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Commission Recommends Changes to DOD Planning, Budgeting Processes

A congressionally chartered commission has recommended changes to bring the Defense Department's planning, programming, budgeting and execution process into the 21st century.

A person in a business suit speaks as a uniformed service member watches.
Budget Briefing
Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller/Chief Financial Officer) Robert Hale, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry Spencer brief the news media about the fiscal 2012 Defense Budget Request. Hale and Ellen Lord, former undersecretary of defense for Acquisition and sustainment, led a team that proposed recommendations to bring the DOD planning, programming, budgeting and execution process into the 21st century.
Photo By: Bob Ward, DOD
VIRIN: 110214-D-9880W-077Y

The commission, led by Chair Robert Hale and Vice Chair Ellen Lord, presented 28 recommendations to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. Hale and Lord spoke about the recommendations at a Defense Writers Group breakfast yesterday. 

Hicks said DOD will evaluate the commission's recommendations in close cooperation with Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and other stakeholders. "An especially timely recommendation from the commission is its call for on-time defense appropriations," Hicks said in a written statement. "Today, the department is less than a week away from releasing our [fiscal year] 2025 budget request, even as we still await [fiscal] 2024 appropriations — more than five months late and counting." 

Hicks called on Congress "to undertake the single most important defense resourcing reform for our generation: a return to predictable and routine resourcing to ensure the federal government can meet the nation's national security needs." 

Hale, who served as DOD's chief financial officer from 2009 to 2014, and Lord, who was the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment from 2018 to 2021, led 12 other commissioners in fashioning the recommendations. An interim report with 13 recommendations, released in August, is already being implemented.  

The commission's key recommendation is for the department to replace the planning, programming, budgeting and execution process—often called the PPBE process—implemented in 1961, with a new defense resourcing system.  

"After 30 years of focus on regional, asymmetric threats, the U.S. now faces strategic challenges with [China] as a pacing threat while simultaneously contending with immediate threats from Russia, North Korea, Iran and instability in the Middle East," the commission's report said in the executive summary. "This ever-evolving security environment demands rapid and large-scale evolution of current military capabilities." 

The current process does not give DOD leaders "the ability to implement change at the scale and speed the DOD requires," the summary said. 

Uniformed service members walk alongside civilians while talking.
Norfolk Tour
Navy Capt. Kavon Hakimzadeh, then-commander of the USS Harry S. Truman, talks to Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, during tour of Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 2020.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Christopher Suarez
VIRIN: 201002-N-XR893-1134Y

"I think transitioning from the PPBE process to the defense resourcing system process is an enormous opportunity for bipartisan and bicameral activity," Lord told the group. "We need that right now." 

Both Hale and Lord said the recommendations will depend on cooperation and communication between DOD and Congress. "Congress has got to recognize some kind of a balance between the need for flexibility to foster innovation and adaptability and oversight, and we kept that in mind — or tried to — in all of our recommendations; this … [process] is good at the mitigating effects," Hale said. 

The recommendations can be grouped in five critical areas:

  • Improving the alignment of budgets to strategy.
  • Fostering innovation and adaptability.
  • Strengthening relationships with Congress.
  • Modernizing business systems and data analytics.
  • Strengthening the workforce. 

The current PPBE process came into being when there was no such thing as a computer network, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union was at its height. DOD was the driver for technological advancement in computers, data storage, satellites and much more.  

"The environment in which we live right now is very, very different than 60 years ago," Lord said. "We have a complexity of multiple, geopolitical threats emerging in different places. We also have a technology ecosystem that is very, very rapidly evolving." 

While DOD can drive technology today in some specialties, private firms are now the bedrock of innovation, and the current PPBE process makes it difficult to take advantage of those innovations, Lord said. 

Both Hale and Lord said the recommendations will empower those working in program executive offices and project management offices, especially. They also said the workforce will need some formal training to get the most out of the recommendations.  

Innovation, speed and adaptability are keys to almost all the recommendations, and Hale and Lord called for the department to establish an implementation team to put the recommendations in place. Some of the recommendations can be put in place immediately, some will require some time to put in place, Hale said. 

Some of the recommendations the commission highlighted would increase the availability of operating funds, mitigate problems caused by continuing resolutions, create a common analytics platform, and establish continuing planning and analysis.

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