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DoD Budgeting: The Games People Play

navy shipsA trusted defense source emails me a report from the subscription-only Inside The Pentagon newsletter that seems to herald the first defense-budget chicanery of the Obama administration. The piece, by Christopher J. Castelli, is about how the services are starting to think that the forthcoming Fiscal Year 2010 defense budget, Obama’s first, is going to contain bigger spending cuts than originally envisaged — but there’s a caveat. First, here’s some service worry, courtesy of the big big big budget Navy:

Citing recent meetings, the Navy bulletin warns officials that all bets are off and the service’s FY-10 budget plans — known as the program objective memorandum, or POM-10 for short — could soon see big adjustments.

"As you know, our original planning assumption was that the POM-10 we submitted would undergo only minor changes," the message states. "That may no longer be accurate."

Well, maybe. At deputy defense secretary-designate Bill Lynn’s confirmation hearing last week, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a former Navy Secretary, upbraided the service for redundant shipbuilding plans, program cost overruns and a lack of overall strategic planning about what sort of fleet the U.S. requires. Lynn, along with comptroller-designate Robert Hale, pledged a thorough review. And all of that falls into line with, as Castelli points out, Secretary Bob Gates’ recent call to better balance the defense community’s irregular warfare needs with its traditional, conventional, big-ticket-item needs. Counterinsurgency advocates and counterinsurgency skeptics alike are waiting to see how that actually cashes out in terms of Pentagon budgeting.

And there lies the prospect for budgeting chicanery. Castelli ends his piece by summarizing that Navy bulletin’s guidance:

Those who work on high-tech information operations, networks, intelligence and space capabilities must advocate for their high-tech programs by tying them to warfighting and using language that warfighters who are not information technology specialists can understand, the bulletin advises.

That sounds a whole lot like the Navy will attempt to redefine its Rumsfeld-era and pre-Rumsfeld era high-tech stuff as irregular-warfare support. In the Rumsfeld Pentagon, defense officials knew to write their budget requests in a way that sounded pleasing to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s amorphous, tech-heavy vision of "transformation." Now it appears that the services may attempt to justify the same old programs by gussying them up in counterinsurgency-friendly language. ("… the DDG-1000 destroyer contributes to full-spectrum operations, facilitating a whole-of-government approach…" — oh, and look who has a huge piece of the DDG-1000 contract: Raytheon, the company that’s given us Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn. Will the program survive, do you think?)

This is a classic defense budgeting trick, and one I’ll be paying very close attention to when the next budget gets released.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman