The Perry/Hadley QDR Review

I am a sometime participant in a large group of bloggers at the National Journal. This week's topic for comments caught my eye: what did we think of the "independent" review of DOD's Quadrennial Defense Review, just reported by a herd of former government officials with a few others?

The comments provided by various participants of this blog here and my own comments are there and follow below:

"They Forget Nothing and They Learn Nothing"

by Winslow Wheeler

The miscreant uncle crashed the family Lexus and was charged with reckless driving. His response to the judge when told he needed to learn self-control? "I want a Ferrari."

The analogy can go on (the family couldn't afford the Lexus; it was in bad need of a complete overhaul, etc.), but the point should be obvious. Having participated avidly in driving our military forces into the ground, the members of the recently released "Final Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel" have proposed that more of the same is inadequate; they want much more of the same.

Most of the members of this panel have been reported to have some conflicts of interest (find a USA Today article here). That, in itself, is more of the same for a panel appointed by the Pentagon and Congress to report on their own handiwork.

Billed as a critique of the Defense Department's own QDR, it is no such thing. The only complaint from the "independent panel" is that the Department was too shy: it didn't pump up the conventional wisdom threats enough; it didn't demand more money as stridently as it should, and it was too restrained in attempting to raid other parts of the defense budget to sustain the unsustainable acquisition budget.

The most obvious similarity of this report with the original DOD QDR is its meticulous avoidance of identifying the fundamental problems we face: namely, a post-World War II largest ever defense budget that has bought us the smallest ever defense forces with the oldest ever equipment inventory in that time frame. While the report makes opportunistic references to this "train wreck," it fails to even mention how we got there—under their leadership in large part.

Integral to the decades long decay has been the studious refusal of DOD leadership to permit itself to be informed on the past, present, and future consequences of its own decisions. Doing so would require a system that accurately and comprehensively tracks how money is spent in the Pentagon and managers who heed that information when it is provided. Two blandly worded but substantively devastating GAO reports, just out, remind us that DOD continues to not know the cost of what it buys and the cost to support what it buys. (Find them here and here.)

The "independent panel" makes some interesting points about changing DOD's unaffordable pay and benefits system but then goes on to imply these savings should help float the hardware buying they crave. Nowhere is it suggested that the existing hardware path is every bit as unaffordable as the existing manpower path, nor that more money could possibly result in what it has bought up to now: shrinking, aging forces.

Of course, the panel makes recommendations to "reform" everything, but most of their suggestions talk platitudes without a hint of real change. A good example is the vapid recommendations in their "legislative reform package." I could not help but laugh when I read the prescription for fixing Capitol Hill, where I worked for three decades: reorganize the appropriations subcommittees to embrace all national security bills in one place and "coordinate" the authorization process. Like the QDR and the "independent" review itself, this neither identifies nor addresses the problems.

Finally, the "independent panel" is startling in its aspirations for US behavior in the external world. It clearly believes the misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan constitute models for our future interaction with the world and should probably be extended as a mindset and behavior directed at countries and areas where there are functional governments and regional powers. It does so in a manner that seems to consider that path unremarkable and consistent with our behavior historically.

Of course, like minded advocates of business as usual in Congress and think tanks are swooning over this thicket of bathwater. Can the attempted water-boarding of the taxpayer using this swill be far off?

Have we not learned enough from recent history to recognize this report as an effort to change nothing?