February 03, 2010

Natural Security in Yesterday’s SASC Hearing

Yesterday was full of fun with the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the FY2011 budget. Here are the natural security-related exchanges from the transcript, beginning with Secretary Gates confirming that DOD is indeed working on alternative energy:

Senator Begich (D-Alaska): I'm trying to rapid-fire these, knowing my time is limited. Do you still -- in your DOD presentation of the budget, do you still have a very robust -- another issue separate -- alternative renewable energy program?  I know that's been a big plus, to be very frank with you, with the military. You have been leaders in this area.  Are you still fairly in your mind aggressive in this arena?  

Sec. Gates:  Yes.  

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In this line of inquiry, Senator Jeff Sessions seems quite concerned with fuel costs. Rather than drilling Admiral Mullen on this point, he could refer to page 87 of the QDR, which states that “DoD must integrate geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and axquisition processes. To address these challenges, DoD will fully implement the statutory requirement for the energy efficiency Key Performance Parameter and fully burdened cost of fuel…”

Senator Sessions (R-Alabama):  With regard to our procurement of major weapons systems, I know that the Department of Defense, Admiral Mullen, has focused on life- cycle cost. And I guess you would agree that things such as fuel and maintenance are important factors to evaluate if you're going to evaluate the cost of a weapons systems over a period of years.

Adm. Mullen:  Yes, sir.  

Senator Sessions:  I know we did that on the tanker aircraft, and in fact, fuel and that sort of things are counted as evaluating that aircraft. Are you -- should that be applied to a procurement program like the Littoral Combat Ship, that the cost of fuel over its lifespan, should that be accounted for?

Adm. Mullen:  I've long been concerned about lifecycle costs; I think, Senator Sessions, you know that, long before now.  And the secretary pointed out, and I think very importantly, in his opening statement, that the programs that he cut last year actually had some lifecycle value, focused on about $330 billion.  As far as what's in an RFP and what it's going to be focused on, that's something that I really can't comment on if that RFP is --

Senator Sessions:  Well, I don't know, we've got our RFP in the Littoral Combat Ship that I'm told does not have factor for fuel costs.

Adm. Mullen:  But you know more about it than I do.  I haven't seen it.

Senator Sessions:  Well, if that's so, would you be willing to look at it and ask questions, if that's a wise decision?

Adm. Mullen:  Again, I've -- as I've said, I've been -- long time I've been concerned about lifecycle costs.  Actually, one of the, I think, weaknesses of the acquisitions system is typically the line is not involved in it.  The uniform side is not involved in it.  So I'm not involved from that -- from that point of view --

Senator Sessions:  Well --

Adm. Mullen:  -- and would under actually no circumstances see an RFP or look at its evaluation criteria in what I'm doing right now.

Senator Sessions:  Well, I would think you would be -- your awesome responsibility as part of procurement of the department, to see that at least basic requirements are being met.  And I think I hear you say that lifecycle costs, which certainly would include fuel, should be a factor in evaluation of the bids or the proposals. Wouldn't it?

Adm. Mullen:  (Chuckles.)  I've said lifecycle costs are an important factor and have been for a long time.

Senator Sessions:  Well, we'll have to follow up on that.  Thank you very much.

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I found this exchange about Arctic policy and the Combatant Commands to be particularly interesting. How the COCOMs are thinking about this issue is the topic of a working paper we’ll be releasing in the near future.

Senator Begich:  Climate change, Arctic policy -- I know you mention it and you start talking about it within this process.  And I think it's important.  There is an issue.  And maybe again at a later time as you know, we have three -- the European, the Northern and the Pacific Command -- that kind of manages it all together.  Is there a process you're going through now to try to bring some unified command, maybe a joint command?  Or how do we deal with that?  Because I know that's an issue that keeps popping up.  And are you going through a process now, Admiral?

Adm. Mullen:  I think we -- I think, we'd -- I think, Senator, we would use the normal process, which would bring all of that back here, certainly from the combatant commanders' standpoint.  And we do that routinely across a host of issues.  There's no view that I've heard of -- or certainly in -- don't see us, from an intention standpoint -- to create another command to handle this. But we are looking at the policy.  I actually want to give Thad Allen and the Coast Guard a lot of credit here, because --

Senator Begich:  They've done a great job.

Adm. Mullen:  -- they've actually done great work and brought it to our attention over the last couple of years.  We've moved ahead. We still have a long way to go there.

Senator Begich:  My time is up, but that is exactly -- you had said that the Coast Guard's really kind of been, you know, hollering out there at all of us.

Adm. Mullen:  Right.  Right.  

Senator Begich
:  And as you move forward on that, I would love to be engaged in that, be well aware -- huge opportunity, also a huge potential conflict --

Adm. Mullen:  Yes, sir.  Right.  

Senator Begich:  -- and so your work there would be greatly appreciated.  My time is up.  I tried to give you a variety pack, and you did a great job.  Thank you very much.

Senator Levin:  Thank you, Senator Begich.

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While it’s not directly natural security in nature, this was my favorite. I think it’s clear from the desire for increasing civilian capacity in our current conflicts, statements by defense leaders that we need to bolster State and USAID, and the many reports of poor civ-mil relations at DOD before Secretary Gates arrived that it’s critical that the many types of players in the national security arena (civilians, military, academics, media, other) need to get to know one another, form relationships, and understand that we can all easily work together as respectful colleagues. We get tremendous benefits from having military fellows as colleagues in the office, but that gain has nothing to do with a stipend. And I’d venture a guess that their think tank knowledge does actually have “added value” for DOD as well.

Senator Webb: … I don't believe quite frankly that the DOD budget should be sacrosanct when it comes to looking at the constraints and the examinations that we ought to be putting on different programs. And Secretary Gates, I take your point about not wanting to go into force structure reductions.  But at the same time, I believe, you can meet the challenges and adapt for the future and still clean up a lot of unnecessary programs that exist in the Pentagon, by taking a hard look at programs that don't produce a clear bottom line and are not simply hardware systems or force structure issues…   

         There's a program existing right now -- and I don't know the extent of it -- where we're sending -- basically sending military officers over to staff and fund think tanks.  Your own Undersecretary of Defense was part of creating a think tank, CNAS.  My understanding of these programs is they get military fellows -- these are active-duty people -- they go over, they get their full pay and allowances, but not only that, they get tuition.  The numbers that I -- that I saw were $17,000 a semester, quote -- whatever a semester is while you're over there -- to pay the rent, the computers, and all the rest of that. And essentially what that means is, the American taxpayer is funding think tanks, basically to keep them in business. They don't produce any really added value to the Department of Defense, in my view, in terms of a direct contribution.