In October 2012 our shortened URL ( expired and was purchased by spammers before we were able to reclaim it. Part of their misuse includes redirecting this URL to an imposter site that has advertisements posted in the comment boxes. Stimson is working to take down that site and reclaim the domain name. In the interim, please update your bookmarks accordingly to Thank you all for your patience as we work through this issue.

Picture This



“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey


New Budget Analysis Series

BFAD is excited to announce the release of a new resource for our readers: our Budget Analysis series! This resource takes the core of our work—analysis of developments in the national security budget process—and organizes them into an easy-to-navigate index for both Foreign Affairs and Defense. Using this new structure, we will no longer be posting new material to this blog. Besides the Budget Analysis pages, research and analysis on other topics will be accessible through BFAD’s main page.

We have already posted new analyses of the Senate Appropriations Committee's action on FY14 Defense and State and Foreign Operations appropriations. Our Budget Analysis pages also index older content, including many posts from the blog, which will remain accessible as an archive.

Thank you for reading The Will and the Wallet, and we look forward to providing you with more of the objective, independent analysis you have come to expect from us.


The House Cuts Defense

The Republican-controlled House last week voted for lower defense spending than the President asked for.  That may not seem like news, since the House Appropriations press release itself boasted the bill was “below the President’s request.”  

But the Appropriations committee was trying to have it both ways.  Yes, the bill’s budget for base DoD was lower than the President’s request (actually $5.5B less since the House cut $1B from the MILCON request too).  But the committee had also increased the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) accounts—the war funding—by $5B, neatly offsetting most of the cut to the Department of Defense base budget.  The offset also didn’t count against the BCA caps since OCO funding is exempted from the caps.  

On the floor though, four congressmen offered an amendment to cut that very OCO plus-up.  Congressmen Mick Mulvaney, a leading Tea Party Republican, and Chris Van Hollen, Democratic head of the House Budget Committee, led a fight to cut $3.5B from OCO, explicitly citing that it was more than the Pentagon and President requested. They did not, however, emphasize that the overage in OCO was to make up for the base budget being cut. They only cut $3.5B of the $5B overage because they left $1.5B in OCO for National Guard and Reserve Equipment, a traditional Congressional plus-up.  

Two other amendments were also passed that significantly chopped war funding, cutting support for the Afghanistan Security Forces to the tune of more than $3B.  Added to the Mulvaney/Van Hollen amendment, that's a $6B reduction in war funding.*  Without (most of) the base funding cut being made up. 

For a sense of how big a figure the cuts are at this stage of the game, the other 22 amendments agreed to on the floor that moved money cut only $240M total, or only 4% of the money cut by those three amendments.  

By shifting money from the base budget to OCO, the House Appropriations Committee was trying to claim cuts while actually providing all the funding the President asked for.  But the House itself—through action on the floor—really did cut the defense budget from the President’s request.  It’s pretty dramatic to be living under caps, not to mention the threat of sequester, and still have the House cutting the defense budget further.  

Oh, and by the way, this bill by itself is above the post-sequester capped levels, meaning it’s all irrelevant unless a deal is found (which likely makes it irrelevant anyway). 


* These figures are all based off the numbers included in the amendments, and are not based off official figures.  Some of the amendments may not be additive.  Updated to reflect better estimates; the three amendments don't add to the total because of other adjustments.


Furloughs: The Wrong Way to Cut

With the arrival of furloughs for many federal government workers, agencies and employees are scrambling to adjust to staffing shortages and shrinking paychecks. These circumstances give new relevance to the recommendations of a 2011 Defense Business Board (DBB) report that drew lessons from corporate downsizing efforts that could be applied to DoD. In that report, DBB found that successful downsizings share many similarities, offering a model that could be followed in winding down the defense budget.

Unfortunately, the situation created by sequestration is almost the exact opposite of what DBB found has worked in the private sector: selective, strategic cuts driven and communicated by top leadership. According to the report:

The CEO/senior leadership provided a clear vision for the future, a well defined strategy to get there, and a desired end-state. Reductions started at the top of the organization where the CEO and senior executives all led by example…The Task Group found that as corporations rationalized operations, they focused on reducing overhead, duplication, and unnecessary activities, staff, and facilities. Any organization or business line that had limited potential was closed or sold. There was consistent emphasis on no “across the board” percentage cuts. Any cost center or function not critical to customers was eliminated. Organizational layers, administrative offices, and management processes were reduced and simplified.

Nonetheless, members of Congress and DoD leadership have failed to seize on the importance of “reducing overhead, duplication, and unnecessary activities, staff and facilities” through measures such as integrating redundant functions across the services, trimming the excess levels of bureaucracy, or numerous other possible savings separate from strategy. Instead, cuts are hitting core functions of the military, such as training and deployments, while furloughs threaten to seriously undermine the morale of the civilian workforce.

As the DBB noted, one important goal of successful downsizing efforts “was to have departing personnel feel they were fairly treated with, if possible, a positive view of the company,” yet it’s unlikely any of the federal employees facing furloughs are feeling fairly treated now. While cuts to personnel expenditures must be part of the process of adjusting the defense budget to fiscal constraints, furloughs—and the additional sequester cuts and furloughs that might happen if the appropriations bills go through as they are now—are the wrong way to go about it.


State Won't Help Congress Help Them

Just as the State Department likes to try every year to move war funding into its base funding, Congress likes to move it out.  The Senate appropriators provided $2.6B less than the President requested for base f150, International Affairs.*  

But the Senate appropriators allocated $6.5B for OCO, or $2.7B more than the President's request, for basically a wash in total spending.  (As always, the House's base is so far from either the President, Senate, or past figures at $35B in base, its hard to even include it, though we can guess the final appropriation will be lower than the President's or the Senate's). 

Nevertheless, how the Senate appropriators get to $52B and how the State department gets to $52B are very different.  The constant flow in and out of war funding suggests the State Department doesn't know how to capitalize on Congress's preferences.  Even the House provided double the war funding for State, despite dramatically cutting its base allocation. The recent OIG report on State in Iraq emphasizes the desire to 'normalize' its role in Iraq, and it seems State would rather use its budget to express its policy preferences than get the most funding it can. 

That's good budgeting practice, although it might not be the best political tactic. 

* Since it doesn't look like Congress is going along with the proposal to move food aid out of the Agriculture committees to the foreign affairs committees, don't forget to add it on top of the SFOPs allocation.  


Ignoring the Caps is Again the Story

The Senate today provided its discretionary allocations, which lets us compare the Senate to the House to the President's request. 

Everyone meets the unreduced BCA cap, and no one meets the reduced BCA cap.  That is, everyone assumes the sequester level funding will be done away with but everyone also thinks the non-sequester caps originally in the BCA are still binding.  No matter what you think happens with sequester, it seems there is a broad consensus that all funding, including defense, is constrained, and the BCA levels are acknowledged as authoritative.

But since everyone meets the cap, the differences are small enough estimating what each bill does can affect how they compare.  The authorizers accept DoD's estimates, but the appropriators rely on CBO.  And DoD and CBO disagree just a tad.  The note below explains more.

That said, Senate appropriators are providing just under what the President requested in base (-$0.7B), as well as a little less in OCO (-$2.7B). The House appropriators cut the President's base request more (-$5.3B), but plussed up OCO to balance it out (+$5.3B).  

All of which means, the total amount for DoD differs by only $3.5B from the highest, the President and House, to the lowest, the Senate.  That's only half a percent movement in the DoD topline, which seems pretty meaningless when everybody is 10% off the reduced cap numbers.  

Estimating note: CBO disagrees with how much will be saved in FY14 from the President's proposed changes in health care cost-sharing to a tune of $580 million.  Because of that, the various numbers move by half a billion dollars depending on whether you include it or not.  Furthermore, the appropriations defense bills include the Intelligence Community Management Account.  But DoD doesn't get that money (it goes straight to DNI), and so doesn't include it its topline.  The President requested $568M, though the House only provided $553B and the Senate number is still unknown.  Just those two estimating differences could swamp the policy differences between the three figures.

UPDATED 202020JUN13: to reflect more comparable OCO numbers.


The Difference Between Bs and Ms

In today's spirit of fiscal austerity, SASC reported its authorization bill out and has provided less for defense than the President requested. The chart below is from SASC's press release noting their differences from the President's request. 
Note, though, the totals are presented in billions and the changes are reported in millions.  That single change in letter from 'b' to 'm' means quite a bit. In relation to the request, SASC provided:

  • for DoD, two-thousandths of a percent less
  • for OCO, two-hundredths of a percent less
  • for nuclear-related activities, one-tenth a percent less

Needless to say, those cuts aren't getting defense down to post-sequester levels, just like all the other bills reported so far.   

* for OCO, SASC is not displaying the cancellations the President requested.


The House Is Conflicted on Defense

On Wednesday, both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense marked up their FY14 bills.  Despite approval on the same day in the same chamber run by the same party, their bills provide very different funding for DoD.  

Both of them ignore sequester, but that's not terribly interesting since every step in the budgetary process has ignored that sequester is the law of the land.

What is interesting is the divergence in the two bills on how much money DoD gets.  

  • HASC matches the President's request for DoD with $526.6B, which in turn meets the pre-sequester caps required by the amended Budget Control Act.  Some have mistakenly said HASC's bill was significantly higher than the President's request.  But the larger number, $552B, covers all of national defense spending, not just DoD but all of budget function 050, which includes our nation's nukes and other defense spending.  The HASC bill matches the President's request for this broader pot.  
  • HAC-D, in contrast, only provides $521.9B, almost $5B less than either the President or HASC.  We know this because the Defense subcommittee bill includes $512.0B for DoD* and the already reported MILCON-VA bill provides $10.0B for DoD.  Add them together and you get the almost $5B markdown. [See update below for how the HASC and HAC-D numbers relate]

Its not unusual for appropriators to provide less than the authorizers.  It is unusual for them to report their bills on the same day highlighting the discrepancy between the bills.  Usually the two bills come out months apart obscuring the discrepancy (an obscurity aided by the differences in accounting).  

That discrepancy in turn highlights that the House is willing to acknowledge that defense spending isn't sacred to Republicans anymore, which is what has made the supposedly 'unthinkable' sequester a reality.  

The two committees do agree on providing $85.8B for war funding--$6B more than the President. They also said they would provide international affairs $6.5B in war funding--twice what the President had requested.  We've long noted that because war funding is exempt from the BCA caps, it would be a sore temptation to use it to provide more funding (and  Gordon has already noted the administration's first move on exploiting this safety valve).  But up until now in the BCA era, Congress had not provided more than the President's original request.  For the first time, we're seeing that reticence disappear and an extra $10B provided in the war funding.  It'll be interesting if the Senate committees follow suit, and we see war funding become the free money BCA allows it to be.

*The Defense subcommittee bill provides $500M more than that because it goes to the Intelligence Community Management Account, which doesn't go to DoD.


Memorial Day 2013

-U.S. National Archives


Gordon Adams at "Time to Reset Defense"

Recently, BFAD Distinguished Fellow Gordon Adams spoke at the conference “Time to Reset Defense: Guidance for a More Effective and Affordable US Defense Posture”, hosted by the Project on Defense Alternatives and the Center for International Policy. The conference brought together experts to discuss practical options to reform America’s military into a more effective and efficient force.

For his remarks, Dr. Gordon Adams focused on the cyclical nature of the defense budget and the effects of sequestration. The speech highlighted the politics behind the defense budget and what it means for defense leaders to begin a serious effort at shaping the defense drawdown. 

You can watch his remarks here


Treading Water: National Security In The FY14 Budget

In a new Stimson Center Spotlight, BFAD Director Russell Rumbaugh looks at President Obama’s FY2014  budget request. Analyzing the proposal, Mr. Rumbaugh finds that the budget ignores the broader budget fight while not making any serious changes to the national security budgets.

 “Since national security cannot help drive a deal, the defense and international affairs budgets are status quo budgets, avoiding changes that might be opposed by the executive agencies and so open another front in the budget battles.”

Mr. Rumbaugh goes on to discuss the rebalancing going on between the Department of Defense and the State Department.  Over the past 3 years switching between Security/ Non-security, and Defense/ Non-Defense has created confusion for budget watchers and policy makers.  In ignoring part of these budget battles (such as the sequester), but accepting the Defense / Non-Defense limits “The budget request acknowledges one part of the current law and ignores another”. The failure to solve the broader budget issues have been an excuse for lawmakers to avoid the difficult job of reforming the national security budgets.


Planning for Nuclear Purchases

Stimson Center Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow Barry Blechman recently participated in a panel briefing Congressional staffers on the key priorities and recommendations for reducing nuclear risk for the United States. The event, hosted by the Arms Control Association (ACA), also featured Ellen Tauscher, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Daryl G. Kimball, the Executive Director of the ACA. During his remarks, Barry highlighted the need to reexamine the scope of the U.S. arsenal. His comments included insight on the way requirements are set:

[Our current arsenal] is based on [old] requirements for deterrence [which] have stayed the same….the question now is ‘does this make sense’?

Our New Defense Strategy for a New Era report, based on the proceedings of a group Barry chaired, took this question to heart and realigned nuclear spending according to the strategy.  Indeed, the costs associated with the nuclear arsenal, which BFAD has previously shed light on, should be up for debate in budget discussions. Stay tuned for our continued analysis on the issue.


International Affairs in the 2014 Request

The international affairs budget has the same topline games we’ve seen for years now and remains at the mercy of the broader budget battles.

The base international affairs budget request is roughly flat to last year’s request. The only problem is the actual international affairs budget for FY13 was $4.5 billion less than the request.  But f150 got $3 billion more in war funding in FY13 than the President requested.  And although the budget documents say this year’s war funding is just a placeholder and not a real request, it shows State only getting $3.8 billion, or $4.5 billion less than requested last year and $7.5 billion less than it was appropriated.  All of those moving pieces add up to a total request just shy of $3 billion less than appropriated for FY13.  

Once again, the President’s request tries to shift funding into the base budget, though this time it also requests significantly lower war funding.  Still with war funding only as a placeholder, a larger defense request may provide room for Congress to maintain most of the f150 funding even if some has to migrate into the war budgets. 


Defense Coughs Up Some More Savings

The President’s budget—like the House and Senate budgets—ignores the implementation of sequester, assuming some deal this summer replaces it.  But the budget still reflects the builddown we’re living in by implementing two decisions:

First, the President’s budget matches the pre-sequester caps contained in the amended Budget Control Act (BCA).  That is different than last year’s budget, which assumed Congress would change the law to reflect a security/non-security divide; security being not just DoD but veterans, international affairs, homeland security and other spending and non-security everything else.  This year it accepts the budget really will be decided on a defense/non-defense basis.  And it accepts the cap level, which required trimming $36B over ten years from last year’s DoD request.*  But it means we have this funny situation where the budget is acknowledging one part of statute but ignoring another—sequester—since the caps it matches don’t include the automatic reductions that are already the law of the land.  

Second, the budget trims another $114B from DoD over ten years to help provide defense’s share of the offset the President has offered as part of his plan to replace sequester.  Those cuts don’t start until FY17—three years from now—and in the President’s budget are expressed as lower statutory spending caps.  But those cuts are real savings.  Or as real as projected savings can be.  The first cut of $36B isn’t real savings because its just a decrement from a request, which wasn’t approved in any way by Congress.  The $114B cut is a cut from the current statutory caps and has the effect of actually decreasing deficit and debt projections.

Nobody needs telling anymore, but this budget is yet another step in the gradual decline that turns into a defense builddown in retrospect.  

* These figures are calculated assuming DoD’s share of the 050 cap is 96%, DoD’s traditional share of 050.  But that is an assumption not mandated by law.  


Good Ideas Getting Better with Age

Pentagon management reforms, already a hot topic, seem to be garnering ever more attention.  Given the headlines, let’s take a look at several leading ideas:

… It's time to start asking tough questions about redundant staffs… There are dozens of offices of general counsel scattered throughout the Department. Each service has one. Every agency does, too. So do the Joint Chiefs… The same could be said of a variety of other functions, from public affairs to legislative affairs… Health care is another…

…DOD also has three exchange systems and a separate commissary system, all providing similar goods and services…

…It takes today twice as long as it did in 1975 to produce a new weapon system, at a time when new generations of technology are churned out every 18 to 24 months…

…No business I have known could survive under the policies we apply to our uniformed personnel. We encourage, and often force, servicemen and -women and retire after 20 years in service, after we've spent millions of dollars to train them and when, still in their 40s, they were at the peak of their talents and skills.

Now for the kicker: this is not an excerpt from Secretary Hagel’s address at NDU, though it easily could have been.   Nor from the Defense Advisory Group that Stimson co-founder Barry Blechman chaired last year, or the Defense Business Board, or CBO’s Budget Options analysis, which has repeatedly said the same things.  Donald Rumsfeld made these points – and not for the first time – in an address on September 10th, 2001.

The ideas are still worthy, and the evident difficulty in achieving them should not deter the Pentagon and Congress from trying.  Indeed, there is some hope in one of Rumsfeld’s lines whose time has returned: “In this period of limited funds, we need every nickel, every good idea, every innovation, every effort to help modernize and transform the U.S. military.”


The Pentagon's Shift to Africa

Last Thursday, President Obama met with the leaders of Sierra Leone, Senegal, Malawi, and Cape Verde to discuss each country’s “efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, protect and expand human rights and civil liberties, and increase economic opportunities for their people.” Before visiting the White House, however, the four African leaders met with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, where they discussed cooperation on both African- and U.S.-led security operations in the region. On Foreign Policy, Kevin Baron writes that this is another signal of the Pentagon’s increasing interest in Africa.  The security concerns in the region include terrorism, drug and arms trafficking, and continuing instability in Mali and Somalia. U.S. defense officials are optimistic about the potential for building military-to-military relationships in the region.

I think on some level the relationships have gotten even better and stronger than they were previously, because you have a more open environment in which to have truly strategic discussions with these partners,” the official said. “Which is only a good thing. It can feel a little slower at first, I think. And I think it can look at little slower from the outside.

This optimistic view contrasts with that of BFAD’s Gordon Adams, who discussed the dangers of increased military engagement in Africa in January. Adams argued that the emphasis on security assistance shifts the focus away from governance, health, and development, and risks drawing the U.S. into Africa’s internal politics.

Africa can and should do better. And, lest we slide down that slippery slope to military commitments in fragile states, we should do better as well…The context for our engagement should be responsive and accountable governance, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and development -- none of which is a core skill in the military, as well-intentioned as they may be.

Based on the defense official’s comments quoted above, these concerns do not appear to be part of the administration’s calculus at the moment. While it may be “[o]nly a good thing” right now, the Pentagon may be overlooking the longer-term consequences of this kind of engagement.


Examining the USS Truman Decision

USS Harry Truman has become the mascot of sequester.  The Truman was supposed to set sail as our second aircraft carrier in the Middle East but today it remains in Norfolk.  The Navy – and the White House – explain that as a cost-cutting measure imposed by sequester.  A number of watchdogs, our own Gordon Adams foremost among them, contest that characterization and instead suggest that it’s Goldwatching.

RADM John Kirby, the Navy’s principal spokesman, took to the pages of The Virginian-Pilot in response.  It’s worth the lengthy excerpt:

Could money have been found somewhere, anywhere, to pay for the Truman's deployment? Maybe. But without the ability to transfer money from other accounts, there aren't many places from which we could have taken it without a greater cost to readiness elsewhere. And doing so obscures the real issue.

This was never about saving the cost of a single deployment. It was about managing risk across the joint force and about preserving our ability to keep a robust naval presence longer in that part of the world.

It was also more in keeping with the global force management plan, or "GFMAP" as we like to call it in Pentagon-speak. That's the plan that sets out the official requirement for military forces around the world. More importantly, it's the plan for which we are officially funded.

The GFMAP calls for a single carrier in the Middle East. But since December 2010, we have been trying to meet an additional request by U.S. Central Command for two.

Even before all this budget uncertainty, meeting that request was becoming increasingly difficult…

Get that?  The Navy never favored having two carriers in the Gulf on a permanent basis.  Change is the only constant when it comes to ship schedules, and the pretense of official long-term plans is perhaps overstated, but Kirby is clear about the Navy’s position: It wanted just one carrier on that station.  Irrespective of how much discretion the Navy had in the Truman decision, from its perspective the result is a return to the status quo, not a reduction below it. 

Chalk that up to being an important reminder that combatant commands like CENTCOM have wide discretion in setting requirements but that the resourcing of those requirements is always subject to negotiation with the Services.  This is not a rigid formula.

Yet Kirby’s comments also point to a different storyline.  The Truman has made a great political symbol, but the operational subtext may include elements of the Navy’s institutional interest.  Surging a second carrier to the Middle East overrode its management plan, and taking that carrier back comes with the advantage of restoring that plan.  This ‘cost’ sounds more like a ‘benefit’ from that viewpoint, a far cry from the claim that meat is getting axed.

There’s no way to know exactly how things came together to keep the Truman in Norfolk.  But RADM Kirby told us a lot.


Choosing ‘What’s Good’ for the Corps

One of the harder parts of sequestration to understand is its impact on Army and Marine Corps personnel.  President Obama clearly has exercised his statutory authority to exempt the Military Personnel title from sequestration, yet Army General Raymond Odierno and Marine General James Amos, chiefs of their respective services, have suggested that it will require them to reduce end strength.

Amos returned to the point in an exclusive interview with the Wall Street Journal.

I don't think there is any way my service is going to be allowed to [just]...go down to 182,000… Sequestration is going to drive us to a lower number.

But why is that?  Salaries are exempt this year, and the services have the latitude in the coming years to propose alternative ways for fitting within the spending cap.  The Journal pushes Amos into giving us a clue at the very end of the article:

Gen. Amos has been the military's strongest advocate of the advanced F-35 stealth jet. The Marines are planning to buy a version of the fighter capable of short take-offs and vertical landings, which has been plagued by cost over-runs and development problems.

"I don't have a choice," Gen. Amos said. "Absolutely, die in a ditch, we need this airplane."

That last sentence, of course, is a bit of a paradox.  It’s been clear for a while that there’s a collision course between personnel compensation – what Defense Business Board member Arnold Punaro calls “GM-style fringe benefits” – and acquisition costs – pithily summed up by Augustine’s Law.  Amos is feeling that very real friction and making a judgment about what has to give – but then he’s glossing over it by portraying his option as necessary, rather defending it as preferable. 

In other words, this absolutely is a choice, just an especially hard one.  Not only could this have gone another way, at other points in the Corps’ history it very well might have gone another way – namely, one less attached to particular hardware choices.

Amos remarked in the same article that, despite the pain, spending caps “will cause us to focus on what is really, really important and what is core to the institution… I think it is good for us."  Those interested in the Marine Corps as an institution should stay tuned to see if Amos’ direction on what’s “good for” the service sticks for the duration of this build-down.


USMC Preparation for QDR Continues

Major General Kenneth McKenzie, the USMC representative to the QDR, noted in a recent appearance on “This Week in Defense News” that a number of factors may converge to result in a more consequential QDR than previous years. These factors include a new Secretary of Defense, the strategic pivot to the Pacific, and above all, ongoing fiscal uncertainty.

There’s a famous saying from the interwar years, “We’re out of money, now we must think,” and we’re really at that phase right now. The forcing function of money is going to force us to think innovatively, and I think that may well exercise a powerful effect.

In January, MajGen McKenzie discussed the impact of budgetary factors on the QDR and the Marine Corps for an event hosted by BFAD. In both cases, he discussed how he sees the USMC’s role in the new strategic environment.

We think going forward, the Marine Corps can best contribute to the national strategy by being forward deployed, by being able to respond to crises this afternoon, not tomorrow, not next week, but being able to act immediately, and we think that’s the niche where we fit. Sort of a middle-weight force that is not going to need to be brought forward, that is going to be on the ground, or at sea, ready to act very quickly.

With Secretary Hagel confirmed, MajGen McKenzie said he expects the QDR process to formally begin in the near future. BFAD is excited to have been on the front end of this discussion, and we hope to continue to inform the conversation going forward.


Sequester Slices State Too

Last fall Stimson collaborated with the American Academy of Diplomacy on Diplomacy in a Time of Scarcity, a report examining the challenges of the world today and the progress in preparing our foreign policy personnel for those challenges.  Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine gave it a pithy bumper-sticker: “People matter in world affairs.”

Indeed they do.  Today several of the report’s authors – retired Ambassadors Thomas Boyatt and Ronald, along with Stimson’s Russell Rumbaugh – emphasized that point in a commentary published on The Hill’s Congress Blog:

Even though they are a small part of the budget, the people who conduct U.S. diplomacy and development are the most important foreign policy asset.

Sequester’s across-the-board mechanics are insensitive to the priority the US ought to place on personnel, imposing a tight ceiling on the number of diplomats and forcing inappropriate reductions to trainingDiplomacy in a Time of Scarcity offers a blueprint for directing cuts toward programs, which can be restored later, rather than personnel, which are part of the institution of foreign policy.  In doing so, it provides Congress with a much better plan for 2014 and onward than the formulaic sequester the State Department currently is enduring.


Peering into the Power of the Purse

Some of the best recent stories about Congress’ Power of the Purse have yet to be told.  Irregularity in the budget process has spotlighted the parties’ leaders, who have been central negotiators for signature legislation like the Budget Control Act and American Taxpayer Relief Act, relative to appropriators, who still have been very influential in keeping the government open, and both have been hogging the stage from authorizers like the Armed Services Committees.  Toes are bound to get stepped on.

And they have.  In reference to an amendment he sponsored to strip out money House appropriators added for Marine facilities in Guam, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told John Bennett of Defense News that:

I think we won a symbolic vote yesterday. It was far more important than $140 million… What it showed was that there’s enough people — barely — to prevent the appropriators from overriding the authorizers.

McCain clearly was frustrated about the Guam cost in its own right, but he also dug into his process concern while introducing the amendment (see pp. 51-52):

…It is appalling and disgraceful that the authorizing language would be directly circumvented by the authorizers… What in the world is the job of the authorizers if it is not to have the language adhered to?

 …It should be very clear by now that these expenditures pushed through in direct contravention of the bipartisan, bicameral decisions of the Armed Services Committee are a shameful waste of taxpayers' money. In my view, this is a clear example of political abuse of the appropriations process.

This is not a new position for McCain.  Long-standing membership of the Armed Services Committee, including time as the ranking member, might have helped him arrive at this predisposition.  But we also get to hear the other perspective since he raised this point during floor debate.  Take a listen to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the appropriations’ committee chair (see pp. 52-53):

…The Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense finished its work before the August recess. The authorizers didn't get it done until December 20... Remember, appropriations are supposed to be done before October 1… We want to respect the authorizers not only on defense but on every committee.

Tensions like these are virtually inevitable.  Expecting one group of Congress members to “adhere” to the direction of another group sounds a bit ambitious, but the authorizing committees do exist for a reason.  Likewise it is impossible to accommodate legislation if it doesn’t exist but also worth noting that Mikulski was defending the bill on the Senate floor on March 13th, well after December 20th, 2012.

That brings us to an important observation about the Power of the Purse: it belongs to “Congress,” not any one committee within it, and it’s exercised when the full chambers vote on spending and revenue bills.  The process by which these bills get built deeply influences their content, but the chambers are their own enforcement authorities and floor vote is the process’ only essential part.