The Department of Defense (DoD) needs a modernized resourcing
structure that is responsive to joint program planning and execution — and also
supports congressional oversight. Congress needs better budget justification
descriptions and more timely visibility into program changes.
The recently released Senate Defense Appropriations Committee
explanatory statement on the FY 2021 spending bill notes on at least 18
occasions continued dissatisfaction with current budget processes and justification
to include: unexplained changes in Service Unfunded Priority Lists, lack of
budget details on the funding implications of force structure divestitures and
retirements, and numerous other deficiencies in appropriation and budget line
item detail necessary to support congressional oversight.
Interestingly, the committee also briefly addresses
the issue of military department budget “shares” as contrary to strategic
resourcing and directs the Department to provide a “description of the amounts
and shares of the defense budget recommended to each of the military services
or departments, the defense-wide accounts” and to exclude “amounts that are not
directly related to the budgets of each service or department, such as funding
that is subsequently redirected to general defense-wide needs or for other
national security purposes.”
This language points to a couple important issues. First, the
inclination on the part of any DoD organization — military service or defense agency
— to consider a piece of the DoD budget as their “fair share” instead of
viewing the budget as a whole intended to support strategic objectives with the
most effective and affordable joint solutions. Second, without being specific,
it addresses angst about pass-through budgets placed in the Service or
Defense-Wide accounts, particularly the classified pass through in that Air
The recent Senate report — combined with similar language in the
FY 2021 House Defense Appropriations report, a history of such direction from
both committees, and increasing reporting requirements — further emphasizes
that the current worst-of-both-worlds approach to resourcing defense needs an
The DoD is challenged by the complexity of executing hundreds of
appropriations across the enterprise, each with different constraints and
restraints, making planning, execution, management decision-making, and oversight
difficult. Despite a required avalanche of budget justification documents and hundreds
of reporting requirements each year, transparency concerns remain.
Congress is also frustrated by the Department’s attempt to adapt
to current and evolving challenges by submitting multiple, sometimes very
large, reprogramming requests each year, and it remains unsatisfied with the reliability
and timeliness of cost accounting to support oversight responsibilities.
The Department’s ongoing financial statement audit efforts and
the resulting incremental integration of financial, contracting, and other data
sources to support enterprise-wide data analytics tools could now facilitate the
development of options for updating appropriations structures and budget justification
materials. The objective of such options would be to improve transparency and
trust between DoD and Congress, enhance DoD responsiveness to evolving
opportunities, and increase management and oversight tools available to both
DoD leadership and Congress. New structures should also improve the public’s
access to, and understanding of, the defense budget.
Given the size and scope of the effort and the number of stakeholders involved, reforms will be incremental and likely take years to accomplish. Success will require creative openness and strong partnerships. The result — a modernized, responsive, transparent structure for programming, budgeting, and execution — will be worth the effort.