We need the Navy in charge of Congress (for budget purposes)

You might remember a certain war that we “won” a few years back .  I guess we’ve been winning it ever since, because it would not do to lose after you’ve won, but that’s a thread for another day.  Anyway, I was the Public Works Officer of a small (US) Navy base in South Korea when it started.  {Side note: to be fair, calling it “won” is not how the public learned that we had “won”, rather, it was “mission accomplished.”}  Despite that nice PR photo-op on my alma mater (I was part of the pre-commissioning crew for the Abraham Lincoln before I got picked up for an officer program) the Global War on Terror, or GWOT, continued.  Prior to the current administration, ever since 2001, funding for the GWOT came from “emergency funding essentially outside of the annual budget process.”    In budget parlance, those were known as Supplemental Appropriations. To the rest of us, it was muddying the waters. And despite the Supplementals, there was still not enough money to run the business and the war.  So, the DoD ate it, and siphoned from within. No choice.

Now, all the services were given their cost share in the GWOT and told to come up with savings to meet the goal/share.  And we did. When the appropriations (more deficit) came through, the share was reduced, but cuts were still made and taken.

In the Navy, the shore facilities take the first hits – we do after all, need to keep the ships and planes working and where they need to be.  The other services have parallel situations.  And the squeeze comes down to making the entire enterprise lean.  When Commander Navy Installations Command stood up in 2003, the very bright, overworked and under-appreciated staffers tackled the shore installation budget process head on.  Out in the field, we learned a new phrase – “zero based budgeting.” Which essentially means, it doesn’t matter what you spent last year, what will it cost now to do only what you need to do?

And the “need to do” changed.  Old standards were no longer standards and status quo became personae non gratae.  Can we get away with mowing the grass every two weeks instead of every week? Every three? What’s the highest we can set the air conditioning temperature without affecting health?  Let’s have people empty their own trash. Decisions made by people way above my paygrade.

We actually came up with three budgets in the span of one fiscal year.  We had to redo the FY04 budget, prepare the FY05 budget and then, during the normal budget cycle, prepare the FY06 budget.  A huge learning curve and challenging process, but it paid off.  And we contributed to – took out of hide to pay our fair share of – the unfunded cost of the GWOT. We learned the “true” cost of doing business. Sort of. It’s a hard concept to wrap one’s head around if one doesn’t count beans for a living.  But engineers can do nearly anything. (Okay,  more than engineers were involved.)

The long-winded point of this Jim story is this:  develop the budget – all 2200+ pages of it – from the bottom up.  Get the true cost of doing the business and fund THAT and that only.  And when anyone in Congress wants to tack on an earmark, that person has to explain to to an Admiral (or a General) exactly why he or she should be allowed to add that mark to the budget.  I had some tough Admirals to convince and not the toughest for sure.  You think a Congressional hearing is tough? Hardly.

So why the military? Because anyone who wants to do the job is either nuts or has a personal agenda. Order the military to oversee the process and report directly to the President and I’ll bet our deficit is gone in one year and we can be well on our way to paying off the debt. Order the military, and not only will it get done, but it will get done now and it will get done right.  I’m admittedly biased on that matter.  And I’m even more unashamedly biased when I submit that the Navy will do it best.

Over-simplification? Yes, but paraphrasing Kor in the Star Trek original series episode “Errand of Mercy” – wouldn’t it be glorious?

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