Analysis: 3 areas DoD can target for cost-cutting

Friday - 1/20/2012, 11:25am EST

Travis Sharp, defense analyst, Center for a New American Security

Download mp3

The Defense Department is inching closer to a second round of spending cuts — up to $500 billion over ten years. Unless Congress comes up with another plan to avoid the automatic, across-the-board cuts (also called sequestration), DoD would start feeling the pinch in next year's budget.

Travis Sharp, a defense analyst at the Center for a New American Security, outlines three main areas where DoD could make cuts:

  • Combat capabilities
    Sharp said the F-35 joint strike fighter program, the naval shipbuilding program and the size of the Army and Marine Corps are potential areas for cost-cutting.

    Because the Pentagon does not procure a major weapons system that often, "there is a sort of mindset that you have to try to put everything technologically possible into every new system because you're not going to get another chance at it for 20 years," Sharp said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

    The downside has meant delays and cost overruns in these weapons programs, Sharp said.

  • Personnel pay and benefits
    Sharp calls this category of spending "incredibly sensitive." He said, "We're still in the middle of a war, so any changes you make to personnel pay could affect morale among those who are serving on the frontlines."

  • DoD business practices
    "It's not really that sexy to talk about this category of spending. It doesn't really motivate lawmakers to take action to stop sequestration from occuring, but I think there's a lot of reform that could be done to business practices in order to save money over the next ten years," Sharp said.

    Facility maintenance, like trimming grass and doing repair work, is one area that could be streamlined across the services, he said. The Pentagon could set up a standard of support. The agency that is undertaking the service in the most efficient way will set the standard for the proper procedure, Sharp said.

    "If you do that with lots of different activities that the Pentagon does, before you know it, you've saved some real money," he said.

The Pentagon's new strategic plan, released earlier this month, moves toward a leaner and more agile military. The plan, however, does not offer much details of how to get to that point, Sharp said.

The Pentagon is expected to release the first details of its fiscal 2013 budget plan on Thursday, which could be an impetus for lawmakers to start taking action, Sharp said.

"Up until this point, the conversation about defense budget cuts has been big, abstract numbers ... Those are hard things for lawmakers to conceptualize," Sharp said. "But once you get into specific line items, and you're talking about cutting programs which will impact jobs back in their home states and districts, then I think you're going to see lawmakers much more motivated to try to reach an agreement about sequestration."

At the same time, Sharp noted the timing of the budget talks.

"Unfortunately, with the campaigns the way they are and coming up on a presidential election, I'm afraid that a lot of this is just going to fall into campaign soundbites, and the American people are going to miss out on the debate they really deserve and need," he said.

RELATED STORIES

Plan to prevent sequestration unlikely before election

Is defense sequestration rhetoric overblown?

Analysis: Threat of 'abrupt' cuts will hang over DoD for next year

House bill reduces federal workforce to avoid defense cuts