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We have a plan to fit the Pentagon’s budget to defense strategy

The United States’ ability to strengthen deterrence and maintain advantage over strategic competitors depends on how our Department of Defense can quickly and effectively field innovative capabilities while optimizing force structure.

How can our military rapidly adapt to changes in geopolitics, technology, economics, and our environment? As chair and vice chair of the Congressionally mandated Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Reform, we believe agility and speed for defense budgeting are an essential part of the answer.

The commission, formed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 and comprising 14 commissioners representing a diversity of experience, has concluded that significant improvements can be made, even though there are noteworthy strengths in the current PPBE process.

We identified five overall areas of improvement for the planning, programming, budgeting and execution (PPBE) process.

The first line of effort is to revise business processes to promote innovation adoption and warfighting adaptability. Today’s technologies are advancing in a continual development, production, and sustainment cycle. Current processes can take two to three years to navigate all the wickets, which can unintentionally limit the full scope of our U.S. capability advantage.

The commission is deliberating changes to PPBE that will speed the process, including the ability to move funding more quickly during the budget execution year to innovate and adapt more effectively. These changes and all others proposed by the commission would be implemented where appropriate with provisions to preserve congressional oversight.

Second, the Pentagon has not always had success in linking budgets to strategy. Yet the Defense Department’s budget needs to reflect our country’s defense priorities clearly and seamlessly. The commission is considering reforms to key PPBE documents, such as the Department’s Defense Planning Guidance, in order to more clearly communicate how the budget implements strategy.

Third, while Congress and the Defense Department have worked together for many years to meet national security needs, some actions may improve timely communication to enhance meaningful dialogue. For example, the commission heard from Congressional staff that, after the avalanche of data that accompanies the president’s budget, information from the Pentagon is episodic, sometimes late, and not always consistent. In one of the recommendations that can be implemented now, we urge the Department to provide Congress a mid-year budget update briefing.

Lines of effort four and five are critical enablers of the PPBE process. The fourth is using digital business systems and data analytics to consolidate and streamline the PPBE process, and the fifth is ensuring the Defense Department has an effective workforce to execute each phase of the PPBE process.

In our Interim Report, issued on Aug. 15, we identify 10 potential recommendations that require significant and substantive stakeholder inputs and further assessment. These potential recommendations may become recommendations in our Final Report, which will be issued next in March. We will communicate our findings, work actively with stakeholders, and conduct further research over the next four months. Our Interim Report also advances 13 specific actions the Department and Congress can act on now that range from restructuring budget justification books to systematically reviewing and consolidating budget line items.

We are committed to building on past efforts to reform how the Defense Department translates the National Defense Strategy to a spending plan that enables the U.S. to field the most capable force at the speed of relevance. The future of our military and of our nation demands nothing less.

Robert Hale, chair of the Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution, formerly served as Under Secretary of Defense for Comptroller/Chief Financial Officer. Ellen Lord, the commission’s vice chair, formerly served as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.

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