Army Secretary Favors ‘Third-party’ Approach to Engage Congress
By David Vergun
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, May 1, 2013 Army leaders may not make the best advocates when it comes to convincing Congress and the American people which systems soldiers really need, Army Secretary John M. McHugh said here yesterday.
U.S. soldiers in South Korea train in their Abrams tanks. Army Secretary John M. McHugh said a study showed it would be more cost-effective to shut down the Abrams tank plant in Lima, Ohio, than to continue production. The money, he said, needs to go to other modernization and readiness efforts. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christen Best
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
On the flip side, Congress is not without its own biases when it comes to those decisions, McHugh told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
The path forward, he pointed out, is to use findings from third-party "analytics" sources.
Since third-party sources "don't have skin in the game, they can look at systems in a more detached way, maybe more so than the Army or Congress can," McHugh added.
McHugh, who served in Congress for 17 years, prefaced his remarks by saying he has the utmost respect for congressional oversight.
Nonbiased findings, he said, are particularly necessary as decisions are now being made on which programs to cut, delay, not start or reduce as the effects of sequestration and continuing resolutions continue to take their toll on Army modernization and readiness.
To illustrate the point, he provided two examples where the Army used third-party findings to make its case. The first example was the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank’s System Enhanced Program.
"There's a gap between the numbers we think are accurate and those the manufacturer and others believe are more accurate," he said, referring to the cost of shutting down production.
"We asked [the RAND Corp.] to take a careful look at the cost of taking down the Abrams line and then later starting it back up," McHugh said, implying it would be restarted once funding becomes available and enhancements are ready. The RAND Corp. is a nonprofit organization that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis.
RAND analysts said to shut the line down at the Lima, Ohio, plant and reopen it later would cost $342 million.
“That was substantially below the manufacturer's estimate," McHugh said, adding that "we accept that figure as a workable number."
McHugh continued: "It may not be the ideal decision for everyone, but these times suggest we have to prioritize our resources in [the] most appropriate way. It's a great program, but at this time we don't need it, and the money could be spent in other ways."
The Army secretary also cited as an example the Ground Combat Vehicle, or GCV, a replacement for aging armored fighting vehicles. The Army hired the A.T. Kearney industrial and analytics firm to study its production and procurement, McHugh said, and the Army likely will get the firm’s findings by June.
McHugh said he thinks the Army needs GCVs to provide critical capabilities for soldiers on the battlefield, and that he believes the study will support that.
Noting that tens of thousands of soldiers are in Afghanistan, McHugh said discussions on modernization are germane to current operations, not just to a theoretical future war.
Besides approving the Army's budget request and eliminating sequestration, McHugh said, another way Congress could help the Army would be to authorize it to do a specific analysis on a future round of base realignment and closure, known as BRAC.
"We're over-structured," he said, adding that the Army could use another round of BRAC. Having been involved in three rounds of BRAC while serving in Congress, McHugh added, he knows it’s tough.
"They're not fun. I recognize the difficulties [base closings] bring to people's lives," he said. However, he added, money saved through a thoughtful BRAC process could be better spent on keeping safe the soldiers who are in harm's way or on supporting programs such as the Ready and Resilient Campaign.
McHugh said it's a waste to maintain infrastructure "that is simply not useable or isn't being used, and that just adds to our energy inefficiency."
The last BRAC study was done a decade ago and it pointed to 20 percent excess infrastructure, McHugh said.
Meanwhile, McHugh said, the Army has been steadily engaged in the Pacific region for some time now, through humanitarian and natural disaster assistance, training with other armies, strengthening alliances, and building partner capacity.
Despite the fiscal situation, the Army will not cut funding for those engagements, McHugh said, citing some 24 bilateral and multilateral exercises scheduled in the coming year. Also, he said, the National Guard plans to expand its State Partnership Program to nations in that area and elsewhere.
In addition, the Army intends to make the commander of U.S. Army Pacific a four-star general position to put the commander "on a more equal footing to engage with other leaders across the Pacific Rim," McHugh said.
The secretary also said it would be a "mistake" to think of the strategic shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific region as somehow intending to confront China.
"I was very encouraged by the Chinese military leadership's recent visit where [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey] met with his Chinese counterpart to discuss working cooperatively for mutual interest in the Pacific region," McHugh said. "We want to build and strengthen positive military ties with the Chinese throughout that region. We intend to pursue those efforts on every level."