What do foreign bases have to do with the debt ceiling crisis?
As the United States blunders its way forward in the self-created crisis of lifting the congressionally imposed debt ceiling, many ask how we got to where we are.
A part of the answer is the gigantic growth in the defense budget, which has added more than $2.3 trillion to the spending level extant before September 11, 2001. We added a minimum of $1.3 trillion to fight the dysfunctional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we added another $1 trillion to the so-called "base" (non-war) DOD budget -- so far. People can squabble all they want over whether the results in Iraq and Afghanistan were worth the cost in lives and treasure, but there cannot be any informed disagreement with what has happened in the "base" budget: our forces are smaller, older and less trained than they were even in the Clinton era -- the direct result of an additional $1 trillion that was not just squandered aimlessly but spent in a manner that could only result in the decay that has occurred.
A major reason for the inevitable result -- that is, one that did not occur by accident -- is the nature of the oversight in Congress and the executive branch. It is not that none occurred; it is that the oversight that did occur was superficial by design. The audit issue - or rather the no-audit issue -- and the continuing plan to produce only a superficial audit in 2017 (27 years after the enactment of the CFO Act of 1990) is a clear part of that pretend oversight. Another key part of the problem is in the congressional research agencies: CBO, GAO and CRS. There, Members of Congress ask research questions typically designed to come up with narrow answers intended to serve the congressional questioner's agenda -- not get to the bottom of the matter wherever that may be.
An excellent example has to do with the CBO, GAO and CRS work on foreign bases. See the article below, recently published by Colin Clark's AOL Defense. It is written by a person now drawing federal pay in a place where such independent thinking is quite obviously frowned upon (otherwise this person would not have to use a pseudonym).
Note the way Congress asks for research specifically designed to nibble - just at the ankles. Note also that the congressional research agencies don't produce more comprehensive work on their own -- very possibly because their congressional masters don't want that work done and would express their disapproval one way or another.
This problem is hardly isolated to CBO, GAO and CRS. Note the evasions in the executive branch and -- of course -- in the congressional defense committees.
If ever we start to live in a world where congressional leaders demand exacting, comprehensive work and/or research agencies produce it unrequested, we will also be living in a world where comprehensive audits are routinely made of the Pentagon and managers are confronted with the information whether it is wanted or not.
Hard to imagine now, isn't it?
If people in Congress and the Pentagon (and of course the congressional research agencies) had been demanding and producing comprehensive research on the long term consequences of contemporary decisions, the malefactors may have gone ahead anyway, but also the rest of us would know what fools they were being. And, they would have known that we know they are fools -- or worse. Sounds to me like the basis for a functioning democracy.
Sometimes -- not very often, to be sure -- someone in government feels so strongly that things are headed in the wrong direction that they feel compelled to break ranks and tell the American people. We have such a case here. Our author, who agreed to be identified only as 'Anonymous in Government', knows a great deal about the subject being addressed and harbors such a strong view that the senior Pentagon leadership is heading in the wrong direction that he contacted us in hopes of sharing his -- or her -- analysis. Given his -- or her -- knowledge and position, we make our forum available.
TheSenate Appropriations military construction subcommittee just finished its appropriations bill but the panel responsible for funding foreign bases did little to start drawing down America's forces overseas.
Instead of acting boldly to start saving what could be billions of dollars over the next few years, the committee added amendments restricting funds for the headquarters of Africa Command and another limiting funds for military construction projects in Germany, pending a report on the brigade combat team scheduled to be withdrawn from Germany in 2015. It marked the second time in as many months that Senate committees responsible for defense matters declined to act aggressively on a potential source of billions in savings. While the consensus is that defense spending is on the table, Congress is failing to capitalize on available opportunities overseas.
While the congressional leadership scrambles to find government spending to cut, congressional agencies already have identified numerous opportunities for cuts to America's enormous defense posture overseas.
In its latest report on military construction appropriations, the Congressional Research Service punted, focusing its proposed "Questions for Congress" on peripheral matters -- whether Congress's failure to pass FY2011 appropriations disrupted planning and whether the probation on earmarks is an infringement on Congress's power of the purse.Congressional Budget Office attention to military construction has been limited to observations included in its annual reports on the long-term implications of defense plans; in the latest 2010 study, CBO observations centered on funding to cover recapitalization rates, base realignment and closure, and family housing. Its last substantive report on overseas basing was issued in May 2004, when it examined options for changing Army's overseas basing.
In the first half of 2011, theGovernment Accountability Office reported the future of European Command and Pacific Command plans are questionable because existing plans rarely include enough cost information and lacked analyses to determine their affordability. However, GAO declined to recommend any funding withholds or program terminations, instead proposing the Department provide more information or complete additional study.
Given the new-found receptivity to reducing DoD budgets, the congressional agencies should have been more definitive on potential courses of action.
Nonetheless, it's unclear why Congress continues to persist in funding the Cold War's multi-billion overseas presence, especially in Europe. The Senate Armed Services Committee declined to act, instead directing GAO to assess DoD's assumptions concerning the cost of overseas posture compared to stationing forces in the United States. Similarly, the Senate Appropriations Military Construction subcommittee merely "question[ed] the wisdom of embarking on long range, multi-billion dollar global defense initiatives based on military construction cost estimates that are found to be 'volatile and not comprehensive'," and simply directed DoD to submit yet another round of reports explaining its objectives overseas.
Michele Flournoy, the current undersecretary for policy is responsible for DoD overseas basing and, right after the issuance of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review she indicated a comprehensive review of posture would be forthcoming by 2012. Since then, DoD has not issued formal findings and Flournoy has rarely commented substantively on the matter. Congress should be ready to grill the undersecretary about the administration's "comprehensive review of roles and missions" and its global posture review.
In the meantime, Congressional leaders should, at the minimum, be pulling the trigger and withholding funding on these various "long range, multi-billion dollar" initiatives until the administration produces a plan revamping America's foreign footprint. Ultimately, congressional inaction means we are leaving behind potentially billions of dollars in savings that could be harvested by drawing down foreign bases.
Winslow T. Wheeler
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information 301 791-2397