Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who Runs The Military?

For decades the Executive branch of the government has been usurping the powers and responsibilities of the Legislative branch.  Without getting bogged down in legalities, Congress is charged with the power to declare war, set funding, and exercise oversight of the military.  Congress has shamefully abdicated those powers for many decades and the results have been illegal Executive actions (by Presidents of both parties but on a scale previously unimaginable by the current President), runaway debt, out of control military expenditures, highly questionable military acquisition programs, and a politicized military leadership that is doing more harm to the country than good.

Very recently, Congress has begun to take minor steps to restore some of their Constitutional powers.  They have started to issue directives to the military (slapping down the Navy’s Aegis cruiser retirement plans, for example), demand reports on questionable programs, reapportion funds among various acquisition programs, and, in general, exercise some oversight. 

Predictably, the Executive branch has not taken kindly to this.  From the Defense News website comes this example.

“Speaking at the annual Sea-Air-Space conference outside of Washington, Carter [Defense Secretary Aston Carter] focused on what he called “unhelpful micromanagement” from the Hill, whether it be over the Senate’s plan to eliminate the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L), the House’s plan to end wartime contingency funding in April, or the refusal to allow the Pentagon to shut down installations round the country.”

“I would respectfully suggest that the informed expert judgment of the civilian and military leadership at the Department of Defense which is embodied in our budget proposal should receive greater support and be subject to less micromanagement,” Carter said.”

Unhelpful micromanagement??? 

First, let’s be very clear that Congress has not only the right but the responsibility to exercise the oversight that Carter views as “micromanagement”. 

Second, as I pointed out, Congress has been remiss in exercising those responsibilities for some time and it’s long overdue for them to begin managing the budget and the military whether at a “micro”, macro, or whatever level they so choose.

Third, I would remind Carter that the military and Executive’s record of performance without Congress’ management has been abysmal, to put it mildly.  I won’t even bother to list the litany of debacles that the military has engaged in with Congress rubber stamping the military’s “informed expert judgment”.

Finally, I would remind Carter that the military is owned, funded, and operated by the people through their Congress.  The military doesn’t own the military, the taxpayer does.

This kind of attitude demonstrates the blatant disrespect that the Executive branch has for the Constitution and Congress.  To be fair, Congress has brought this on themselves by abdicating their responsibilities for decades.  Still, America does not consist of the President and His Army.  America is still the people and their army. 

Congress may well make mistakes (he said in a classic example of understatement) but the responsibility for oversight is theirs and the Executive branch and their appointed military leaders need to recognize that or step aside.  For their part, Congress needs to vigorously exercise their powers and re-establish the balance of power that our government was founded on.

This is not a political blog and I post this only because it is directly linked to military procurement which is in the realm of this blog.


(1) Defense News website, “Carter Hits Hill for ‘Unhelpful Micromanagement’, Aaron Mehta, 17-May-2016,


  1. Curious that you say Congress has been taking steps to restore their constitutional powers. Powers that say this ship must be maintained in service or that plane must be maintained in service. And yet they dont provide adequate money for their maintenance , which is their responsibility.
    Dont recall the Constitution saying Congress shall have oversight of the branches of the military. Its more an implied power which has been supported by the courts.
    i would think an actual power-
    "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States"
    trumps an implied power any time.

    1. I am not going to get too deeply into a discussion of constitutional powers. You clearly do not understand the checks and balances of the constitution. I will give you a very short answer and that will terminate any further discussion of this aspect.

      Congress has the complete power of funding and the right and responsibility to allocate that funding as it sees fit. They can allocate broadly or they can specify how many rivets to purchase. It's their choice. It's their obligation to exercise oversight on how that money is spent. How wisely they exercise their powers is another issue.

      Check your US history and you'll see that Congress has, from the founding of our country on, gotten involved in the specifics of shipbuilding - specifying things like how many ships to build, what type, where the ships would be built, and who the builder would be. The only thing new, now, is that Congress has begun to re-exert their responsibilities after a long period of neglect.

      I offer this explanation for the benefit of non-US readers. This is not a political blog so this is the end of this aspect of the discussion. There are numerous on-line sources of information if you wish to learn more about US governmental workings.

  2. I agree with your premise. But I will say that there is enough blame to go around for both branches.

    Members of Congress have not met a defense program they do not like as long as it puts money in their district. To use your point, where is the cut off of funding on the F-35 or the LCS. Even the new SSC is funded. Where was Congress when the Navy left the new boomer out of their shipbuilding budget? Someone should have at least said where is it?

    Back to your point, the Executive if running amuck and proposing (and worse defending) these screwball programs that do nothing for Defense other than get Admirals and Generals cushy retirement jobs.

    It is a sad and sorry state we find ourselves in.

    1. The point of the post, and I think you understood it, was that the Executive branch, having gotten everything they wanted for many years, has created the hollow, ill-suited force we have today. Protesting a tiny bit of oversight by Congress when the Executive's performance has been abysmal is the height of hypocrisy as well as an utter lack of recognition of the constitutional role that Congress is supposed to play.

      The post was in no way a defense of the performance of Congress!

  3. Unrelated news, I wasn't aware of it but some of new features for next SSBN will be tested on next Virginia class South Dakota....


  4. It seems that Congressional oversight has failed if it was intended to be a real system of goals achieved and failures punished and is instead just a piecemeal system that favours benefits for a few districts and fundraising for re-election.
    Its not that hard to do, as CNO does a good job of pointing out repeated failures, but the question is why the far better resourced Senate and Congress havent been able to do. Without going into the political territory it might be because oversight is just another part of the failed system.
    All the military officers and civilians who matter in acquisition require confirmation, so you could wonder how the incompetent could rise to the top, unless congress allows it. Mcain seems to have been a lone voice instead of being one of many.

  5. Apparently the defense industry runs the military for its own benefit, at least where procurement is concerned.

    Congress has been far from perfect as an institution, but it has at times, saved the military from gross mismanagement and outright incompetence.

    I think that America needs to get the corruption out, and to elect honest leaders. That means campaign finance reform. The other is that they need an advisory to actually give them the technical expertise to understand what they are voting for (something that not all members have - a potentially dangerous situation).

    The other is that the military must not be used as "pork" for districts. That will need some sort of oversight.

    It is clear that mismanagement is at many levels, tragically.

  6. Defense contractors run it which explains why each and every replacement is more expensive than what it replaced both to buy and maintain.

    Just look at all the replacement classes adjusted for inflation, even when the ships are very similar across generation, costs are significantly higher.It is hard to justify this with 'technology' excuse when we are comparing say one LPHD class to another with largely the same dimensions/configuration.

    You don't pay more each year because TVs get better, or cell phones get better, or cars get better. Obviously if you go from a small Sedan/Hatchback to an SUV you pay more, your buying more vehicle. If we go from a Honda to a Ferrari, we pay more. We are buying a top of the line no-expense spared performance vehicle with a big branding premium compared to a basic commuter with not brand value...

    But this is not the case with the military. A ford class carrier is no bigger than a nimitz, it is not a Ferrari vs a Ford, sure it's got some new technology in it, but really the EMALS is actually mechanically less complicated than the steam catapult. Think about, all the piping and tanks to store the steam from the reactor? Vs wires and magnets? Basically the Naval equivalent of an electromagnetic railway track which cost $20M a Kilometer.

  7. "The other is that the military must not be used as "pork" for districts. That will need some sort of oversight."

    I totally agree. But its going to take some serious reality checks by the electorate. Some of this is just the tragedy of the commons written on a Republic.

    That base in my district? That's vital to national defense. The one in yours? PORK!

    1. Sometime bases can cost more to move than shutdown, and of course units or tenants can shift for various reasons.
      Its probably too much time spent on base issues and not enough on future aquisition.
      The Zumwalt class back around 2005, did no one in Congress see a colossal waste of money coming ? The USN could have had a practical cruiser design developed to replace the Ticos ( which is now another problem) which would be good for another 15 years production, but instead got a dead end.


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