Pentagon shouldn't go penny-wise, pound-foolish

Tuesday - 1/11/2011, 7:35pm EST

Seth Cropsey

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For many years, the Pentagon budget has been off-limits when tough budget times have hit, or when Congress needed to move money from one agency to another.

Now a lot of Congressional decision-makers are saying things like "everything should be on the table" when they're asked about finding things in the DoD budget to cut. Seth Cropsey, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and former Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy, has a warning for both Congress and the Pentagon when deciding how and where - or even if - to cut the DoD's budget.

"I think people who are saving pennies and living on a budget can't afford to buy cheap things," Seth told me today. "They're going to break, and they'll have to buy some more cheap things, and when you add it up it comes out to a bigger bill than if you had paid the price for something that's valuable, worthwhile, and of quality in the first place."

We also talked more specifically about calls to reshape the Navy. "The Navy stands at about 280-something ships. It hasn't been this size since the early part of the 20th century," Seth noted. "At the same time, the Navy is facing threats across the spectrum of potential conflict - and [is] sometimes in conflict - around the world. The intent was to increase it to 313 [ships], down substantially from the 375 from several years before. If this trend continues, there will be a serious problem for the United States in maintaining a transoceanic global navy."

But the numerical size of the fleet may not be the most important issue.

"If the kind of ships the Navy builds remain more-or-less as they have in the past, I think 350 may come close to what's actually needed," Seth told me. "But there are all sorts of ideas - many of them intelligent and well-thought-out - that argue that a much larger fleet is necessary, but made up of smaller vessels that are more maneuverable, that are faster, that are cheaper than the ones that we have right now, and that increase the complexity that an enemy faces in trying to find and target our vessels."

Procurement at the Pentagon was the subject of an event Seth moderated and from which I played highlights. Seth and I discussed that event in the context of how buying different things at DoD might require the agency's procurement process to adjust to meet new demands.