Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday described the Pentagon under the reorganization of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols act as “a department designed to plan for war,” but not organized to fight protracted campaigns. Gates, using his own experience under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said his use of special task forces to push through rapid buys of equipment, such as the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles and enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities worked, but with severe limits. Programs needed immediately by warfighters “cannot depend on the intense personal attention of the secretary,” he added.
In acquisition, “we succeeded in building a new layer of bureaucracy.” Gates said a better balance is needed between the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and the services in deciding which equipment to buy. “The balance has shifted too far to ATL.” The defense authorization bill passed by both houses would shift some equipment buys back to the services. Gates warned against service parochialism over its setting long-term priorities over immediate needs and the need for the services accountable for decisions they make in acquisition. At the same time, he said, “Congress must end its bad behavior” of “parochial interests” when it comes to weapons systems and keeping open installations that should be closed. The government needs “a regular approved budget at the beginning of the fiscal year.”
Gates, as he has in the past, called the across-the-board cuts called for in the Budget Control Act, “mindless,” but it is a situation that the government will face again next year if a spending agreement to raise caps is not reached in Congress.