Decision power in the Pentagon goes through long-wave cycles, with peaks (or valleys, depending on one's viewpoint) having the military or the civilian leaders in effective control. The post-McNamara era was a restoral of the military to power; the post-Weinberger era will be the opposite.
The McNamara management style was epitomized by the Office of Systems Analysis, staffed by smart, young, primarily civilian analysts. This office led the McNamara transformation of the Pentagon decision-making process and created strong antagonism in the uniformed military and their supporters in Congress and the Republican Party.
The backlash against the McNamara troops came in three waves: first, the smarter military concluded that the services would have to learn how to do analysis and then could defeat the civilians. This attack was eventually mounted principally by the Air Force and the Navy. Second, critics focused on two often-present characteristics of systems analysis studies: 1) the sophisticated analysis lacked contact with real operations; and 2) the positions were usually to oppose a service initiative, leading to the charge of "paralysis by analysis." Finally, the opposition began openly to attack the McNamara aides, leading the 1968 Republican platform committee to endorse abolishing the Office of Systems Analysis.
Melvin Laird and James Schlesinger, the first two GOP secretaries of defense after the McNamara years, moved systems analysis into the background, eventually changing the title to Program Analysis and Evaluation. Both secretaries did use PA&E effectively as a counterweight to the services' unexamined positions. Still predominantly staffed with civilian analysts, the office continued the policy of including a complement of military officers. They brought realism to the theory and, by providing access directly to operators in the field, enabled many PA&E analyses to be based on a better understanding of real field experience than were the service position papers.
The Ford and Carter administrations weakened this Pentagon staff capability. But the real devastation has come under Caspar Weinberger. He came in with the avowed mission of restoring what was perceived to be a frightening imbalance of forces between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Reagan-Weinberger approach was to wring large defense budgets from Congress. As part of his aggressive expansion of the defense budget, Weinberger and the White House cut off critical examination of proposed uses of defense funds.
David Stockman has written about being outmaneuvered by Weinberger, who won all the big battles with the Office of Management and Budget. The eventual result has been threefold: first, the analytic offices within the Pentagon have withered; second, the hard-headed budget realists in OMB's defense review office have retired or been worn down; third, the role of analysis has been transformed from a tool to improve resource allocation into a device to defend desired programs. The services are triumphant, and their wishes are seldom challenged.
McNamara required seven years to build a process that based defense budget and program decisions upon quantitative analysis. The Laird and Schlesinger modifications were to recognize that operational people have valuable real-world experience and to give a greater weight to practical knowledge. This process has been destroyed by Weinberger, whose process has been to get huge increases in the defense budget and then allow the services to provide lists of ways to spend the largess.
After seven years of the Weinberger approach, the defense budget is unanalyzed and grossly out of balance. Committed procurement programs will not be completed, new systems entering the forces will not be operated and maintained, the Navy is once again an independent military, and the Air Force has lost interest in close-air-support.
The next election will bring in a new administration and possibly a new secretary of defense. The secretary will have to wrest back civilian control of the Pentagon. Economic problems and other domestic conditions will increase the pressures on Congress to force the Pentagon to justify its budget requests. This will be very painful.
The secretary will force the services to address long-dormant issues of interservice cooperation, real capability to fight, prudent use of resources and justification for questionable but service-favored major systems. The services will object, first within the confines of closed meetings and then through congressional hearings. The charge will be that uninformed civilians are cutting U.S. security. The civilians, whether in the White House, OMB or the secretary's office, will counter that the military is wasting valuable resources.
Weinberger, with strong support from President Reagan and many in Congress, sprinkled money on almost any service proposal. In his confirmation hearing, secretary-designate Frank Carlucci said that current budget figures may mean terminating some programs, delaying new starts, shifting resources and perhaps going to a smaller force. Carlucci has too little time to restore effective control, but he can begin the process. It requires recognition that resource allocation is not a game, that defense planning must be done objectively -- and with a willingness to be critical of every program.
The Defense Department is anomalous: U.S. citizens devote a large part of the Treasury to the DOD in money so we won't have to devote a larger part in the blood of our youth. But we have allowed several hundred billion dollars a year to be spent with little administration management for seven years. Getting to the next peak of the cycle is going to be a wild ride.
The writer was deputy assistant secretary of defense under secretaries Laird, Schlesinger and Rumsfeld.