“Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who is to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like the termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as man.... Nobody ever grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened ...”
— Antoine de Saint Exupery
“Wind, Sand and Stars”
How to make sensible cuts in the defense budget, before the nonsensical ones begin? The nature of the sequestration process will make it especially difficult.
From the president on down, the Obama-devised sequestration (yes, he thought it up) is being declared a disaster in the making. Secretary Leon Panetta says that if defense shoulders planned cuts, on top of those already ordered by the Obama administration, the force will be “hollowed out.” (He’s leaving soon, so why would he lie?)
We’ll be left with only one carrier in the critical region of the Persian Gulf. New weapons programs will be curtailed or shut down. Training and maintenance accounts will be slashed. Health care for wounded warriors will suffer. And so forth and so forth.
All of this is no doubt true, at least to some extent. Defense accounts for 20 percent of the federal budget, but 50 percent of so-called discretionary spending. Defense will certainly be tasked with absorbing a large part of the sequestration if no deal is struck by the Republican House and the president. Such is the insanity of sequestration that these cuts will be “across the board,” for such is what the president decreed when advancing sequestration nearly two years ago.
We are now faced with yet another Perils of Pauline drama, and aren’t we all getting just a little sick of this?
There is an easy way to cut the defense budget without hollowing out the force. But there’s a catch. The easy part would be firing, say, half of the current 800,000 civilian employees cluttering the Defense Department. The catch would be to identify the half to fire, and then to withstand the political firestorm that would follow.
What does the bureaucracy at the Pentagon (aka the “Puzzle Palace”) contribute to a cost effective and efficient armed force? It takes years to do the things that were done in a few months during World War II, and we did it then with far fewer bureaucrats insisting on “input” before critical decisions were made. Look how long it takes now to bring a new weapon system on line, a new fighter aircraft, a new armored vehicle. The Navy’s shipbuilding program is a particular debacle.
Yes, there is a way to sensibly cut the defense budget — one that wouldn’t reduce the nation’s level of fighting men and women.
But don’t hold your breath. Sensible is not the way things get done in Washington these days.
If, indeed, they get done at all.