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Work: Continued Fiscal Uncertainty Creates Cascading Effects

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2014 – Continued fiscal uncertainty has the potential to create cascading effects across all elements of the Defense Department’s enterprise, President Barack Obama’s nominee to take the Pentagon’s No. 2 post said today.

“Having a stable fiscal picture will help the department avoid inefficiencies and maximize the resources allocated to it,” Robert O. Work said in written answers submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing as deputy secretary of defense.

If the Senate confirms him for the position, Work said, he’s aware of the challenges he’ll face.

“Clearly, the first challenge and responsibility is to get the entire department behind the secretary’s priorities,” he said. “While doing so, the deputy secretary must carefully manage its diminished resources. Indeed, the dynamic fiscal environment is a major challenge, since it relates to the principal function of the deputy and [chief management officer] roles.”

Another challenge, Work said, will be implementation of the National Security Strategy, consciously and deliberately managing risk and applying resources in accordance with the strategy’s priorities.

“I also foresee the need to carefully manage our science and technology investments,” he told the senators. “I agree with recent comments [from the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics] about not taking our technological dominance for granted. We should deliberately prioritize our long-term needs and carefully allocate funding to key programs and potential game-changing technologies that meet our strategic requirements.”

Two key elements of the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal outlined yesterday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were reductions in force structure and a corresponding request to Congress for a new round of base realignments and closures in fiscal 2017. Work said the need to assess and define the department’s force structure design with its strategy while making resource-informed decisions about force levels.

“A force-sizing construct will be a key aspect of the upcoming [Quadrennial Defense Review] to help define those force levels against various levels of risk,” he said.

If sequestration-level spending cuts remain the law, Work said, they not only would force deep reductions in force structure, but also would starve DOD of funds for readiness and maintaining the U.S. technological edge.

“I understand that Budget Control Act spending caps remain in place for [fiscal] 2016 and beyond,” he said, “and there is significant lead time involved in adjusting military end strength levels. This may inhibit the military services from using any of the additional [fiscal years 2014 and 2015] budget authority provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act for this purpose.”

On BRAC, Work said examining the Defense Department’s supporting infrastructure is necessary, both for alignment with strategic needs and opportunities to reduce unneeded capacity. “BRAC provides a fair and comprehensive way to do that,” he added.

Reining in health care costs also figures prominently in the budget request, and Work said that if confirmed, he would seek the best ways to do so.

“As I understand the situation, health care consumes nearly 10 percent of the department’s budget and could grow considerably over the next decade, taking an ever-larger bite of our ability to invest in our people or in enhanced warfighting capability,” he said. “I realize the health care benefit is a key component of retention for our men and women, so I will work closely with the health care leadership in DOD to find reasonable and responsible ways to stem this growth without breaking faith with our troops and their families.”

He also pledged to be a proactive participant in making certain the necessary resources are in place to properly take care of recovering wounded, ill and injured service members and their families. “I am particularly interested in understanding the research initiatives we have in place to evaluate the effects of [post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury],” he said, “making certain we are addressing these signature issues of our most recent conflicts in a meaningful way.”

Work also addressed quality-of-life programs, which he said improve the well-being and resilience of service members and military families and enhance the department’s ability to recruit an all-volunteer force. “Taking care of our service members and their families is one of the department’s top priorities,” he told the senators. “If confirmed, I will continue to prioritize those quality-of-life programs that effectively meet our service members’ needs and [those] of their families.”

For the last year, Work has been the CEO for the center for a New American Security. He noted that he has been part of or has analyzed and studied the Defense Department and the services for his entire life, having grown up in a Marine Corps family before earning his commission through the Navy ROTC program and serving for 27 years as a Marine Corps artillery officer, retiring as a colonel.

“I was married for 23 of my 27 years in the Marine Corps, and was a father for 11,” he said. “I watched my wife cope with frequent moves and the stress of me being away. Then, I missed some of my daughter’s birthdays, school plays and dance recitals. As a former member of a military family, I knew how hard it was to be constantly on the move and not having my dad around. But now it was me often leaving my wife and daughter to take care of themselves.”

Work spent his last two years on active duty as the military assistant and senior aide to then-Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. “During this time, I observed what it was like to lead a military department, where strategy, service cultures, politics, programming and budgeting come into play,” he said. “I observed the 2001 QDR from the Department of Navy level, recognizing the Navy-Marine Corps team was very much more than the sum of its two parts. In the process, I became an ardent departmentalist, seeking cooperation and understanding across institutional boundaries.”

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Work spent most of the next eight years at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national think tank, where he studied, wrote and spoke extensively on strategy, global posture, revolutions in war and maritime affairs. He assisted the “Red Team” for the 2006 Quadrennial Defense review, testing key assumptions and challenging major objectives.

This body of experience, Work said, prepared him well to be undersecretary of the Navy. In that position, he led the Navy’s efforts on the 2010 QDR and participated in the 2011 Strategic review. Throughout that time, he said, he gained a “great appreciation” for DOD civilians, who he called “a vital part of the total force.”

“Although no job will ever prepare someone for the expansive responsibilities of the deputy secretary of defense,” Work told the Senate panel, “I believe this body of experience qualifies and prepares me to tackle the duties of the deputy secretary of defense.”

(Follow John D. Banusiewicz on Twitter: @BanusiewiczAFPS)

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