PNSR Expert Commentary and Resources on Fiscal Responsibility and National Security Spending

WASHINGTON, DC – As the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform releases its recommendations on reducing United States government spending, the Project on National Security Reform’s (PNSR) experts provide the following commentary and resources on fiscal responsibility and national security transformation:


James R. Locher III, President and CEO – “Headlines about setbacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, terrorism, counterproliferation, and other challenges often vividly portray the ineffectiveness of the U.S. national security system in the 21st century. Less visible, but equally troubling, is the system’s gross inefficiency and wastefulness. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform should press for transforming the system to realize huge savings. In a $1 trillion national security budget, the potential for massive cost reductions is enormous. Why is the system wasting money? First, it has no foresight mechanism; it doesn’t begin to work on problems until they are expensive-to-solve crises. Second, the budget process is not oriented on what we hope to achieve — our missions and other outcomes; it funds capabilities that the departments desire which are often misaligned with our needs. Third, departments and agencies don’t work as teams; they work in isolated stovepipes, often with costly duplication or conflicting objectives. A transformed national security system can dramatically strengthen the nation’s security and at less cost. Over to you, Erskine and Alan.”

Nancy Bearg, Senior Advisor – “The members of the Deficit Commission have been thinking hard about change. Their recommendations are a new, daring way of thinking about how fundamental changes — difficult as they are — are essential to the strength of this country. The Project on National Security Reform has a new way of thinking too — and it relates directly to deficit reduction: transform the way we think about and act on national security. Make it whole-of-government and whole-of-nation. Reform processes and perspectives to include all instruments of national power in preventing and solving problems. The current system is increasingly crippled in dealing with modern challenges. Transforming the system into a more integrated whole will result in more efficient and effective use of our national security resources, resulting in less cost. National security transformation is an idea whose time has come — just in time to be put in the mix of crucially important, daring ideas to set this great country on sounder and safer fiscal and national security footing.”

John Depenbrock, Chief Operating Officer – “There can be no transformation of our national security system without fiscal responsibility and some sacrifices by all citizens. Indeed, comprehensive national security transformation will lead to economic security that will serve our nations’ community of interests by placing America on a positive and prosperous economic foundation as we move forward in the 21st century.”

Rahul Gupta, Senior Advisor – “We are in a dire budgetary situation where our security is being destabilized by our lack of economic prowess, yet we believe we cannot reduce defense spending. The first problem we have to acknowledge and fix is that the national security budget is derived through an outdated process that imposes no demands for prioritization or rationalization of capabilities across the portfolio of investments. For this reason, no one really knows if additional spending buys more security. We continue to buy additional planes, ships, and other major equipment even though less expensive platforms could provide the same capability. The second problem we must recognize is that the Pentagon and other departments have yet to fully comply with the CFO Act and present fully auditable financial statements for each major acquisition and do so with all of the costs clearly identified. Until then, there will no true accountability for the costs of systems and therefore no reliable data to prioritize and rationalize. The third problem is due to a combination of acquisition practices and culture. We must acknowledge that the national security community has yet to benefit fully from performance- and service- based contracting for much of its consumables. Even though the laws call for commercial approaches to acquisition, DOD has yet to fully develop and implement these practices. In addition, the staff that has to carry out these different practices lack the training to be successful or the sponsorship to fully execute. To save hundreds of billions per year will require (1) prioritization and rationalization, (2) transparency, auditability, and accountability, and (3) modern acquisition processes and acquisition staff trained in these methods.”

Daniel Langberg, Deputy Director for Interagency Teams and Planning – “Secretary Clinton and Admiral Mullen have each recognized national debt as a pressing national security concern. Under this broadened scope of national security, national security transformation would enable a more strategic and long-term approach by institutionalizing capabilities such as scanning and long-term assessments of the strategic environment, as well as visioning and long-term strategy development. Institutionalizing these and other much-needed capabilities on a whole-of-government basis would allow for a clearer picture of the strategic environment, wiser prioritization of our national security investment portfolio, and a stronger grasp of long-range impacts of near-term decisions — insights that could have gone a long way in helping to avoid the situation we are in today.”

Jack LeCuyer, Distinguished Fellow – “Transformation of the national security system and fiscal responsibility are two sides of the same coin. This is about more than just the Defense and State Department budgets. It is about taking the president’s national security strategy which includes a broadened definition of national security and asking how to implement it in an efficient and effective way to ensure outcomes that truly enhance our national security and maintain our leadership role in the global environment. The next required step in this process of aligning resources with national security objectives is the development and promulgation of the president’s planning and resource guidance for national security missions to the departments and agencies with the requirement to review each of the major departmental quadrennial reviews in light of this guidance. Each of these reviews to date has been accomplished in a vacuum of strategic guidance from the top — and each of these reviews is more about maintaining a share of the budget to develop departmental capabilities than they are about ensuring a truly integrated whole-of-government approach to accomplishing the goals outlined in the president’s national security strategy. We have the opportunity to do a system check and to ensure that we have properly aligned resources — both for “hard” and “soft” power elements of national power — into a seamless and integrated interagency national security budgetary approach. We need not do more; we cannot afford to do less. Let us begin that path toward transformation of the national security system today.”

Dale Pfeifer, Director of Network Development and Strategic Communications – “In testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Secretary Clinton recently argued that the U.S. budget deficit and debt be addressed “as a matter of national security, not only as a matter of economics.” It is essential we identify strategies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long-run. To do this, budget processes should evolve to allow the government to manage budgets more innovatively. For example, transitioning from allocating resources by departments and agencies to a prioritized mission is likely to allow for substantial savings and increased effectiveness.”

Tom Rautenberg, Director of Strategy and Development – “National security transformation drives fiscal responsibility by demanding breakthrough efficiency and effectiveness in ways that are measurable and based on scientific evidence. Thus, now that the President’s Commission has put defense and intelligence spending in play, transformational thinking can help us spend our dollars more wisely.”

Rei Tang, Research Analyst – “Outdated budgeting processes seriously hamper the ability of the national security system to conduct policy without wasteful and inefficient spending. From the $52 billion spent on Iraq War reconstruction to the sprawl of the national security system since 9/11, reports and studies have repeatedly noted the inefficiencies and costs from a scattered and ad hoc approach to national security spending. This occurs even as the United States recognizes a coming fiscal crisis, often deemed a national security issue by the nation’s military leadership. Even more troubling, the United States faces emerging national security challenges that are piling up as the government remains slow to anticipate and react. National security transformation has the potential to save billions while increasing the effectiveness of the government, and would put our institutions in a better place to deal with our fiscal issues.”

PNSR Senior Staffer – “How could national security transformation contribute to fiscal responsibility? It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of resource allocation in the execution of policy. Yet one of the overarching themes we see in our goal for national security transformation is that government spending is not aligned with our national security strategy. Additionally, there is no overarching fiscal plan that takes a wholistic, government-wide view. What is needed is a system that helps to unite agencies on the strategic level, which, in turn would address the fiscal issue. To quote an early PNSR publication, the system is “simply not designed to address interagency needs” (Forging a New Shield). National security transformation would provide an organizational framework to better align strategy and resources.”


- Michael Leonard, Matching Policy and Strategy with Resources: An Issue Brief (2009).

- Turning Ideas in Action (2009), Alignment of Strategy and Resources (Chapter 3).

- Forging a New Shield (2008), Resource Management (Part 4).

- PNSR Resource Working Group, Annotated Bibliography (2007).

For further comment please contact:
Project on National Security Reform
(646) 662-4092