Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Military to Finally Cut Taliban Access to Opium Trade

The New York Times reports today that “American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban’s main source of money, the country’s multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group’s operations.”1 In 2004 I served as Military Fellow to U.S. Representative Jerry Lewis (Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee). During that time, he had already begun to advocate the elimination of the opium crop in Afghanistan.

The Times reports that the Taliban reap as much as $300 million a year from Afghanistan’s opium trade; enough to sustain Taliban military operations in southern Afghanistan each year. As early as 2004, Lewis repeatedly asked military leaders why they had not eradicated the Afghani opium crop - the foundation of current and future Taliban power. But at the time, military leaders were staying clear of the operations of the sovereign government of Afghanistan. Since the opium crop was considered a non-military target it could not be included as part of overall strategic military planning.

It is good to see the change in strategy. And with the support of Appropriations Committee leadership, this effort will not lack for funding.

[1] Dexter Filkins “U.S. Sets Fight In The Poppies To Stop Taliban,” New York Times, April 29, 2009

Thursday, September 11, 2008

CNN's Judy Woodruff got it Wrong: The Poor are not Disproportionately Represented in the Military

During the Presidential Candidate Forum on National Service on CNN on September 11th, 2008, Judy Woodruff, who normally has her facts solidly in place (and who I greatly respect), suggested that America’s current volunteer military is overly represented by the poor.[1] Others have also erroneously made this case. They have gone so far as to say that in order to ensure proportional representation, the military draft system must be resurrected to compel citizens of economically diverse backgrounds to serve in the military.[2]

Ironically, a military draft would increase the burden on the poorest military aged Americans that proponents think they would be helping. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study, poor recruits are not disproportionately represented in the military.[3] In fact, any argument that the poor are overly represented fails when exposed to the fact that the lowest 10 percentile of American families on the socio-economic scale provided just 6 percent of total recruits.[4] Furthermore, the bottom twenty percent of U.S. families accounted for only 14 percent of recruits in that study.[5] This is in sharp contrast to what the Department of Defense reports about the richest one-fifth of the families in America. They provide 22 percent of recruits.[6] The poor citizens of America, therefore, are not fighting disproportionately on behalf of the rich. If anything, it’s the other way around.

[1] Judy Woodruff made this statement when questioning John McCain during The Presidential Candidate Forum on National Service, 11 Sep 08.
[2] CBO, “The All-Volunteer Military: Issues and Performance,” The Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office, July 2007, p. ix.
[3] CBO, “The All-Volunteer Military: Issues and Performance,” The Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office, July 2007, p. ix.
[4] CBO, “The All-Volunteer Military: Issues and Performance,” The Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office, July 2007, p. ix.
[5] Heritage Foundation calculations based on data from U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense. January 2003- September 2003 NPS Enlisted Accessions and U.S. Bureau of the Census, United States Census 2000. Summary File 3 at
[6] Id.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Resurgent Russia Means the U.S. Should Change its Military Procurement Strategy

Whatever the Russian-Georgian War means for Russia or Europe, it means that U.S. strategic thinking must change once again. For the last four years, it has been in vogue to talk about irregular warfare and boots on the ground as if the only possible warfare contingency in the next two decades would be fighting poorly equipped insurgencies. Discussions about platforms like the F-22 fighter were treated as discussions about battles that might take place twenty or thirty years from now. But the actions of Russia have demonstrated that our NATO allies, who we are obligated to defend, are just one Vladimir Putin temper tantrum away from being subjected to Russian aggression. As a result, America’s strategic focus must not ignore upgrading sophisticated systems that only last week were believed by many to be decades away from being needed.

The Economist astutely observes that fighting is Georgia is “... about more than simply punishing Georgia for its aspirations to join NATO, or even trying to displace Mikheil Saakashvili, ... It is about Russia, resurgent and nationalistic, pushing its way back into the Caucasus and chasing others out, and reversing the losses Russia feels it has suffered since the end of the cold war.”[1]

Or it could also be said that Russia is a resurgent imperialistic nation. Russia, flush with oil and natural gas money, now has the capability to unilaterally strong arm much of its former empire with little fear that the militarily stretched U.S. or timid NATO will interfere.

If one subscribes to the “great man” theory of history, recent events might come as little surprise. Under that theory, a man like Vladimir Putin, by sheer force of personal will and ambition (or out of spite) ends up shaping history by his acts and decisions. In the case of the Russian-Georgian War, one need only look to Mr. Putin’s resentment of the west (George Bush in particular) to find sufficient catalyst for Russia’s actions. As one observer put it, “In Putin’s view, President Bush did not reciprocate for the help and support Putin provided in the immediate wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, the Americans continued to push for NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia, decided to place U.S. missile defenses near the Russian border, and egged on the Europeans in granting Kosovo an independence from Serbia that Russians refuse to recognize.”[2]

Even if all this could be described as simply the escapades of a Russian ex-president scorned by the west, it doesn’t change the fact that other former Soviet satellites in the region have been “... dealt a lesson, about Russia’s willingness and ability to exert its influence ...” in the region.[3] It also delivers an equally discouraging lesson about Western ally’s lack of capability or inclination to provide a deterrent to Russian aggression against nations bordering the former imperial power.

Assessments about the meaning of the Russian-Georgia War are dire. One observer believes that Russia has begun to fall back on old instincts: authoritarianism and empire.[4] The Economist, similarly, predicts that “The war in Georgia will make Russia more isolated. Worst of all, it will further corrode the already weak moral fabric of Russian society, making it more aggressive and nationalistic. The country has been heading in the direction of an authoritarian, nationalistic, corporatist state for some time. The war with Georgia could tip it over the edge.”[5]

U.S. strategic thinking must change once again. While irregular warfare in hellholes around the globe is a real possibility for U.S. forces in the coming years, a confrontation with a resurgent Russia cannot be ruled out. America must not ignore the procurement of sophisticated systems that could be needed sooner than anyone could have conceived just a few short days ago.

[1] “A Scripted War,” The Economist, August 14, 2008, p24.
[2] Jim Hoagland, “A Measured Response to Putin,” The Washington Post, August 17, 2008, B7.
[3] “A Scripted War,” The Economist, August 14, 2008, p26.
[4] John McLoughlin, “Russia’s Challenge,” The Washington Post, August 17, 2008, B7.
[5] “A Scripted War,” The Economist, August 14, 2008, p26.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tanker Replacement Deal Needs Secretary of Defense Help

The contract award for the Air Force tanker replacement is now a political hot potato that Air Force acquisition officers should not be expected to handle alone. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates should take on a much larger role as the contract award unfolds. This is not an indictment on the Air Force, but rather an acknowledgement that only the Secretary of Defense has sufficient clout to deal with congressional pressures being generated by the politically charged issue. The Air Force, with only one-fifth of the total DOD budget is just a small frog in a very large pond. Even its top officials are several layers down in the political pecking order of Washington DC. It simply lacks the ability to weather the political consequences of the $35 billion winner-take-all tanker replacement contract award.

When the original tanker replacement contract went out the window in 2004, the Air Force became the proverbial golf ball on a tee. Regardless of which company won the subsequent contract, the loser was bound to tee off on the Air Force. Now, Senator John McCain (largely responsible for derailing the initial contract in 2004) and Senator Barack Obama are calling for yet another redo in the competition. But it is safe to say that any competition not managed at the DOD level will end in the much the same way. The loser will once again tee off on the Air Force – leaving it to be savaged by Congress, the GAO, and the media once again.

Because the tanker replacement effort has become a battleground issue in Congress, there is no realistic chance that the contract will ever go to a single winner. As long as either contestant holds to the illusion that they can run away with the entire contract, no one will win - leaving Air Force tanker crewmembers to fly aging aircraft that were introduced to the fleet when their grandparents were dancing at the sock-hop. In the end, the final tanker replacement contract need not totally satisfy Boeing or Northrop Grumman/EADS, but it must give all members of Congress who have up until now been vocal in support of one side or the other, a chance to tell their constituents and donors that they have forged a compromise deal where no one achieves total victory, but where no one walks away as a total loser either.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Army Guard Recruiters Being Reigned In

The Army Times is reporting that the Army National Guard (ARNG) has missed its monthly recruiting goal for the first time since 2005. The misstep, however, is not due to any failure on the part of Army Guard or its 359,288 members. It is the result of an Army directive ordering the ARNG to slow its recruiting so it does not exceed manpower levels authorized by law. Though the Army had no other choice than to pull in the ARNG’s reigns, it is folly not to take full advantage of the Army Guard’s superior recruiting capabilities. Congress and the administration should acknowledge that recruits are supporting the Army Guard in larger numbers than the active Army and act accordingly to increase the size of the ARNG.

The current success of Army Guard recruiting began with the implementation of the “recruiting assistant” program in late 2005. The program targets potential Soldiers, who might not listen to a traditional recruiter (a stranger) but look up to the heroes of their own communities returning from overseas: their co-workers, former and current teachers, firemen, and even parents. The program trains “assistant recruiters” from among Guard forces who are encouraged to talk to potential recruits. If an “assistant recruiter” gets a young person to go to boot camp, the program pays the Guard member $2,000. The program has been a major factor in the recruitment of 44,466 new members by the ARNG so far this fiscal year compared to 42,280 recruits by the Active Army during the same period.

Congress and the administration would do well to recognize that the cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and superior recruiting ability of reserve component forces (whether they be Army Guard, Army Reserve, Air Guard, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, or Naval Reserve) will play an even larger roll in our national defense in the coming years. The devastating budget impact of the skyrocketing cost of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and the service on the national debt will shrink the discretionary spending capability of the federal government to the point that the US will no longer be able to maintain the current level of full-time forces to defend the nation and still invest in new weapon systems. When that time comes, that which has been the US historical norm for two-thirds of our nation’s history – the citizen warrior – will again become the rule.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

GAO Sustains Boeing Protest: Just one more Stop on a Long Road

The Air Force continues to get knocked around like a ping pong ball over the award of its tanker replacement contract to Northrop Grumman / European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (NG/EADS). The GAO has sustained the Boeing Company’s protest and has given the Air Force 60 days to respond to the GAO’s recommendations. The GAO’s sustainment of Boeings protest should not be seen as a “reversal” of the tanker deal as the LA Times Headline reported on-line just a few minutes ago. It is, however, a recommendation by the GAO that the Air Force reopen discussions with Boeing and NG/EADS to obtain and evaluate revised proposals and make a new decision concerning the contract award. This should not be confused with the GAO telling the Air Force to award the contract to Boeing. Instead, it is the GAO telling the Air Force to go back and make a fresh decision. Only this time, the GAO wants the Air Force, among other things, to look much closer at the evaluation criteria identified in the solicitation, engage in equal discussions with both Boeing and NG/EADS, determine which competitor best can plan and support the Air Force to achieve initial organic depot-level maintenance within two years of delivery, consider military construction costs, and precisely estimate non-recurring engineering costs.

The GAO decision will add to the momentum generated by defense appropriators on the House Appropriations Committee for Defense (HAC-D) and by Senators Murray and Cantwell of Washington. While supporters of both NG/EADS and Boeing will voice their concern and support respectively, it is unlikely that either side will take action in committee or on the floor until the Air Force has responded in 60 days. It will be at that point we will all see just how long the road ahead will be.

Congress will have to find a way to stop its five year feud over securing new Air Force tankers if the US is ever going to replace its aging fleet of refuelers. After all, Congress has the power of the purse. But unless both sides are satisfied with the final Air Force decision, it is hard to see funding of a tanker replacement contract ever making it out of Congress. That would not bode well for NG/EADS or Boeing. After all, a contract let by the Air Force is nothing more than a pile of paper unless it is given life blood by appropriated federal funds.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Forget the GAO, House Defense Appropriators will Determine the Fate of the Air Force Tanker Contract

NSR Memo #101

All eyes are on the Government Accounting Office (GAO) as it prepares to make a recommendation on whether the $40 billion contract to build 179 air refueling tankers for the Air Force was properly awarded to Northrop Grumman / European Aeronautic, Defence, & Space Company (NG/EADS). But the GAO recommendation is just a prelude to the battle that is likely to erupt between House defense appropriators and supporters of the NG/EADS contract. Representative Jack Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Defense (HAC-D), has pledged never to include funding for an air refueling tanker made by NG/EADS in any appropriations bill drafted by his committee. This pledge, fueled by Murtha’s distain of Senator John McCain’s derailing of tanker deal that Mr. Murtha approved four years ago will create a near certainty that the NG/EADS contract will never see a dollar of Congressional funding beyond FY08.

In March 2008, Boeing filed a protest with the GAO claiming that the Air Force had changed contract specifications during the competition for the contract award and claiming that illegal subsidies from European governments had given NG/EADS an unfair advantage. The recommendation concerning Boeing’s protest of the contract award will be delivered on or before the 19th of June.

Jack Murtha Strikes Back

Representative Murtha has been aggressively pushing for an Air Force tanker replacement contract since before 2002 when the HAC-D and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Defense (SAC-D) inserted language that paved the way for the proposed lease of Boeing tankers in the DOD Appropriations Act.[1] Though the language became law, and had the approval of three of the four defense committees in Congress (the SAC-D, HAC-D, and the House Armed Services Committee), the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), buried all chances of a lease in 2004 at the urging of Senator John McCain.

McCain had reasons to question the previous tanker deal: the corruption trial of Air Force acquisition official Darlene Druyun, his belief that the KC-135 was not old enough to replace, and his belief that the lease arrangement would cost more than buying the jets outright.

Mr. Murtha disagrees. He claims that “… [McCain’s] stopping [of] what the Air Force had already approved ... is costing billions of dollars” more than it would have if the first tanker deal had gone down the way he intended. [2] Murtha, while he believes that officials inside Boeing and the Air Force who engaged in corrupt activity should have been punished, does not believe the Air Force should have been punished by delaying recapitalization of its aging tanker fleet. Nor does he believe that the American people should have been punished by kicking the “procurement can” further down the road at more expense to the taxpayer.

Like Senator McCain four years ago, Mr. Murtha stands poised to block this Air Force tanker replacement contract. Mr. Murtha has made it clear that he does not plan to include funding for an air refueling tanker made by NG/EADS in any appropriations bill drafted by his committee. At a HAC-D hearing which he chaired on March 5th, he was very clear about his opposition to an NG/EADS contract when he told Air Force officials that they would be powerless to do anything about funding a tanker contract unless his committee provided the appropriation.[3] The basis for Murtha’s statement is found in Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution which says that “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law.” This means that not a penny "...can be paid out of the Treasury unless it has been appropriated by an act of Congress.”[4] As long ago as 1850, the Supreme Court ruled that “however much money may be in the Treasury at any one time, not a dollar of it can be used in the payment of anything not… previously sanctioned [by a congressional appropriation].” [5]

Mr. Murtha not only has the power and committee jurisdiction to write a defense appropriations bill that would withhold funding for a NG/EADS contract, he could also go a step further. He could put specific language in the bill that forbids the use of any appropriated funds for the purpose of procuring Air Force refueling tankers from NG/EADS. Were such a bill to become law, NG/EADS would be completely cut off from funding for its tanker program. In United States v. Will and United States v. Dickerson the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed Congress’ right to prohibit the use of funds for a particular purpose in its yearly appropriations bills.[6] Therefore, as Chairman of the HAC-D, Jack Murtha could conceivably block NG/EADS tanker funding, one year at a time, for years to come.

There are Democrats, There are Republicans, and then there are Appropriators

The HAC-D does not engage in partisan infighting like many House committees. Though the solidarity of the appropriators may have eroded slightly since my days as a Defense Assistant to a former Chairman of the HAC-D, members of the committee, under Mr. Murtha, still tend to act in accord with their fellow appropriators and not along party lines when money matters are being considered in Congress. One need look no further than Full Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis’ battle with the House Budget Committee in 2006 over spending caps in the FY07 House Budget Resolution to see how appropriators will break with party leadership (even a Speaker as popular at Denny Hastert) to follow their chairman when appropriations committee turf is threatened.[7]

Representatives Norm Dicks of Washington (Democrat) and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas (Republican) both sit on the HAC-D with Murtha. They both have Boeing manufacturing plants in their districts. Their opposition to the NG/EADS contract, along with Murtha’s strong hand on the rudder of the committee, will create a near certainty that the NG/EADS contract, even if approved by the GAO and released from the current freeze by the Air Force, will never see a dollar of Congressional funding beyond in FY08.

Without House support, any bill that goes to the President will not include funds for NG/EADS tanker procurement. Only Senate Defense Appropriations Bill Conference Committee members (if they support NG/EADS, which is not a foregone conclusion – just ask Senator Patty Murray of Washington) would be able to save NG/EADS by convincing the House to support the contract when the two chambers get together to reconcile the differences in their bills. Since the House conferees are typically made up of Mr. Murtha and his committee, a change in the House position at conference is unlikely.

Can Murtha turn Conflict into Compromise?

The Air Force has taken a real beating over the replacement of its old air refueling tankers. When the Air Force awarded a tanker contract to Boeing a few years ago, the SASC scuttled the plan. But now, as a result of this year's Air Force contract award, the Congressional outcry, especially from the HAC-D, will likely scuttle the NG/EADS contract.

All the while, the Air Force need for more tankers grows more desperate. Those being flown today are, on average, over 47 years old. Members of Congress, on both sides of the issue, know that it is essential that new tankers begin to roll off production lines soon. Otherwise, Air Force pilots will be flying 70 year-old tankers before the last of the KC-135s can be replaced years down the road.

All the talk about the GAO and potential court cases is pointless unless the parties involved can find a way to satisfy the Chairman of the HAC-D. In the end, Mr. Murtha may be the only one with the clout, jurisdiction, and resolve to find a way to get a tanker built. The likely result – after both sides see that each has the capability of scuttling the other’s contract – will be a compromise arrangement where no one is happy, but both sides get a piece of a “partnered” Air Force tanker procurement contract. Let's just hope everyone comes to that realization in time enough to build some new tankers in our lifetimes.

[1] Section 8159 (MULTI-YEAR AIRCRAFT LEASE PILOT PROGRAM) of the FY2002 DOD Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-117 of January 10, 2002)
[2] From the 5 March 2008 House Appropriations Committee on Defense open hearing on the Air Force contract award for the tanker replacement program with Ms. Sue Payton, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and LTG John “Jack” Hudson, ASC Commander and Program Executive Officer.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Cincinnati Soap Co. v. United States, 301 U.S. 308, 321 (1937).
[5] Reeside v. Walker, 52 U.S. (11How.) 272, 291 (1850).
[6] See, e.g., United States v. Will, 449 U.S. 200, 222 (1980); United States v. Dickerson, 310 U.S. 554 (1940). For a recent example of this, see Atlantic Fish Spotters Ass’n v. Evans, 321 F.3d 220, 225, 229 (1st Cir. 2003).
[7] See “House Fails to Agree on Budget; Boehner Retreats,” OMB Watch, “What ultimately derailed the negotiations was not a breakdown between moderates and conservatives (although that rift was far from repaired), but Boehner's move to allow a specific proposal requiring that the Budget Committee approve all non-defense emergency spending over $4.3 billion. This proposal angered Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who then publicly stated his opposition to the budget. Lewis was subsequently able to use his sway in the committee to get other Republicans to defect, leaving the party far short of the number of votes it would need in a caucus already divided between two factions--moderates who wanted more discretionary spending and conservatives who wanted less.”