Discretion Is Advised
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Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote an OpEd in today’s Washington Post chastising the “self-inflicted wounds” of the sequester. In making the case for Congressional action, Panetta drops an interesting tidbit about his “efforts” to save the military from the so-called meat axe approach. From The Washington Post:
Panetta: ”Every member of the leadership, Democrat and Republican, agreed with my analysis but to a person admitted there was little that could be done. I persisted. I even offered additional defense savings in exchange for the discretion to determine where the cuts could take place. Finally, one member praised my efforts to find a compromise but said: ‘Leon, you don’t understand. The Congress is resigned to failure.’”
So, Panetta offered to cut even more than required if he was just given the discretion to choose what stays and what goes? That’s what it sounds like – despite the fact that he was publicly fighting the cuts tooth and nail. But according this latest account, while President Obama was standing up in front of thousands of shipbuilders in Newport News, VA saying there was “no smart way” to cut $85 billion from the budget, Panetta was telling Congress there was certainly a smarter way.
We all know how this turned out. Washington refused to set priorities and make decisions on spending, so the sequester moved ahead. And despite the bipartisan support for the Budget Control Act of 2011 that created the sequester, both sides scrambled to escape ownership. Americans were treated to dire predictions about economic devastation that would rise up in its wake – but that didn’t happen either:
The Washington Post: ”Sequestration did hit, on March 1. And since then, the $85 billion budget cut has caused real reductions in many federal programs that people depend on. But it has not produced what the Obama administration predicted: widespread breakdowns in crucial government services.
The Washington Post recently checked 48 of those dire predictions about sequestration’s impact. Just 11 have come true … “
Meanwhile, the waste in the Department of Defense continues to pile up. Just today, The Washington Post (again) reports that the Pentagon is spending $6,600 every month on a contractor for a plane that doesn’t fly. A few weeks ago, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) sent out emails urging officers to be sure to meet their spending goals to exhaust 100% of their resources this fiscal year. And $34 million was spent on a lavish military base in Afghanistan that no one will use.
The list goes on.
The fact is this kind of waste and inefficiency exists across all departments of the federal government and it’s about time that Washington started asking for discretion and flexibility instead of accepting the worst-case scenario as the best they can do. To borrow from Panetta’s own anecdote about Congress being resigned to failure, the same holds true for the “no smart way” crowd. The idea that we can’t shave three cents on the dollar off a $3.8 trillion federal budget in a smart way is a crisis of leadership and a failure of its own.