Pentagon Nominees Illustrate Obama Defense Strategy

January 22, 2009

Government Relations Update - Defense

Last Thursday, four of President Obama’s top Department of Defense (DoD) nominees—Deputy Secretary of Defense, William J. Lynn III; Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer, Robert F. Hale; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michèle Flournoy; and DoD General Counsel, Jeh Charles Johnson—stood before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) to discuss pending national security issues that will likely be on the Pentagon’s near-term agenda, including the Fiscal Year 2010 DoD Budget, the war in Afghanistan, and the future of major weapons programs.

A foremost policy concern echoed by SASC members throughout the hearing was the current economic downturn’s effect upon defense programs, along with the department’s ability to cope with future budget restraints during a period of soaring military spending. Offering pointed criticism at existing DoD acquisition policies, Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) cited a 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that exposed cost overruns within 95 of the DoD’s largest acquisition programs, totaling almost $300 billion over original program estimates.

In response, Obama’s Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee agreed that DoD spending accountability must be bolstered. "At a time when we face a wide range of national security challenges and unprecedented budget pressures, acquisition reform is not an option—it is an imperative," said Lynn. "It is time to improve all aspects of the department's acquisition and budget processes so that every dollar we spend at the Pentagon is used wisely and effectively to enhance our national security." Lynn predicted that further DoD cost savings could be attained by shifting the military’s dependency from fossil fuels to renewable energy, augmenting the DoD’s acquisition workforce, and increasing the use of multi-year contracts on a "case-by-case basis."

Pentagon Budget Restructuring May Wait Until QDR

Although the upcoming FY09 war supplemental appropriations bill and the FY10 DoD budget will be the first spending documents to outline the Obama administration’s defense priorities, the President’s nominees indicated that DoD officials will likely wait until FY11—following completion of a new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)—to implement full-scale administration reforms of Pentagon investments.

Mirroring comments made by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a recent Foreign Affairs essay, Lynn said the QDR—a DoD report that will provide a budget blueprint for FY11 through FY15— must "lay the foundation for an effective force for the 21st century that establishes the right balance among capabilities for addressing irregular and counter-insurgent warfare, potential longer-term threats from a high-end or a near-term competitor, and the proliferation of threats from rogue states or terrorist organizations."

FCS Program Review Underway

Central to the Pentagon’s internal budget debate will be the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS), a projected $200 billion initiative that aims to develop a new generation of military weapon technology, yet has been widely criticized for its high cost and feasibility.

Yesterday, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli confirmed that the Army is currently in the middle of a review that will seek to chart a course for all Army weapons programs—including FCS—and is expected to be completed by the end of February.

"What we’re doing is taking a complete look at the entire FCS program from top to bottom and fitting it into the Army modernization program," Chiarelli said, although avoiding any predictions that FCS cuts may be imminent.

New Administration Begins to Craft Afghanistan Policy

Although she provided no details of the Obama administration’s plans to increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to nearly 60,000 in 2009, Michèle Flourney stressed during her confirmation hearing that the intent of the President and Secretary Gates is to "move as quickly as possible." Flourney also advocated for a comprehensive policy review to recalibrate U.S. policy in Afghanistan, in order to "articulate the end-state we're trying to achieve and then brings all of the elements of national power, not just the military, to bear in trying to achieve it."

Afghanistan was only briefly touched upon during President Obama’s first national security meeting with his top military advisors yesterday, but the President did issue a statement that he plans to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon to coordinate a "full review of the situation in Afghanistan." Obama is also expected to announce former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as his envoy to Afghanistan.

Obama Executive Order May Disrupt Lynn Confirmation

Although all four of Obama’s DoD nominees were largely met with resounding praise from SASC members on both sides of the aisle, a newly-signed executive order may have created a major obstacle in the confirmation process.

Yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order that prohibits lobbyists entering his administration from engaging in policy or with government agencies that they lobbied within the last two years. Since Lynn, a senior vice president for government operations and strategy for Raytheon, lobbied on behalf of his company during the first quarter of 2008, several Senators have expressed concern that, if confirmed, his forced recusal on a wide range of issues is untenable considering the nature of the Deputy Secretary of Defense position.

Despite the concerns among his colleagues, Chairman Levin said he expects Lynn’s nomination to ultimately be cleared.

Notice: The purpose of this newsletter is to identify select developments that may be of interest to readers. The information contained herein is abridged and summarized from various sources, the accuracy and completeness of which cannot be assured. This alert should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel