QDR Independent Panel: American Defense Needs an Overhaul

John Nagl

The alternative Quadrennial Defense Review independent panel delivered its findings to Congress last week, and it had some different recommendations for Congress than the version released late last year.

While the official QDR recommended that the Department of Defense shift its priorities away from large, expensive weapons systems and more towards the manpower-intensive “small war” counterinsurgency and counterterrorism tactics developed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the independent panel’s version encouraged Congress to address “emerging great powers in Asia” with increased naval funding, as well as legislative reforms to bring the acquisitions process into the 21st century.

John Nagl, CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), told The Cable that his panel’s findings did not contradict the official QDR, which was led by his colleague at CNAS, Michèle Flournoy.  “The QDR was a very good product and did a good job of focusing on the wars we’re in,” he said, “but was unable to focus on the far out, which it was congressionally mandated to do. Plus the panel could look at things that were outside the Department of Defense.  We also have the luxury of thinking deeper and seeing some troubling trends.”

The report says that “force structure in the Asia-Pacific area needs to be increased” because “the United States will need to retain the ability to transit freely the areas of the Western Pacific for security and economic reasons.”  Writing in the Washington Post, Stephen Hadley and William Perry, co-chairs of the independent panel, explain that this must be accomplished by placing an “emphasis on increasing the size of the Navy.”    The panel’s emphasis on the Navy differs sharply from the official QDR’s emphasis on unmanned aerial vehicles, light armor and helicopters, an arsenal tailored for counterinsurgency in landlocked Afghanistan.

Another area of concern for the independent panel is the “recent and dramatic growth in the cost of the All-Volunteer Force,” which “cannot be sustained for the long term.”  The report says that failing to address these costs “will likely result in a reduction in the force structure, a reduction in benefits, or a compromised All-Volunteer Force,” and it recommends restructuring of military compensation to make distinctions “between one or two terms of service and a career,” and emphasize cash-in-hand over in-kind or deferred benefits to make military service more attractive to “those serving less than an entire career.”

Also, the panel recommends providing bonuses and credential pay to incentivize critical skill sets, removing current limitation son enlistment time to allow for more intensive and specialized training and installing a “continuum of service” model that allows personnel to shift easily between reserve duty, active duty deployment, the private sector and civilian public service.

Finally, the report advocates major changes to the acquisitions process.  The panel found that “authority for establishing need, and formulating, approving, and executing programs has become confused within the Department of Defense,” and recommends that roles be clearly defined by Congress.

Identifying gaps in capabilities should be done by combatant commands and the Joint Staff, according to the report, and solutions to plug these gaps in capabilities should be defined by force providers.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense should source these solutions, as well as the Joint Staff supported by combatant commands in the field, and the force provider should be accountable for providing these solutions within time and budget constraints as defined by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  Also, “for multi-service/agency programs,” the report says that “there should be a lead service/agency clearly accountable.”

Stephen Hadley and William Perry write that “Commendably, Gates has emphasized reducing the cost of new programs and the time it takes to develop them. But we are concerned that the typical direction of past reforms — expanding the process involved in making procurement decisions — may detract from the clear authority and accountability that alone can reduce cost and increase efficiency.”

Additionally, the independent panel found that “there is no defined regular process within the acquisition structure and process to address urgent needs in support of current combat operations,” and recommended “special processes and organizations” be developed and implemented to meet urgent force requirements.

Wrapping up its findings for acquisitions, the panel found that while military funding has returned to levels that supported dual-source contracting during the Cold War, the contracting strategy has remained sole-source, and recommended a return to dual-source contracting.

Perhaps the biggest change recommended by the independent panel was an overhaul of the QDR process itself.  “The QDR process as presently constituted should be discontinued in favor of the normal Department of Defense planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process” and recommended a new National Security Strategic Planning Process.

Stephen Hadley and William Perry explain that “government structures fashioned in the 1940s to address the Soviet Union are disjointed and stovepiped. We need better strategic management, more holistic planning and a better crisis response for today’s world. This requires substantial change.”

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