A consensus is emerging in Washington that even if Congress finds a way to cancel the automatic budget cuts of sequestration, the Defense Department is in for more spending reductions over the next decade. A new exercise by one think tank shows the department has a lot of different ways to handle those cuts — some more thoughtful than others.
Defense experts at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments designed a sort of budget war game under the following premise: Congress will undo sequestration, but DoD will still take roughly the same budget cut: $519 billion over the next decade. But under CSBA’s scenario, and unlike under sequestration, the cuts would be spread over 10 years rather than happening all at once, and the Pentagon could decide precisely what programs to fund and at what level.
To run the game, CSBA gathered about 70 people this past summer — retired military officers, DoD civilian leaders, defense industry executives and experts from other think tanks — organized them into seven groups and for the purposes of the exercise granted them anonymity so they could make choices more freely. They were given about 600 options for either cutting or increasing funding for programs.
The results, said Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow with the group, were all over the map.
“We saw every approach. We saw groups that were truly strategy-driven, listening to the future first, all the way to people who said, ‘Well, this is the way the building works so we’ll work this way too. We’ll cut everything, everyone will share pain and now we have a budget,’” he said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday. “That’s not terribly well-driven by strategy. In fact, failure to make real strategic choices is essentially the same thing as sequestration.”