Who knew the Pentagon had bad habits?

Joint Staff/D. Myles Cullen

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a meeting in the "Tank" with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, Washington DC, Mar. 1, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Time’s up for Pentagon officials to talk more and think harder.

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  • By continuing to let the Pentagon ignore sequestration, Congress is letting defense leaders postpone and push off the need for comprehensive change.

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  • Had Pentagon officials planned properly, furloughs could possibly have been avoided and the Department could have begun efforts at thoughtful rightsizing instead.

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At lunch with reporters Tuesday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a public confession of sorts. He expanded on an earlier point he’d made to The New York Times about “bad habits” that the U.S. military had developed over the past decade due to what Army General Martin Dempsey called “unconstrained resources.”

He rattled off the following bad habits:

  • How the Pentagon buys goods and services.
  • The growth in health care costs.
  • Too much infrastructure--bases and other real estate.
  • Over-investment in operations.
  • Too much reliance on contractors.


With budgets shrinking further than Pentagon plans currently acknowledge, Dempsey noted that he and his colleagues will have to get creative. One way, he said, will be to review the areas of the most growth and determine whether it was justified.

These kinds of discussions and early planning efforts are a start. A very small start, however.

Sequestration-level budget cuts have been on the books for nearly two years now. They’ve been in legal effect for over two months.

Time’s up for Pentagon officials to talk more and think harder. The time has come for definitive action and real change.

Congress must insist that the Defense Department floor the accelerator into this new budget reality where detailed sequestration planning is complete and public. This would speed up the requirement for defense leaders to offer specific reforms and tangible solutions to the government’s biggest bureaucracy.

By continuing to let the Pentagon ignore sequestration, Congress is letting defense leaders postpone and push off the need for comprehensive change.

The massive 800,000 Defense Department civilian workforce is a good example — and one left off the chairman’s list, which is odd since this workforce has grown 10% since the Great Recession began and President Obama took office. Furloughs of this workforce have been announced and amended repeatedly over the past few months. Had Pentagon officials planned properly, furloughs could possibly have been avoided and the Department could have begun efforts at thoughtful rightsizing instead.

Congress must insist the Pentagon resubmit its 2014 budget request taking into account sequestration. There are no more excuses since Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has already said his strategic choices and management review is designed to do exactly that.

Better late than never.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies.

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