Is Hagel already giving up on reforming the defense budget?

Department of Defense/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, starts his day reading newspaper excerpts in the "Early Bird", in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 9, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Secretary Hagel gave up on making real change at the Pentagon before it even has a chance to begin.

    Tweet This

  • Hagel indicated that the President’s 2014 budget request would attempt bigger, long-term change later (if at all).

    Tweet This

  • Let’s hope the new Secretary of Defense isn’t giving up on the need for overdue change quite so soon.

    Tweet This

Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave his first major policy speech since assuming command of the US Department of Defense (DoD). While the secretary started with a bang by hitting all the right notes and themes regarding defense reform, he unfortunately ended with a whimper that dampens any expectations for tangible results.

Secretary Hagel said all the right words for those examining the out-of-whack internal defense budget priorities. AEI recently issued a report noting how sequestration actually provides an opportunity to tackle overdue and necessary changes at the Pentagon. Many areas in need of reform have remained unchecked and experienced generous growth within the defense budget, including

  • Bureaucratic overhead;
  • Excess infrastructure; and
  • Deferred and in-kind compensation for DoD personnel.

 

Many other think tanks and outside organizations have been banging the same drum, and it seems Secretary Hagel took notice.

Hagel noted that fundamental reform of these major internal cost drivers of the defense budget is required. But after discussing at length why these must be areas of targeted change, he then turned around and gave himself an out.

A big one.

Secretary Hagel noted that while he will examine these areas for reform, it may just turn out that dramatic changes could prove “unwise, untenable or politically impossible.”

Secretary Hagel gave up on making real change at the Pentagon before it even has a chance to begin. He appears to be saying that these challenges warrant scrutiny, but action is questionable at this point. This simply negates all of his reasoning and rationale for why these cost drivers must be tackled now.

Congress and the bureaucracy will surely hear this massive caveat and happily oblige. Hagel indicated in his Q&A session with the audience that the president’s 2014 budget request would likely seek to recycle many of the previously rejected proposals in these areas and attempt bigger, long-term change later (if at all).

The problem is that “later” (i.e., fiscal year 2015) kicks controversy into the mid-term election season. Once that gets underway, Secretary Hagel’s unique moment to come into office and break glass, upend tradition and promote fundamental change will be up. Let’s hope the new secretary of defense isn’t giving up on the need for overdue change quite so soon.

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

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Mackenzie
Eaglen
  • Mackenzie Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the U.S. Congress, both House and Senate, and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. She specializes in defense strategy, budget, military readiness and the defense industrial base. In 2010, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess the Pentagon's major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


     


    Follow Mackenzie Eaglen on Twitter.

  • Phone: (202) 862-7183
    Email: mackenzie.eaglen@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Charles Morrison
    Phone: (202) 862-5945
    Email: charles.morrison@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.