Efficiencies Will Keep Military Strong in Tight Economy, Lynn Says

MCLEAN, Va. — Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III today reit­er­at­ed the need for effi­cien­cies as a way to keep the mil­i­tary strong dur­ing tight eco­nom­ic times.

“With forces deployed abroad [and] fis­cal pres­sures at home, we face a very com­plex envi­ron­ment,” he told the World Affairs Coun­cil here. “It’s going to require very care­ful man­age­ment by the department.” 

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates announced his effi­cien­cy ini­tia­tive dur­ing a speech in Abi­lene, Kan., in April. He wants the depart­ment to save $100 bil­lion over five years.

Lynn said the Defense Depart­ment must learn from the past as it faces its “fifth inflec­tion point.” The first three pri­or sig­nif­i­cant tran­si­tions came after the World War II and the Kore­an and Viet­nam wars, he said, and the last came when the Cold War end­ed and the Sovi­et Union dissolved. 

“What the four tran­si­tions have in com­mon is each time we’ve gone through this, we’ve suf­fered … a dis­pro­por­tion­ate loss of capa­bil­i­ty,” Lynn said. “In short­hand, we’re 0‑for‑4 in man­ag­ing these transitions.” 

Gates wants to man­age this tran­si­tion in a man­ner that retains and improves the capa­bil­i­ties and qual­i­ties the mil­i­tary has right now, Lynn said. “We don’t want to break the force,” he said. “We want to adapt to the fis­cal sit­u­a­tion we’re in.” 

The depart­ment has tak­en three main lessons from the past tran­si­tions, Lynn said. The first is to make the hard deci­sions ear­ly, because the bud­get sit­u­a­tion is not going to get bet­ter, and resources will be fewer. 

“If you can­not afford it now, you clear­ly are not going to be able to afford it in the future when the funds are tighter,” he said. 

Sec­ond, he said, it’s not pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate the sav­ings the depart­ment needs via “pure effi­cien­cies” — doing the same things with less mon­ey. Some pure effi­cien­cies will be real­ized, he added, but the depart­ment is not going to save $100 bil­lion over five years with­out oth­er measures. 

“You are going to have to elim­i­nate low­er-pri­or­i­ty orga­ni­za­tions, low­er-pri­or­i­ty activ­i­ties,” Lynn said, cit­ing the elim­i­na­tion of U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand as an exam­ple. “It’s not that what they were doing was­n’t valu­able,” he said, “but giv­en this envi­ron­ment, there are oth­er, high­er priorities.” 

The depart­ment has to approach the effi­cien­cies in a bal­anced way and can­not take the major­i­ty of mon­ey from oper­a­tions or mod­ern­iza­tion accounts, Lynn said. 

Some work has moved ahead, the deputy sec­re­tary said. In 2008, Gates pro­posed and Con­gress approved elim­i­nat­ing pro­grams worth more than $300 bil­lion. The effi­cien­cy ini­tia­tive tar­get, he added, is on top of these savings. 

Lynn acknowl­edged some con­stants. For exam­ple, he said, the Unit­ed States is fight­ing two wars and can­not reduce force struc­ture. Some 50,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, 100,000 are in Afghanistan, and coun­tert­er­ror­ism require­ments exist around the world. The increased oper­a­tional tem­po caused DOD to ask for, and Con­gress to approve, increas­es in the Army and Marine Corps, and a halt to reduc­tions in the Navy and Air Force, he noted. 

But bud­gets will not be ris­ing the 2 to 3 per­cent per year in real growth the mil­i­tary needs to retain its capa­bil­i­ties, Lynn said. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has approved 1 per­cent real growth in the defense bud­get over the next years. To main­tain the qual­i­ty of the force and main­tain its capa­bil­i­ties, Lynn explained, DOD needs to shift the 1 to 2 per­cent need­ed from over­head to warfighting. 

Lynn said he sees the $100 bil­lion break­ing down to two-thirds of the mon­ey com­ing from trans­fers from over­head and one-third com­ing from pure effi­cien­cies. This, he added, is going to require the depart­ment to change the way it does busi­ness by elim­i­nat­ing lay­er­ing and dupli­ca­tion of effort. “We must flat­ten and stream­line insti­tu­tions,” he said. “If we do this, we will improve our oper­a­tional agility.” 

The depart­ment has a way for­ward, Lynn told the group. 

“To keep our forces strong in a time of tight bud­gets, we’ve designed a pro­gram of effi­cien­cies that estab­lish rea­son­able reduc­tion tar­gets focused on spe­cif­ic sav­ings in which we think we can devel­op a pro­gram that can give us the warfight­ing capa­bil­i­ties we need in this era of fis­cal aus­ter­i­ty,” he said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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