The Bottom Line: The DOD Must Be a Squeaky Wheel

May 15, 2013
By Maryann Lawlor
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Government economics experts agree that sequestration is not—and probably never was—a threat or hard stop to force Congress to approve a federal budget. Instead, senators and representatives intended for the hammer to fall, so they could reduce federal spending yet go back to their constituents with clean hands and say, “It wasn’t me.”

Economic experts also concur that everyone can stop waiting for sequestration to end or continuing resolutions to stop. They are the new reality, a way of life whether anyone agrees with it or not. And for the U.S. Defense Department, the wait for approved funds—other than those for programs already in the works or requests labeled as urgent need—is only likely to get longer. Consider this: While the average decision delay on defense appropriation bills is 43 days for fiscal years 1977 through 2013, a look at the recent—and current—fiscal years tells a different story. The average decision delay for fiscal years 2010 through fiscal year 2013 is 134 days … and still counting. What does that say about Congress’ plans for the future?

Given that the answer to that question is more indecision, it’s time for the U.S. Defense Department to follow the lead of the Federal Aviation Administration. Amazing what happened when the fiscal effects of this indecision began to hit the FAA, isn’t it? Reports of long delays and canceled flights led the nightly news and were the subject of numerous blogs. The result? Suddenly, the same Congress that thought budget cuts across the board were an acceptable idea rethought its public image. Some believe it was because the members of Congress themselves, who were preparing for one of their many annual breaks to visit constituencies back home, didn’t want to feel the pain of their indecision. That opinion may be a bit cynical, but it reveals a tactic that the Defense Department should take to heart … and adopt.

Let’s face it. With the exception of service members, their families, civilian defense workers and contractors who support the military, many citizens do not understand or feel what the military does day in and day out. Granted, the military community is large, but it’s not the average 30-year-old or 40-year-old person living in Topeka whose only impression of the military is warfighters battling in Afghanistan. It’s what these citizens don’t see that they need to know and should be up in arms about—forgive the pun—when defense spending is so drastically reduced.

The Defense Department itself must be held at least partially responsible for its lack of visibility to the average American. For the past several years, military leaders at all levels have shied away from the press. In some cases, their actions have been for good reason. Either they were burned by journalists who got the story wrong, or they couldn’t share a story because the facts could reveal U.S. vulnerabilities.

But it’s time for military leaders, and yes, even members of the intelligence community, to come out from behind the curtain. They not only need to share with the public what networks and radios and tanks and guns mean to a warfighter’s safety but also what they mean to global security … a security that Americans have come to take for granted.

Cybersecurity would be an excellent place to start. Recent revelations about a $45 million bank heist using nothing but computers caught the public’s attention because it hit close to home—in their pocketbooks. But are average citizens even aware of the serious damage terrorists can do in cyberspace? Do they understand that protecting U.S. networks and infrastructure like power and water is a job that’s too big for public utilities, financial institutions, medical facilities and the military alone? Can they comprehend the funding it takes to ensure these are protected and defended when the need arises … every day?

The answer to these questions most likely is no, and the bottom line is that it’s time for the Defense Department to be a squeaky wheel and get the grease that safeguards the United States and, yes, the world. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, USA, commander, U.S. Cyber Command, took a step in the right direction when he sat down with SIGNAL Magazine for an interview and laid out his plans for the future of his organization for an article that will appear in the June issue. More military leaders must follow his lead to ensure the tools that are vital not only to warfighters’ safety but to public security are funded because the public outcry from networks going down is likely to be much louder than when planes can’t go up.

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