging equipment, continual pressure to reduce readiness, and recurring budget crises, even as threats melt away. The fact that we now face such a crisis, when we are spending three times as much as all our potential adversaries combined, ought to prove the point.

Those who doubt whether the current readiness-modernization fiasco could have been predicted and prevented are urged to read my 21 August 1993 memorandum [Reference 2 to Commentary #182], my 5 May 1994 memorandum [Reference 3 to Commentary #166] and the three reports (i.e., Defense Power Games, Defense Budget Time Bomb, and The QDR: What Went Wrong and How to Fix It) located at the hot link beneath my signature block. With the exception of 'Power Games,' each of these documents was originally submitted as a formal report up my chain of command to very senior civilian levels in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Not one was even acknowledged as having been received, let alone read.

The political appointees and the professional civilian leadership in the Office of the Secretary of Defense have only themselves to blame for placing their President in the jaws of this predicament. They have steadfastly refused to deal with these problems since they were brought to their attention in 1993.

Indeed, this refusal continued well into August of 1998. The Pentagon's Comptroller, William Lynn, for example, testified in June to the Financial Accounting Systems Advisory Board that the Pentagon could not meet the minimum standards of accountability established by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and the Constitution [see Comment # 169, "The Constitution, Situational Ethics, & the Phony Debate Over More Defense Spending"]. Rather than fix the problem, Lynn requested that accounting requirements be changed to suite the convenience the managers in the Pentagon. Or consider the fact that the most recent program review, run by the civilian leadership of the Pentagon between June and August, once again ignored completely what Undersecretary Gansler (one of the leaders of that review) called a "death spiral" right after the review was completed (September 2, see Comment #182).

No doubt some readers of this list will think the Pentagon is rolling in on the President because he is weakened by a political scandal. This is utter nonsense. The script was written long before anyone could have possibly predicted the political chaos now enveloping Versailles on the Potomac.

The sad fact is that today the troops are suffering because of the indecisive cold-war mindset of their leaders in the Pentagon, and in the short term, increased money will now have to be spent on readiness. But this does not mean the defense budget should continue to increase and return to cold-war levels over the long term; there is no cold-war threat to justify such budgets. Moreover, if Congress rewards the Pentagon for the inept behavior that got the troops into this fix, more money spent the same way will act merely to preserve the very ineptness that created the disintegrating status quo, a fact recognized by Wilson at the end of Attachment 2 to this message. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, if Wilson's reporting is correct, the Commandant of the Marine Corps may be the only service chief who appreciates this fundamental fact.

Whatever the case, the current crisis should prove one thing: The only way to end the Cold War and begin to move into the new era is to scrap the cosmetics and begin some real reforms aimed at fixing real problems.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

98558. Clinton Briefed on Potential Readiness "Nose Dive"
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary William Cohen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton, the service chiefs of staff and heads of the unified commands met with President Clinton Sept. 15 to warn of a potential "nose-dive" in military readiness.

Although the national news media speculated the group would ask Clinton for more money, DoD spokesman Kenneth Bacon said they would not directly address budget increases.

"It's a meeting about the readiness of U.S. forces today and their ability to do not only their assignments now, but the challenges they might face in the future," Bacon told reporters at the Pentagon.

Cohen and the military leaders believe "forces at the tip of the spear, those who are forward deployed in Korea or Bosnia or Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia are well prepared, well led and ready to do their job," Bacon said. But they're concerned, he said, about readiness strains in follow-on forces.

"The way [Shelton] has put it is that, in the last year or so, readiness trends have nosed down," Bacon said. "We want to pull up on the stick before there's a nose dive." The leaders' objective was to lay out those trends and challenges for the president, he said.

Although the meeting wasn't about money, Bacon said, the current budget has forced DoD and the services to spend less on quality- of-life programs and infrastructure in order to fund readiness programs. Bacon said a primary purpose of last year's Quadrennial Defense Review was to find the right spending balance to meet future needs.

"For a long while the military services have been making a choice between readiness on the one hand and procurement, quality of life [and] infrastructure on the other," Bacon said. "Secretary Cohen set out to change that balance because he wants to look 10, 20 years down the road and make sure that we're buying the weapons we need to face the challenges of the future."

The challenge now is finding the right balance and not overlooking retention issues like military pay and retirement benefits, Bacon said. A larger budget may be necessary, he said, but greater efficiency is also necessary.

In the past year and, most recently, with Cohen's visits to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and Fort Drum, N.Y., DoD leaders have looked at ways they can better manage training and deployments to reduce stresses on service members and their families. Cohen has proposed other economies as well, principally additional base closures. The secretary "believes that we still need to grasp tens of billions of dollars in savings that would be available over time from two future rounds of base closures," Bacon said. "We need to reduce excess and costly infrastructure."

Cohen would channel these savings into procurement, readiness and other areas, Bacon said. "Should we not be able to generate enough savings and relieve enough pressure through management reform, then one of the things we'll have to look at is whether the top line is enough. But that is something that will emerge in the course of the budget process."

DoD's immediate financial needs are for $1.9 billion to cover the cost of Bosnia operations and additional funding to cover the proposed 3.6 percent fiscal 1999 military pay raise, which is one-half percent higher than the original 3.1 percent proposal.

"The budgetary process is under way and there are a number of decisions to be made," Bacon said. "Right now, there is a balanced budget agreement. On the other hand, we do face readiness demands, and those are the demands that the secretary is determined to meet -- to keep readiness trends from changing from a nose-down to a nose-dive. The secretary is committed to making sure the military is adequately funded to carry out its mission today and in the future."

Reference #2

Air Force Times
Published: 09-28-98
By George C. Wilson



A billion here and a billion there would ease the crunches in the short term. But the long-term answer to shortfalls is not in such quick fixes as emergency appropriations but in building an affordable force for the next war, not the last one. Somebody has to break the Cold War mind-set or else the armed services will never have enough money to build the quick, agile and transportable forces needed for the 21st century. The Army will keep spending billions on overly heavy tanks; the Navy will keep buying $2 billion nuclear attack submarines; the Air Force will starve other more relevant programs to buy and maintain the $160 million-a-copy F-22 fighter planes.


George C. Wilson is a former national defense correspondent of The Washington Post and author of several books on military affairs.