In the fifteen years since I was deputy secretary of Defense, it has become far harder to run the Pentagon. One reason is that Congress has gotten too involved in the details of defense management and has reduced the management authority and flexibility of the secretary of defense. As Congressional leaders increasingly realize, the detailed annual budget review conducted by Congress creates a focus on year-to year budgeting without much regard to defense missions, military strategy, operational issues or the costs of frequent changes in future defense budget targets.
There are strong, perverse incentives for Congress, the military services and defense contractors to play games with the budget to accommodate pet projects. Programs are kept alive to satisfy parochial, not national interests, and are introduced without realistic notions of future costs. In this environment, coherent long-range budget planning has become impossible.
The acquisition of new weapons suffers from the lack of planning. The military services have often spent too little money and taken too little time to evaluate weapon systems and eliminate uncertainties about cost and performance before going into full-scale development or production. The key decisions that determine cost and performance are those made at the front end of the acquisition process. Poor judgment at that stage has cost the nation billions of dollars. The recently cancelled Sergeant York air defense gun is an example.
Congressional efforts to legislate better management have merely added to red tape and created new layers of bureaucracy, which meddle in program management. The result is that when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge.
We need a new blueprint for defense management. Major progress is possible only if Congress, the president and the Defense Department, including our senior military leadership, pool their efforts. As President Eisenhower cautioned in 1958, a "unified effort is essential . . . for long- range planning and decision which fix the pattern of our future forces and form the foundation of our major military programs."
Whatever the level of the defense budget, we need new long-range planning procedures designed to produce a general agreement on the proper balance among funding, forces and strategy. These are critical elements of what President Eisenhower called the "great quotation" of national defense for the "long haul."
We need better military advice to design forces within long-range ceilings, and to evaluate how well those forces and budgets will achieve our national security objectives.
We need a stronger chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide that military advice, to balance requirements for the readiness of our combat forces with the constant pressure for new weapons and to carry the banner for the unified military commands rather than the individual services.
We need a Congressional review process that encourages stable programs and keeps its eye on key defense issues rather than line-item details.
We need a streamlined organization and process for buying weapons, headed by a full-time undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, equal in rank to the service secretaries. He must set policy and oversee our decentralized procurement system in order to bring about better decisions, which should be made early and with more resolve.
The new undersecretary must ensure that our weapons are given realistic tests before they are put into full development and full production. His watchword must be: "Fly, and know what it will cost, before you buy."
The bipartisan presidential commission I chair has made unanimous recommendations to help accomplish all this. If the commission's recommendations are put into effect and fully supported by Congress, the administration and the civilian and military leadership of the Defense Department, then our nation will be better able to defend peace and freedom in our troubled world.
The writer is director of the President's Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management.