- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

The most sustained test of leadership for the Bush administration is likely to be played out at the Department of Defense. While the tax cut fight will be like the Battle of Stalingrad fought door to door and hand to hand one way or the other it will be resolved by the fall. Social Security and Medicare reforms are also formidable challenges, but they too will be decided on up or down votes sometime in the next 18 to 36 months. President Bush's education and faith-based initiatives are almost lay down hands; he will get about 80 percent of his original proposals in those fields.
But developing and implementing plans for a 21st-century military is a project that will require not only bold visions and hard choices, but just as importantly it will demand sustained battle with the Department of Defense bureaucracy and the deeply vested interests in Congress, the defense contractors and the legions of think tank theorists. What makes this challenge so distinctive is that it must be fought not only against the natural opponents of a strong military, but also against many of its natural advocates who may prefer the status quo to sharp even radical change. In Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush may have the ideal man to lead this great struggle.
He is off to a good start. Last week Mr. Rumsfeld stood firm in the decision to not immediately seek extra dollars to correct the admitted shortages that exist in the military. This sent a key signal to the military brass and bureaucrats that while the Bush administration intends to strengthen the military, it intends real reform not merely throwing dollars at problems.
The dollars will come, but first Mr. Rumsfeld has to grab the bureaucracy by the neck to make sure it understands that the old ways are going to have to change. He also announced that he was going to rely on Andy Marshall for his reform designer. Mr. Marshall is the 79 year old eminence grise of military strategy a Pentagon figure who has argued for years on the need to shift the military into an information age, post Cold War, non-Eurocentric fighting machine. This should not be a surprise to close observers of Mr. Bush's military comments. His speech to The Citadel military academy in September of 1999 was deeply informed by Mr. Marshall's theories.
When the time comes, these radical views which entail canceling or fazing out major weapon systems such as the F-22 fighter, the JSF fighter, the DD21 navy destroyer and perhaps even aircraft carriers and heavy battle tanks will get major press coverage and major fights by the defenders of these weapons. Less talked about, but at least as important will be Mr. Rumsfeld's fight to reduce radically the dollars spent in support, rather than war-fighting, activities. But it is the amount of dollars saved in non-war fighting support expenses that will determine how much can be spent on whatever 21st-first century weapon systems are finally selected.
In 1975, the last time Mr. Rumsfeld was secretary of defense, 40 percent of Department of Defense money was spent on war-fighting and 60 percent was spent on everything else. Today, only 20 percent (or $62 billion per annum) of the Pentagon budget is spent on war-fighting resources, while fully 80 percent (or $248 billion per annum) is spent on support. If that ratio cannot be improved, even a $100 -billion dollar, five-year increase in defense spending would only increase war-fighting dollars by about $5 billion per annum. The same increase to fighting activities could be realized if we merely reduced the 80 percent figure to 78 percent.
There is no silver bullet to reducing overhead costs it requires sustained, careful, intelligent administration and out-sourcing. But it can be done. Today, the British, who have been forced to watch every penny for years, currently maintain the 40-60 percent ratio that we had a quarter-century ago. That is why they spend only one-tenth as much as we do on defense, but they have one-fifth as much fighting capability. The Pentagon is still stuck in the essentially cradle to grave military run support system for our military personnel that was created after World War I. It doesn't work very well. The Pentagon today pays more for housing, food, health care, transportation and most other non-military goods and services than those same items cost in the private sector. Every dollar wasted in these inefficient, government-run, essentially non-military services, is a dollar not available for war-fighting. And in a war, the more resources we can provide our fighting men, the more of those fine men will come home safe and healthy.
If Mr. Rumsfeld can bring the bureaucracy around, there will be vastly fewer painful decisions to make about weapon systems. Then he, Andy Marshall and the many others both at the Department of Defense and in Congress will be able to make their reform decisions based on our military needs, not our budget restrictions. Sustained bureaucratic reform will make strategic reform financially possible.
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