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Shanahan Makes Case for Budget Stability, Says Situation ‘Is Not Normal’


The Defense Department has clear orders from President Donald J. Trump “to build a stronger military, take care of our men and women, and excel in our business operations,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said yesterday.

Shanahan was the closing speaker at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, and he spoke how the department is putting the president’s orders into effect.

The deputy secretary has been on the job for just under five months, and said he is most concerned with managing business practices to find money to make the military more lethal.

The deputy came to the department after 30 years at Boeing, where he shepherded the 787 Dreamliner to production. And while he says the transition from the aircraft manufacturer to DoD has been seamless, there have been some surprises. “I will say a couple of the department’s behaviors strike me as abnormal,” he said. “First, operating without a budget is not normal. Doing so every year for nine years, is really not normal.”

Stopping the Abnormal From Becoming Normal

While this tongue-in-cheek statement was met with knowing laughs from the high-powered audience at the forum, it served to underscore the problems facing DoD. Shanahan continued his statement of the problem. “Airplanes are meant to fly,” he said. “A service with significant number of its airplanes grounded and awaiting maintenance is not normal.”

“Part of my job as a leader is guarding against normalization of abnormal behaviors within the department,” Shanahan said. “A high level of performance is not only expected of our military, it is essential for America’s security, no matter the restraints.”

He noted that the U.S. military also faced obstacles to readiness and modernization in the years immediately preceding World War II. “While military leaders sought stable funding, political tensions and budgetary pressures stymied readiness efforts until the Second World War arrived on our doorstep,” he said. 

Today, artificial constraints once again hold the national defense hostage, Shanahan said. “From budget stresses like continuing resolutions and Budget Control Act caps to disagreements in Congress that affect timely decision-making, right now we have time -- one of our most precious resources. But we lack the stable budget needed to prepare for future fights,” he said.

If a crisis appears, Congress will fund the military, the deputy secretary said, but there will be no time to prepare. “We cannot rely on a crisis to be the catalyst for solutions,” he said. “The cost of global conflict is simply too high and we value our men and women in uniform far too much. The rapidly changing security environment and budgetary instability have forced our department into a risk management posture, the consequences of which are hard to calculate.”

Limited Elasticity

The career engineer used an analogy from physics to illustrate his point. A material may be stretched in many ways and will return to form when the stresses upon it are released unless it is stretched too far. Then it will remain deformed. “The Department of Defense has its limits to elasticity,” he said. “Excessive pressure in the form of budgetary instability has the potential to permanently distort the department’s character, and lessen the lethality.”

The department must get away from risk management and seize opportunities to remain competitive. “A risk-balanced, opportunity driven approach with spark innovation and help protect our hard-earned culture of excellence from the unintended distortion of instability,” he said.

Long-term readiness and modernization will be embedded into the National Defense Strategy, the deputy secretary said. “We are building alignment across the department, the interagency, with industry and other partners and allies,” he said. “We view all these efforts through the critical lenses of lethality and affordability. After all, we must remember the department’s primary purpose is to be as lethal as possible, ensuring our diplomats speak from a position of strength.

“This is only possible when our enemies know with certainty that we are ready to fight and win our wars, and our allies know we stand steady alongside them,” he continued.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)