Congressional Aide Finds Spending On
'Core Readiness' In Decline

Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine Grossman
June 28, 2001
Pg. 1

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See Commentary #415

A congressional staff aide, writing anonymously in a report circulated this week, has found that Pentagon spending on "core military readiness" has declined in real terms between 1999 and 2002, despite add-ons to the defense budget averaging $29.2 billion a year over the same period, which the White House and Congress justified largely as readiness boosts.

The report titled "Will the Bush/Rumsfeld Pentagon Endorse Existing Plans to Worsen Military Readiness?" defines core readiness activities as training for combat and support forces, spare parts, equipment maintenance and military exercises. Over the four-year period, various add-ons to the defense budget total nearly $117 billion, but spending on core military readiness has declined by perhaps as much as $2.9 billion, the report finds. (Using an alternative yardstick, the author also finds a core readiness decline, but numbering a considerably smaller $300 million decrease over the same period.)

In authoring the paper circulated this week, the congressional staffer uses the pseudonym "Spartacus," after the Thracian slave, gladiator and insurrectionist who defeated several Roman armies before being killed in 71 B.C. Inside the Pentagon has confirmed the identity of the author, who has more than 25 years of legislative staff experience in national security issues, but the report was provided on condition that he not be named. Because the paper offers the staffer's personal views, he states in an endnote that the pseudonym is utilized "to avoid any mis-association of his views with the office where he works."

Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim acknowledged continued readiness problems in a briefing for reporters at press time (June 27) on the fiscal year 2002 budget request. "Why do we have readiness declines again?" he said. "There has been a steady rate of underfunding, and it's a problem where you don't have one year where everything is massively underfunded; it's worse than that.

"It's been kind of a trickle year after year after year, shortfall after shortfall after shortfall," Zakheim continued. "And then it builds up. And then the catching-up process cannot all be done in one year. In fact, you couldn't execute it if the money were available. It's just too hard to do, because this is a process that's a decade old."

The new Spartacus report issued one day prior to the budget release sounds alarms about a desire expressed last September by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to begin shifting billions of dollars from operations and maintenance accounts -- out of which readiness is typically funded and into procurement of new weapon systems and equipment. The report says "more recent statements by the Joint Chiefs show no intention to alter this plan."

Despite the influx of funds to O&M accounts in recent years, readiness has continued to decline, the paper contends, citing reports of continued problems in first-to-deploy combat units (ITP, Oct. 5, 2000, p5). "If the dollar shift proposed by the Joint Chiefs occurs, current problems in the readiness of U.S. military units can be expected to worsen," according to the report.

The report notes, "One would think that with $116.7 billion worth of help [from 1999] up to now there must have been a lot done for readiness." But over the past several years, many of the increases made to the O&M budget a catchall for many types of activities have ended up in accounts that may be important but have no bearing on readiness, according to the report. Those include funds for defense health care, military justice, humanitarian disaster assistance, Cooperative Threat Reduction for the former Soviet Union, drug interdiction and environmental cleanup, to name a few.

The report finds that when civilian payroll funds and other non-military items are extracted from each of the four service's O&M funds, $53 billion a year remains available for readiness. But even that figure is not applied to what the author -- using the analysis of three other congressional defense experts as well identifies as core readiness.

Using two different databases, the report finds that somewhere between $32.9 billion and $43 billion of the $110 billion in O&M funds appropriated in 2001 or 30 to 39 percent were actually applied to combat and support force training, spare parts, equipment maintenance and military exercises.

"Total O&M spending has increased by $10 billion (9 percent) from 1999 to 2002, while spending for core readiness, which constitutes only 40 percent of O&M spending at best, has decreased" by up to $2.9 billion, or 8.3 percent, the report finds. Actual core readiness spending per troop had earlier been rising by 3 percent annually, but declined from about $32,000 in 1999 to about $29,000 in 2000, the report states.

"The time has not come to transfer O&M to procurement; the time has come to reverse current trends and to actually increase spending for core readiness," the paper advises. "With the topline of O&M increasing and readiness spending declining, the current defense budget has achieved a condition of declining readiness at increasing cost. When Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld completes the proposed 2002 defense budget, it should be carefully inspected to determine whether it helps or hurts funding for the core readiness of combat units."

Asked in a June 27 interview how more funds might be identified for procurement without dipping into readiness dollars, the paper's author advised shifting funds within the procurement account. He said funding offsets could be achieved by cutting procurement programs that are unnecessary for future security requirements.

Although unit missions may ultimately change in accordance with a new national military strategy, it is critical that combat and support forces remain ready for the missions with which they are currently tasked, the staff aide said.

Elaine M. Grossman