One of the more ingenious arguments against Defense Secretary Robert Gates program cuts and efficiencies was raised today after the House Armed Services Committee hearing. It went something like that old philosophical question: If a tree falls in a forest but there is no one there to hear it, is there a noise?”
For years, Pentagon officials have admitted that they really don’t know where their money is going because their financial systems just aren’t good enough to be audited with any hope of retuning results in which one might have a high degree of confidence.
So Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the HASC readiness subcommittee took the interesting leap of arguing that, since the Pentagon doesn’t really know where it’s money is being spent, then maybe it shouldn’t try to talk about efficiencies.
“If the Department of Defense does not know where our defense dollars are going, how then are they qualified to talk about efficiencies? Furthermore, if the Department of Defense does not even have mechanisms in place to perform the audits, how are they able to comply with the law? Finally, if all agencies are required to perform regular audits, how is the Department of Defense able to skirt this compliance? If we want to get serious about efficiencies, we need to first make it clear that the Department of Defense is not above the law, and, second, demand to know where our defense dollars are going,” he said in a statement after this morning’s hearing.
Forbes was joined in skepticism about the Pentagon plan’s by his chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon: “I remain dismayed, despite repeated assurances from the Department about an interest to work together on these issues, that we have seen little change in the Department’s willingness to share information and work with us.”
McKeon said he agreed with Gates “that we must scrutinize defense programs to ensure we are getting the most bang for our buck and concentrating our limited resources on the highest priority programs. I support initiatives focused on reducing waste, streamlining operations, and eliminating redundancies across all enterprises.”
But he would not support any moves that “will leave our military less capable and less ready to fight.”
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told the committee the proposed cuts would not reduce U.S. war capabilities.
The committee’s Republicans clearly are rankled that Gates may have — once again — outmaneuvered Congress and left it with little recourse but to stand publicly against the administration’s decisions and make their own in law.
The committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, was unsurprisingly more supportive of the Obama administration’s approach, saying it was “a good first step.”