Voice

The sequester is Chuck Hagel’s best friend

Welcome to the Pentagon, Mr. Hagel. And, by the way, it's one more day before doomsday, before Armageddon, before the meat axe falls on the Pentagon.

Wait a minute. How could you possibly say this on your first day there: "It's the uncertainty of the planning, it's the uncertainty of the commitments, the uncertainty of what's ahead. We need to figure this out....We need to deal with this reality."

Didn't you get the memo Panetta left behind? Did you really retire the meat axe metaphor? On your first day???

How utterly refreshing! Send out a new memo. Remind the chiefs that the secretary is in charge; he is the decider. Remind them that they are to give you their best options. That they are to give you advice, not selection A on the menu, without disclosing selections B and C.

Before they rush up to the Hill once again to plead their case, remind them that they have to clear their testimony with you, with the civilian, with the secretary. That perhaps, just perhaps, a sequester, while a miserable way to run the Pentagon, may be something they need to learn to manage, not complain about.

When I read the remarks you made as secretary, my first reaction was, "how bland, there's nothing here." Then I thought about it. Yes, bland may be the best place to be -- bland, disciplined, and ready to do the job. Perhaps that's the best way to start.

Your job one is not Iran, not North Korea, not even Afghanistan. Your first job is management, and getting discipline back in the way we do our defense business. It hasn't really been there since the late 1990s. Budgets just grew like Topsy, and, with that, as Admiral Mullen said in January 2011, the building lost its ability to make the tough choices and set priorities.

Well, that's no longer an option. Budgets are already down 10 percent since FY 2010. The drawdown is here, sequester or not. So, here are your priorities:

Job one: See if you can convince the White House that flexibility is what you need, not more money. (And every federal agency should get it, not just the Pentagon.)

Job two: Work with Congress to settle the FY 2013 level of spending. If it is at the continuing resolution level, live with it.

Job three: Living with it means getting your arms quickly around the forthcoming Quadrennial Defense Review, the planning for which is just getting under way. Do the revolutionary thing: For the first time since 1993, make the review into a resource exercise. As Bernard Brodie put it years ago, "strategy wears a dollar sign."

Use that shrinking dollar sign to discipline the QDR. Strategy, yes, but within the resources we have available, not a blue-sky exercise that calls for everything the services can imagine they need. Discipline the analysis of risk in a world that poses no existential challenge to the United States. Measure carefully when and where the United States intends to engage its forces.

Use the QDR to force weapons systems choices and cost controls. Use it to shrink the back office -- the biggest in the world. Find your "bloat brush" and use it to scrub down unneeded offices, duplicative activities, excess staff. Bring the pay and benefits problems into the review and put some tough, but necessary, proposals before Congress. Make it clear to Congress that they have a choice: combat capability or an excessive infrastructure that needs another base-closing round.

The QDR is your best tool; it is there right now. The resource shrinkage is your friend; use it to put real choices on the table.

It's entirely OK with me if the rhetoric goes away, as long as the next step is quiet discipline that produces an even higher quality force that is cost-effective.

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National Security

The Navy's sequester blame game

In all the festering about sequestering, one thing sticks out like a sore thumb: the Navy's decision not to deploy a second carrier to the Gulf -- a decision it is blaming on sequester.

All the other possible disruptions make sense: Civilians could see a part-time furlough, term employees might not get renewed, services contractors might be put off. But the decision to keep the USS Harry S. Truman in dock is odd.

Yes, the costs of running the Truman are part of the Navy's $59 billion operating budget, and it is operating budgets that are targeted in sequester. But that is the biggest part of the Navy budget and, by the way, the most flexible target for sequester. Defense officials have room to move funds at will in that account, even under sequester.

So why that carrier, why two days before it was due to deploy? The Navy could have kept other, less visible ships at home -- like the littoral combat ship Freedom, sailing now to much-threatened Singapore. It could have lowered readiness requirements for other parts of the fleet, or stood down a training cycle.

Rear Adm. John Kirby put it this way: "Could money have been found somewhere, anywhere, to pay for the Truman's deployment? Maybe. But without the ability to transfer money from other accounts, there aren't many places from which we could have taken it without a greater cost to readiness elsewhere."

That is nonsense. The Navy does have the flexibility Adm. Kirby says they lack -- the whole operations account is trade space under sequester. And what cost to readiness where? The Navy doesn't tell us what the cancellation of this deployment allows it to protect.

It seems likely that given overall operating tempo for carriers (one at sea, two in port), deploying two was going to stress the fleet, anyway. And the requirement for two carriers in the Gulf was, and should be, subject to review, sequester or not. So maybe the timing was just serendipitous. We were going to go to one carrier anyway, and with sequestyria the order of the day, what the heck, why not offer it up now?

The Navy could have made other choices, as Adm. Kirby acknowledges. But this one was going to get attention.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/U.S. Navy via Getty Images