In addition to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who actually fight the nation’s battles, more than 60 people with the job title “deputy assistant secretary of defense” clock in at the Pentagon every morning. The staff assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense has increased a hundredfold since 1947 when President Truman appointed James Forrestal to the position.
The out-of-control growth of the bureaucracy is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode, warned retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, a longtime Washington, D.C., insider who now serves as chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association. the number of bureaucrats has kept growing, he noted, even as the number of soldiers, sailors and Marines has shrunk.
“Despite defense spending levels that, in constant dollars, are higher than the peak of the Reagan build-up, America’s defense capabilities can now be characterized as an ‘ever-shrinking fighting force,’” he said Thursday during a talk at the American Enterprise Institute on his new book, “The Ever-Shrinking Fighting Force.”
The military has been drastically slashed since the days of the Reagan build-up in the 1980s. It has 1 million fewer active-duty personnel and 35% to 40% fewer major combat units. Even since the 2001 9/11 attacks, the number of active-duty troops has decreased by more than 100 thousand people. Meanwhile, the civilian government workforce inside the Department of Defense has increased by 136,000, Gen. Punaro said.
“Cutting warfighters and adding bureaucrats does not strike fear into our adversaries,” he said. “The growth has continued consistently through many administrations, both Democrat and Republican, and it persists today.”
Even when the Defense Department attempts a cost-cutting measure, the effects are often negligible. In 2010, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decided to shut down Joint Forces Command, the military’s primary provider of conventional forces. More than 2,000 people assigned to the command were reassigned to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
“When one agency is dissolved, another is created to absorb the shock,” Gen. Punaro said.
One thing is certain, Gen. Punaro said. China is getting more “bang for the yuan” than the U.S. military is getting “bang for the buck,” even after spending hundreds of billions of dollars over the years for the Defense Department.
“In the last five years, China has produced 105 ships. In that same period of time, the U.S. produced 26,” he said.
The U.S. also is plagued with what Gen. Punaro called a broken acquisition system, one that “costs more, takes longer and produces less.” The Defense Department spends about $320 billion annually on goods and services, supplies and equipment. It’s a larger number than all other government agencies combined, he said.
“This bureaucratic system now takes over 20 years from contract award to operational capability for combat aircraft and other weapon systems,” he said. “That entire process used to take only five years, which, by the way, is China’s current timeline for what they’re producing.”
The costs for adding modern weapons to the U.S. arsenal are “off the chart,” he added
The Air Force had almost 4,500 fighters during Desert Storm. Today it has fewer than half that amount. During the peak period of the Reagan build-up, the Navy boasted more 570 warships. Today the Navy has less than 300.
Unit costs of the newest weapon systems have increased by hundreds of percentages over the ones they are replacing. The life-cycle costs are now more than 50% higher than earlier models. The acquisition process is often hampered by Defense Department officials demanding “gold-plated requirements” for new weapons, requirements that frequently change midway through the production process, Gen. Punaro said.
“If [the Defense Department] could get someone to build it, they would want a nuclear-powered tank that could fly itself to the battlefield,” he said.