In his first major policy speech Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signaled he will be taking a hard look at the way the Pentagon spends its money and at whether the US military needs quite so many officers.
He also said that while the US military “remains an essential tool of American power,” it is also “one that must be used judiciously, with a keen appreciation of its limits.”
Speaking at the National Defense University in Washington, Secretary Hagel invoked the memory of President Dwight Eisenhower, who came up as a young officer in the wake of the Great Depression. He noted that the World War II general spoke at the same university 50 years ago.
“The wise and prudent administration of the vast resources required by defense calls for extraordinary skill in meshing the military, political, economic, and social machinery of our modern life,” Hagel said, quoting Eisenhower. “So the greatest effective use is made of resources with a minimum of waste and misapplication.”
Now that the “gusher” of war-time military spending is turned off, Hagel said, top Pentagon officials will be taking a hard look at some key spending areas.
This speech signaled precisely what those areas will be: acquisitions, personnel costs, and overhead.
“Left unchecked, spiraling costs to sustain existing structures and institutions, provide benefits to personnel, and develop replacements for aging weapons platforms will eventually crowd out spending on procurement, operations, and readiness – the budget categories that enable the military to be and stay prepared,” Hagel warned.
This will mean taking a hard look at Pentagon employees, including “how many people we have – military and civilian – how many we need, what these people do, and how we compensate them for their work, service, and loyalty with pay, benefits and health care.”
This will in turn prompt “tough questions,” Hagel concedes, including "what is the right mix of civilians and military, and whether the force has the right balance of officers and enlisted.”
Much of the DOD’s organizational chart dates back “to the early days of the Cold War,” Hagel said, noting that the last major defense reorganization was drafted during the height of the Reagan defense buildup.
While the military “is not, and never should be, run like a corporation,” Hagel noted, there is a danger that the DOD could go from “an agency protecting the nation to an agency administering benefit programs, capable of buying only limited quantities of irrelevant and overpriced equipment.”
That’s because too often the weapons systems that Pentagon officials buy “are vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for.” And the hard truth is that the most pressing problems the world faces “do not necessarily lend themselves to being resolved by conventional military strength,” he said.
“Indeed the most destructive and horrific attack ever on the United States came not from fleets of ships, bombers, and armored divisions, but from 19 fanatical men wielding box cutters and one-way plane tickets."