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DoD should pick budgetary winners before cuts commence

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The Defense Department will likely face significant budget cuts over the next decade, regardless of the sequestration, and should adjust its budget process to first fund future priorities and then find areas to cut, even possibly at the expense of some current readiness, says the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

In a Nov. 27 report (.pdf), the CSBA puts forth ideas to trim $519 billion over the next 10 years with directed cuts spread out over the decade. The options come from a 70-person, 7 team budgetary war game—featuring industry experts, those from outside think tanks, retired military personnel and Defense civilian leaders—that chose from 600 possible options for cuts, cancellations and budget shifts.

CSBA, which specifically doesn't endorse or denounce any particular wargame spending decision, gives its highest regard to groups that focused on areas which would be the most used or needed over the next 10 years. It suggests DoD follow a similar priority situation and pick budgetary winners first and then look holistically at the system for cuts.

The think tank notes that groups that followed the standard budgeting formula and began with cuts were more likely to reach a gridlock point where each tried to protect their own programs at the cost of each other's, sometimes mirroring what the coming across-the-board cuts will do.

The report calls out a set of "crown jewels" that every group involved chose to protect. These include full protections of special operations forces and cyberspace capabilities, maintaining or accelerating the development of long range strike-bombers, and cuts to surface ships in favor of protecting submarine and unmanned undersea vehicle funds.

Groups also came up with a few cuts they could all agree to, including the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The teams also made significant cuts, from around 20 percent to 40 percent, in the DoD's civilian workforce.

The exercise also revealed some tough choices. Five of the seven teams said they could not fully fund their top strategies without an accepted near-term risk from reductions in current readiness programs. Readiness deductions, the report says, were viewed as a better option that losses in force structure, end strength or modernization initiatives.

The final lessons from the CSBA report is that DoD must give its budget flexibility because a budget that only works under a specific level of funding is "doomed to irrelevance given the inherent unpredictability of the budget."

For more:
- download the report (.pdf)

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