Facing budget cuts, Joint Chiefs scramble to push ‘innovation’ at Pentagon

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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If former Sen. Chuck Hagel is confirmed to be secretary of defense, he will face a new era of tightening budgets at the Pentagon — a reality that top-level military officials are now publicly acknowledging.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, addressed the belt-tightening and tried to demonstrate a way forward in an article published in the January 2013 edition of Joint Forces Quarterly.

“A period of transition and tighter resources doesn’t signal the end of innovation,” Dempsey wrote. “Rather, it can and should promote creative and collaborative thinking.”

“America is built on innovation,” he said. “We must reinforce a military culture that reflects and taps into this dynamic society — one that fosters and rewards innovation at all levels, and leverages private-sector networks in mutually reinforcing ways.”

The Pentagon has been scrambling to react to the looming sequester, an across-the-board cut that is scheduled to hit at the end of February. The sequester, a product of 2011 debt ceiling negotiations between President Barack Obama and Congress, was delayed two months as part of a New Years’ Day deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has spent much of the last year speaking out against the sequester cuts, which threaten to drive up unemployment as contractors across the country are forced to cut back.

Dempsey’s comments, published in the journal with a front-page headline “Innovation Under Austerity,” also referred to the hastening U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.

At Obama’s direction, U.S. troops are drawing down in Afghanistan and will move into a support role there in the spring, before withdrawing almost entirely in 2014. Troops pulled out of Iraq just over a year ago.

“We must choose resource strategies that are not only innovative and collaborative, but also affordable,” Dempsey said. “In my view, strategy insensitive to resources is rhetoric. Global responsibilities, ongoing conflicts, and aging weapons systems — coupled with tighter budgets — only reinforce that reality.”

The sequester would require more than $500 billion in cuts over ten years, including $45 billion in seven months, from March to the end of the fiscal year in October. Similar cuts would also be made on domestic spending.

The journal, which is published under Dempsey’s authority by the National Defense University, included feature articles on “Why We Need a Smaller Defense Department” and “The Case for Military Pension Reform.”

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