Obama Administration Moves to Trim Defense Fat by $100 Billion

"That never happens!" exclaimed Rachel Maddow after in last year's budget, the Obama administration canceled the F-22 raptor program (video here), a bloated Defense spending that is irrelevant to today's wars.  The move saved $4 billion last year alone.  What Rachel Maddow was talking about was that Defense spending seems to be considered sacrosanct, untouchable, and nothing in Defense ever seems to get cut regardless of the usefulness of any Defense spending - be they on weapons systems or contracting.  That never happens.

Well, it's happening again.  An unprecedented $100 billion dollars' worth.  This time, the target is private Defense contracting.  With President Obama's blessing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has initiated an aggressive "Efficiencies Initiative" designed to get more bang for the buck, clean up defense contracting, and save the Department $100 billion over the next five years.  The Washington Post reported this morning that Secretary Gates took a swing at the bloated Defense contracting budget:
"We've not seen productivity growth in defense," Gates said. He noted that consumers buy "more powerful computers and mobile phones every year, but the taxpayer has had to spend significantly more in order to get more. We need to reverse this."
Defense contracting from top to bottom are in the eye of the admnistration.
The savings plan he's detailing Tuesday includes a five-step road map on how the Pentagon can be more efficient when it buys roughly $400 billion worth of goods and services that range from advanced aircraft, ammunition and submarines to contracts for feeding U.S. troops overseas, mowing lawns at military bases and running complex computer networks.
According to a Defense department news report, Gates is introducing the Pentagon to a concept they have not known in the past decade: living within their means - affordability.  They have already cut costs on the next generation submarines the department will buy, and hope to trim that cost further.
To illustrate the affordability concept, Gates cited the next-generation ballistic missile submarine program, in which the Pentagon is trimming requirements without sacrificing capability. The per unit rate for the submarine had risen to $7 billion, he said, but now is about $5 billion. The goal is a reduction of 27 percent in a program where costs are projected to be more than $100 billion, he added.
A 27% reduction in a weapons systems program?  By the Pentagon?  Who would have thunk it?  Well, Robert Gates did.  The administration isn't stopping there.  They are moving to establish - cover your virgin ears - accountability in Defense contracting.   The Pentagon is going to shift its reward structure from drunken-sailor to performance-pay for contractors.
Reaching these goals will benefit both government and industry, the secretary said, as higher performance leads to higher financial reward. A number of changes will reward increased productivity and innovation, he said.

Expanding the Navy’s Preferred Supplier Program departmentwide is one example, he said. The program rewards contractors that demonstrate superior performance in delivering quality products and services affordably and on time.
The Department of Defense will use the funds saved through this efficiency program to do what matters most in our national defense: look after our soldiers, and help our defense systems stay on the cutting edge.  Not all of this is going to happen overnight, of course, and there has been concerns expressed as to whether these changes will continue after Secretary Gates leaves office in 2011, as he has indicated he wants to do.  But the Secretary noted that these changes are being brought on a consensus basis at the Pentagon, not by the Secretary's fiat.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen expressed full support for trimming contracting fat, and the Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama backed it up too.  In a statement, the President said:
I have long said that we need to change the way that Washington works so that it works better for the American people. That’s why we undertook the Accountable Government Initiative -- to make government more open and responsive to the American public, and to cut waste and inefficiencies that squander the people’s hard-earned money. This effort is particularly important when it comes to our national defense, since waste and inefficiency there detracts from our efforts to focus resources on serving our men and women in uniform, and to invest in the future capabilities we need.

Today’s announcement by Secretary Gates is another step forward in the reform efforts he has undertaken to reduce excess overhead costs, cut waste, and reform the way the Pentagon does business. The funds saved will help us sustain the current force structure and make needed investments in modernization in a fiscally responsible way. Change is never easy, and I applaud Secretary Gates and his team for undertaking this critical effort to support our men and women in uniform and strengthen our national security. These reforms will ensure that our nation is safer, stronger, and more fiscally responsible.
As the President said, this will not be easy.  It is hard to attack parts of the Pentagon budget - even the waste, fraud and abuse parts - at a time our country is still at war.  There are too many special interests behind each of the dollars in federal Defense contracting, and they are not going to be too happy about this efficiency business.  This should also be just the beginning.  Many will say this isn't enough, and they'd be right in many respects.

But as Rachel Maddow said in her show, this never happens.  The Pentagon eliminating non-useful weapons systems or whipping their contractors into shape and demanding greater efficiency instead of just handing out taxpayer money blindly - that never happens.  Demanding accountability and focusing on affordability almost never happens in the Pentagon.  It is happening now, under the careful stewardship of Secretary Gates and President Obama.  The President promised a line-by-line review for waste of the federal budget, and he has kept his promise.  He has not exempted the Pentagon from that review.  The White House pointed this out:
Review the budget line-by-line for waste. We should be investing taxpayer dollars in efforts and programs with proven records of success and reallocating or cutting programs that do not work or whose benefits are not worth their cost. Secretary of Defense Gates has unveiled an unprecedented effort to reform defense contracting, and the President has launched a line-by-line review of the federal budget to pinpoint what programs works and what needs to be terminated or reduced in scope.
More diligent focus will be needed to accomplish this in the months and years to come, but the Obama Administration deserves a lot of credit for sticking to their campaign promise and for the good of the nation, already delivering on trimming Defense fat.  By $100 billion this time.  As the President says, even in Washington, that's real money.

You want the President to succeed in this initiative so he can take on more of this?  Then return to DC a Democratic Congress that will work with him to move us forward on a difficult road rather than a Republican one that will work against him to slide us back.

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