Don't Let Defense Cuts Lop Off Efficiency

WHEN a budget is cut, one normally assumes that in the process of ``doing more with less'' an organization will increase its efficiency. But past practices reveal this assumption is probably wrong for the defense budget. If, once again, defense cuts are made without a cohesive strategy, they will reduce efficiency much more than simple dollar amounts might indicate. Consider the current proposals for cutting the US defense budget.

Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney is already mentioning possible stretchouts in weapons procurement. This means that the Department of Defense (DOD) will take longer to buy the same amount of material, forcing contractors to work at inefficient production rates, and forcing the taxpayer to pay more for each weapon produced.

Also mentioned is the intention to preserve as many weapon programs as possible while cutting operations and maintenance budgets in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Thus, new equipment will be purchased, but both the funds necessary to maintain it and the money required to train people to use it will be cut.

The results of such an approach are a ``hollow army'' - more accidents like the Navy recently suffered and a generally inefficient use of weapons by inadequately trained operators.

Further, while cuts in many important sectors like NATO have been proposed, commensurate reductions in defense commitments have not been mentioned.

It is a simple exercise to show that the cost of maintaining Washington's NATO commitment is greater if it has to deploy all forces from the United States instead of keeping forces in Europe. Without reductions in the worldwide commitments of the armed forces, such cuts are illusory - the costs required to overcome the inefficiencies they create will soon surpass any short-run savings.

Large cuts in active-duty military forces are also proposed. These cuts will result in quick savings that can be counted against short-term budget deficits. But they also weaken conventional-war fighting capabilities at a time when the military should be encouraged to take every opportunity to turn away from nuclear weapons and tactics. Personnel cuts that result in reduced conventional warfare capabilities will require either increased spending on battlefield technology to make remaining soldiers more lethal, or a continued reliance on nuclear weapons - both costly options.

Last, DOD has proposed cutting entire weapon programs while allowing others to escape unscathed, with their levels of inefficiency intact. This means fewer defense dollars will be spent - but not spent more efficiently.

When the defense budget is reduced as sharply as Secretary Cheney proposes, inefficiency on the part of any defense contractor has the potential to seriously degrade our national security.

Each of these attempts to cut defense spending will be unsuccessful because none is linked to the kind of cohesive strategy necessary before any defense cut can be effective. The following suggestions would help ensure that cuts are made within the framework of such a strategy:

First, don't place the cart before the horse. Cut commitments; then cut budgets.

Second, prioritize across all services. The DOD has never been able to get the uniformed services to support a budget that maximizes national strength. Instead, the services have always focused on protecting their turf.

Third, spend money for training and maintenance, not for new weapons. A well-trained soldier with an older weapon will defeat a poorly trained soldier with new equipment every time.

And fourth, cancel programs whose main purpose is political, not military, by closing inefficient or unnecessary installations and by canceling unneeded weapons. In the process, give the Secretary of Defense a free hand in realigning the defense structure of this country.

Deep spending cuts can be absorbed by the department without endangering US security if the fundamental issues involved in successfully cutting defense are addressed. However, to accomplish this we must stop viewing the defense budget as just another source of pork-barrel funds. Here is where our political leaders' responsibility in the process starts. Each of our elected representatives must be responsible for the security of the nation as a whole. The situation is too critical to allow the Congress and the president to resort - once again - to a spending approach that puts political expediency ahead of national security.

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