Last week, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Independent Panel, a four-year old body created by Congress to provide an "alternate view" of the Pentagon’s periodic internal assessment, released its report on the 2010 QDR. Simply put, the panel, whose membership includes a majority of individuals in the defense contracting industry, said, "Yes, please" in response to the government’s question about how to allocate its limited resources.
When last we visited with this panel, I surmised they would have a hard time producing a truly independent report that soberly addressed defense spending, mostly because those with ties to the defense industry tend to default toward "a sympathetic viewpoint of the military-industrial complex." Turns out I underestimated their ability to sympathize.
Greg Grant writing at the Defense Tech blog calls the panel’s product "really awful" and an "unserious" report, observing:
It recommends buying more of pretty much every weapon system or at least replacing the current inventory on a one-to-one basis, maintaining ground forces at current levels, expanding the Air Force, greatly expanding the Navy’s battle fleet and to pay for all of that the panel recommends increasing the defense budget.
Grant is speaking to the absurdity of the report from a military preparedness standpoint – observing that the panel’s findings rely on a seventeen-year old study that was still stuck on fighting a major land war with the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe – but his analysis is just as apt from a budgetary point of view as well.
With half of this country’s discretionary budget already consumed by defense spending, hundreds of billions having been spent on two foreign wars, and a sluggishly recovering economy that you couldn’t force lawmakers to help out with further stimulus, this panel’s suggestion that we spend more on weapons is unrealistic.
Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has declared that the "gusher" of defense spending open since 2001 will be dramatically reduced in the future.
Unfortunately, Congress always has a hard time saying "no" to defense spending, and this report may provide a marker or an outlier for those who want to continue with the status quo. A report like this is especially frustrating when lawmakers that have argued for cutting the behemoth defense budget that is fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse, are just starting to make inroads in the larger budgetary policy debate.