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Op-Ed - Providing for National Defense

Op-Ed

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By Senator James Inhofe

Published by Politico on September 27, 2010

The greatest trust placed in Congress by the American people is to provide for their security by maintaining a strong national defense.

While our military is often the first department asked to make cuts and budgetary sacrifices, defense spending is frequently the last bill passed on Congress's budgetary to-do-list because it is a must-pass bill every year. To provide for our national defense now and in the future, Congress must take three critical steps to guarantee our national security: increase overall funding for the Department of Defense, streamline the acquisition process with legitimate and continued reform and work with the Defense Department to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

Since the end of the Cold War, our military has done more with much less. Our troops on the front lines are forced to use equipment well past its service life -- in some instances, by 30 years. We can do better, and we should do better for our fighting force.

The equipment problem is compounded by the fact that the pace at which we are purchasing new equipment has been drastically scaled back. The Obama administration's plan expects the defense budget to depreciate as a percentage of gross domestic product to 3.01 percent, from 3.81 percent, by 2019 -- with a paltry year-over-year spending increase of 1 percent to 2 percent, not even keeping pace with inflation.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated that sustaining our defenses requires a budget that increases at least 2 percent to 3 percent each year. That Gates is trying to scrape together $100 billion over the next five years from various accounts across the Pentagon to fund modernization efforts is evidence that the current level of spending is unlikely to sustain our military.

Our forces have spent the past 17 years fighting multiple contingencies worldwide with equipment that is decades old, and they have done so with a force structure that is 40 percent smaller than it was in the 1980s.

To address the equipment and force structure issues, Congress must establish a minimum defense base budget that reaches 4 percent of GDP. This level of spending will guarantee our qualitative and technological superiority -- and increase the military's capability to fight across the full spectrum of warfare and operate at higher readiness rates with lower costs. The increased spending must accompany reforms that help the Defense Department make the most of every dollar.

The acquisition process must be reformed to field our systems quicker and on budget. Programs running eight years behind schedule and 150 percent over budget are unacceptable. Being so far behind means that by the time a program is completed, it often already is outdated and fails to meet current requirements.

Ironically, many previous reform efforts have exacerbated these problems. Additional layers of bureaucracy, regulations and requirements and many levels of oversight foul the process. The result is increased costs, delays in procurement times, canceled programs and wasted funds. Congress and the Defense Department must reduce the complexity of the acquisition process by removing the multiple layers of oversight and the cumbersome reporting requirements and regulations.

Creating a congressional and executive branch bipartisan task force focused on reforming the federal acquisition process -- and making a concerted effort that could bring cost savings, efficiency and timeliness for the production of military hardware to an optimal level -- would be good first steps toward these reforms.

In addition, Congress must work with the Defense Department to increase military effectiveness and efficiencies. In a troubled economy, resources must be focused on our forces, our future capabilities and our troops. Working in close coordination with Congress, the Defense Department must cut duplicative processes and organizations while assessing how to improve support to soldiers. Along with acquisition reforms, greater efficiencies are a responsible means of making the most of each taxpayer dollar in our nation's defense.

To provide stability, America must be able to deter or defeat any threat -- whether an insurgency or a challenge from a near-peer competitor. And Congress must provide the necessary funds so that our troops have the most capable equipment available.

We cannot afford to "kick the can down the road" again and not adequately modernize our fighting force to ensure it is fully prepared to defend the nation. We can, however, expect reforms that promote greater accountability, improved efficiency and a better acquisition process.

Congress's constitutional duty is to provide the Defense Department with the certainty and stability that come with a long-term defense spending plan. When it doesn't do so, our national security pays the price.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.


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