The National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program has surged into prominence in 2012. ADM James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, explicitly mentioned the program as among the priorities in the Pentagon’s new strategic guidance. Then in his annual EUCOM posture hearing, ADM James Stavridis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that:
I think the state partnership program, dollar for dollar, may be one of the most efficient and effective programs that we have at our disposal as combatant commanders.
Unfortunately that claim will have to remain a judgment call. According to GAO’s just-released evaluation of the program, the budget data needed to substantiate this efficiency claim is far less than comprehensive. EUCOM lacked data for 55% of its activities between 2007 – 2011, followed by PACOM’s 35% and AFRICOM’s 13%.
Stories about the quality of Pentagon budget data are interesting, if well-trod, but this one has a subtext that’s especially enlightening. The National Guard Bureau – not geographic Combatant Commanders – manages and executes the State Partnership Program, and lacking its own dedicated budget authority, it does so with money derived from the military services. Each of these actors has an interest in guarding its turf. The National Guard wants discretion over a signature program; the services want to train and exercise units according to the standards they prioritize; and the COCOMs want to organize and oversee all military activity in their regions.
These very different interests distill into a single incentive: Promote the program but keep your budget data about it to yourself. GAO encountered a bureaucratic problem in this evaluation, not a data or accounting issue. Given that, it’s remarkable that GAO was able to compile the best overview of State Partnership Program spending that we’ve seen. Still this report raises more questions than it answers and, as fiscal caps put pressure on all concerned, avoiding them is likely to get tougher.