Reagan's Naval Secretary: Half Our Troops Serve in Offices

Image: Reagan's Naval Secretary: Half Our Troops Serve in Offices

Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013 08:22 AM

By Melanie Batley

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America's recent foreign policy failures are a reflection of its shrinking military power as an increasing number of the armed services are consigned to office work instead of active duty, says former secretary of the Navy John Lehman.

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Lehman, who served in the Reagan administration, says that the nation's ability to carry out deterrence strategies around the world has been compromised by a dramatic drop in the numbers of servicemen, ships, and fighter planes available for deployment.

"Apologists for the shrinkage argue that today's ships and aircraft are far more capable than those of the '80s and '90s. That is as true as 'you can keep your health insurance,'" Lehman writes.

"While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled."

Lehman points out that more than half of the U.S.'s active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs.

"Unlike private businesses — disciplined by the market — which require constant pruning and overhead reduction to stay profitable, each expansion of the bureaucracy is, to paraphrase President Reagan, the nearest thing to eternal life to be found on earth," he says.

"The Pentagon, like Marley's ghost, must drag this ever-growing burden of chains without relief. As a result something close to paralysis is approaching," Lehman says, adding, "The result has been unilateral disarmament."

Lehman outlines four solutions to the current situation, which include cutting the military bureaucracy by 20 percent, restoring accountability within military agencies, instituting more competition for production contracts, and linking weapons programs to cost limits. he says Republicans could reap political benefits from his plan.

"The way forward for Republicans is not to default to their traditional solution, which is simply to fight sequester cuts and increase the defense budget. Instead, Republicans should concentrate on slashing and restructuring our dysfunctional and bloated defense bureaucracy.

"With strong defense chairmen on House and Senate committees already sympathetic to the overhead issue, and a willing secretary of defense, this Congress can do it. That will place the blame for the consequences of sequester and the earlier $500 billion Obama cuts squarely where it belongs, on the president and the Democrats.

"The way will thereby be prepared for Republican victory in the 2016 elections based on a Reagan-like rebuilding mandate that can actually be carried out by a newly streamlined and more agile Defense Department."

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