Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine Grossman
June 16, 2005
[Reprinted by permission of Inside Washington Publishers. This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher. Copyright 2004, Inside Washington Publishers. For more information and exclusive news, go to: http://defense.iwpnewsstand.com. Every Tuesday and Thursday, visit the INSIDER, http://defense.iwpnewsstand.com/insider.asp, free from Inside Washington Publishers.]
Defense policy official: Focus is on FY-07 PENTAGON OFFICIALS DEBATE VIABILITY OF ‘ROLLING’ QUADRENNIAL REVIEW
Defense officials undertaking the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review are debating whether early expectations of a series of “rolling” decisions implemented throughout the assessment can still be fulfilled, Inside the Pentagon has learned. The magnitude of the issues facing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the review — from military force structure changes to new strategies for handling emerging threats — has dictated a relatively deliberative approach that may push the more consequential decisions into autumn, Pentagon officials say.
“A lot of the high-flying rhetoric is being toned down as we reinvent ourselves,” says one Pentagon official.
No one has ruled out the possibility that Rumsfeld or his new acting deputy secretary, Gordon England, will surprise Pentagon officials by handing down some critical guidance or major findings as early as July, when a document reflecting initial QDR decisions had previously been expected. But the review’s six “integrated product teams” and three dozen working groups have only recently begun the serious data-crunching and analysis that might form the basis for big decisions, resulting in internal schedule slips, ITP reported June 2.
An official program decision memorandum or a series of similar budget documents is now more likely to be circulated in the fall, possibly as late as November, according to defense officials interviewed by ITP.
“There was an ambition to have most decisions made by summer, but that proved to be too tight a timetable,” says Michael Vickers, director of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “They need to use the full year they were given and perhaps beyond, given the gravity of the challenges they’re tackling.”
The final QDR report is still expected for delivery to Congress next February, along with the fiscal year 2007 budget request.
Rumsfeld has sought to scuttle any suspicion that he has already made QDR determinations behind the scenes — or may yet make them apart from the review — and could simply reveal any such decisions to military leaders or lawmakers at a time of his choosing.
Testifying before a House committee March 10, Rumsfeld called one media report “nonsense” for suggesting “that I had some sort of black box and I was imposing a top-down Quadrennial Defense Review.” Senior military and civilian leaders “have worked their heads off on this thing,” the secretary said, “and there isn’t a way in the world that I’m smart enough or wise enough or knowledgeable enough or experienced enough to do that thing myself.”
Once armed with sufficient knowledge and compelling justification, Rumsfeld hoped to make a series of QDR determinations throughout 2005 — on a rolling basis whenever decisions are “ripe” — rather than await the review’s end, defense officials have said.
What would then be done with rolling decisions has been a matter of recent contention.
Such guidance “could go into the building of the programs for the services,” Ryan Henry, a Rumsfeld policy lieutenant and key QDR overseer, said at a Feb. 3 Heritage Foundation speech in Washington.
Referring to the Pentagon’s internal budgeting process for FY-07 and beyond, Henry added that early QDR decisions “could be used in the midyear review. And [they] could also be used at the final program-development endgame in the fall. And so you get decisions throughout that process.”
Early decisions would be integrated by year’s end and folded into both the FY-07 budget request and the QDR report to Congress, according to this thinking.
But a broad array of other QDR leaders and participants have said that to allow the decisions more immediate effect, Rumsfeld would seek to implement big program or policy changes as early as fiscal year 2006 — which begins in October of this year — instead of awaiting FY-07. Pentagon leaders had hoped to confer with Capitol Hill on potential QDR-driven program or policy changes before lawmakers head into House-Senate conferences on the FY-06 authorization and appropriations bills this fall, many defense officials say.
Last week, Henry sought to dampen expectations of early implementation.
“The 2005 QDR is not designed to impact the FY-06 budget,” Henry writes in a June 8 letter to the editor of Inside the Pentagon. Addressing the QDR requirements laid out in legislation, Henry notes the “QDR report will be delivered to Congress in February 2006, with the FY-07 budget request. It will impact FY-07 and beyond.”
(The letter, reprinted on page 12, cites this matter and two others as being among “several errors” in ITP’s June 2 story. After extensive reporting over the past several weeks and months, ITP stands by its original article.)
“The ‘rolling QDR’ refers to the fact that the department is feeding decisions as they are made into the normal planning and programming processes for implementation,” says Army Lt. Col. Chris Conway, a Pentagon spokesman. “However, it should be understood that with respect to this QDR, it will not impact the 2006 budget. Legislation requires that this QDR will impact the FY-07 budget and beyond.”
Were it not for delays in the process, though, defense leaders would have liked to apply QDR results as they went along, with the FY-06 budget likely providing the first realistic opportunity, according to many of those undertaking the review.
“The rolling QDR was intended to implement decisions as they were made — not wait for February ’06,” one Pentagon official told ITP last week. Rumsfeld’s appointment of six senior civilians and high-ranking general and flag officers to chair the study teams involved a “similar rationale” — putting an “emphasis on [getting] decisions sooner [rather] than later,” this official said.
An impact on the FY-06 budget is “the ‘rolling’ part of the rolling QDR,” agrees another defense official involved in the review.
This Pentagon official described Henry’s letter as illustrating a loyal subordinate’s quintessential function: Providing the principal all the support and space needed to formulate a solid decision.
Henry’s comments are aimed at underscoring the view that Rumsfeld is obligated only to make review decisions in time for the FY-07 budget debut, says the official. That way, the secretary is not boxed in by military, media, congressional or public expectations to provide guidance any sooner than February if he chooses not to, this source says.
“They’re trying to tee things up so [Rumsfeld] can hit some balls out of the park,” the Pentagon official told ITP last week. “Maybe this is just an effort to lower expectations because [Rumsfeld] still has the right to do what he wants.”
Yet as calendar pages turn and senior meetings result in more questions than answers, Rumsfeld’s option of early implementation is quickly being overtaken by the realities of a substantial review, sources say.
“It’s getting harder with every passing day for the QDR to affect the FY-06 budget,” says one congressional source.
Although some decisions may yet be made before the QDR is complete, the consensus now inside the Pentagon is that taking early findings up to Capitol Hill to affect FY-06 “is no longer possible,” a Pentagon official said last week.
It “looks like the dream of influencing [program budget] ’06 execution is probably on life support, if not dead,” acknowledged another. “And so it goes: a continual reinvention of the process.”
That re-look may have involved taking into account views on Capitol Hill, sources say. Lawmakers prefer to learn of any major changes to the pending Defense Department funding request “before the budget review hearings are done and certainly before mark-up,” said the congressional source, interviewed last week.
Budget hearings are likely complete and three of the four defense oversight committees have already marked up their FY-06 bills. Members of Congress generally want to avoid inserting substantial changes into a conference bill during the negotiating process to reconcile House and Senate versions, this source said.
But defense leaders are still keeping lawmakers informed, says Conway, the Pentagon spokesman.
“We routinely inform members of Congress on [the] QDR’s progress, to include insights that we have gained as a result of the work we’ve accomplished to date,” he told ITP June 15 in a written response to questions.
Nonetheless, “if DOD identified savings” early on in its quadrennial review, “DOD might want to hang onto that knowledge and put it into a reprogramming action later on,” according to the congressional source, noting lawmakers may be tempted to apply any windfalls to their own favored projects rather than the Pentagon’s funding priorities. “From DOD’s perspective, this is not a great time to tell Congress about savings.”
“The rolling QDR is about politics, not about policy,” says James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who is closely tracking the review. To “get the maximum political advantages”
from timing, defense leaders may need to alter their plan as they go along, he says.
“The devious explanation” for publicly acknowledging only FY-07 effects from the QDR “is you roll and you do it under the radar screen,” Carafano told ITP in a June 10 interview. Though the Pentagon cannot make major shifts in obligating appropriated funds without congressional approval, defense leaders could begin quietly implementing some policy and program changes “well before the report comes out,” he said.
“This QDR continues to be a ‘rolling QDR’ where the department is leveraging decisions as they are made into the normal planning and programming processes for implementation,” Conway wrote in response to questions.
"proliferating and getting out of control,” one Pentagon official said this week in explaining the delays.
Some review insiders also cite ongoing turnover in senior leadership as a factor contributing to schedule slips: Midstream in the QDR, England has taken over as acting deputy defense secretary following Paul Wolfowitz’s departure. Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith is getting set to be replaced by White House nominee Eric Edelman, currently U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Kenneth Krieg was sworn in earlier this month as the new under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, replacing longtime acting buying czar Michael Wynne.
On the military side, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are to be replaced this summer, as are the chief of naval operations and the Air Force chief of staff, pending Senate confirmation. The list goes on.
Behind closed doors, an initial “integration group” DOD created to rationalize disparate QDR findings “was kicked out and a new one [was] put in,” one defense source said last week.
But some Pentagon officials believe the new faces will have little to no effect on the quadrennial review outcome. Thus far, says one, “I haven’t seen any evidence at all of the turnover affecting it in any way.”
Henry seems to agree.
“Collective senior-level involvement throughout the review, at all levels, was designed to ensure a smooth transilevels, was designed to ensure a smooth transition during potential turnovers of key department leadership posts,” he writes in the letter to the editor. “This plan has functioned well.”
His comment may offer more grist for the mill to those who believe that after four years of running the Pentagon, Rumsfeld already has in mind the next policy and program overhauls he would like to make and new deputies will not affect that. The months in which turnover occurs could offer the secretary a window in which his hand is significantly strengthened to introduce some sweeping changes, according to some defense officials.
But those involved in the QDR are also beginning to downplay earlier expectations for “Key West”-type overhauls emanating from a senior leadership summit scheduled for mid-July. Though the meeting initially was billed as one that might result in enormous changes to the division of labor between the military services — revisiting roles and missions codified in the National Security Act of 1947 and the 1948 Key West Agreement — Rumsfeld’s advisers have since quietly concluded the groundwork has not yet been laid, sources said.
This week, Pentagon leaders convened an “integration roundtable” discussion — the first such QDR meeting to link in all the combatant commanders by video teleconference, defense officials said.
Issues on the agenda for the June 14 event ranged from “a status report on various things that have taken place [and] studies done over the past year to answers to questions that have come out of the [earlier] roundtables,” one Pentagon official said before the meeting took place. “It’s a bit of a hodgepodge as to what will be discussed.”
— Elaine M. Grossman