US Foreign Policy

Budgeting for National Security

March 5, 2010 Gordon Adams, former Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, joined us for a discussion of the FY11 budget and the tools of national security.  Adams is co-author of Buying National Security: How America Plans and Pays for its Global Role and Safety at Home (Routledge 2010).

Dr. Adams introduced his new book first by explaining its rationale, to provide a detailed overview of the national security and foreign policy budget processes within and across the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government. Not only did he focus on agencies with clear national security and foreign policy missions, but also on domestic agencies with international components. This increasingly diverse group of agencies and the lack of institutionalized budget planning processes throughout the Executive and Legislative branches make budgeting for national security even more complex.

The allocation of an increasing proportion of the discretionary budget to the Department of Defense has contributed to a growing imbalance between the civilian and military instruments of statecraft. Overreliance stresses military capacity and capability, militarizes U.S. foreign policy, and undermines the institutions of the Department of State and USAID.

Questions focused on the political and institutional challenges to rebalancing departmental budgets controlling defense spending. Dr. Adams emphasized shared discipline and political will across the Executive and Legislative branches. Politics both inside Washington and across the country reinforce defense spending and make this discipline particularly difficult. As a consequence, DOD struggles at setting priorities while Congress often omits the probing scrutiny typical of other budget requests. The annual ‘unfunded requirements’ exchange represents this problem well, as does the exclusion of national security appropriations from the proposed budget freeze.

The event concluded with a discussion of how well the State Department’s capability and organizational culture match its mission. Dr. Adams noted that larger capacity is not always more effective. Increased appropriations is a necessary but not sufficient step for reinvigorating this department. Also needed is a strategic planning process a focus on execution.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan briefing series for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].

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