UPDATED: With Comments By Respected Analyst Andrew Krepinevich
One of the niftier political and policy battles going on -- whether to establish a National Defense Panel to watch over the QDR -- took an interesting turn late last week when the Senate Armed Services Committee decided to leave out its draft defense bill language requiring such a panel.
I checked with the committee about this and they argue that they don't need to stick any language in their bill since a panel is already required by the legislation that first established the Quadrennial Defense Review process. A committee source said, "the law already requires the Secretary of Defense to establish an 'independent panel' to review the QDR's report."
However, one of the most potent backers of an NDP, the Heritage Foundation's Mackenzie Eaglen, says that's basically a lot of hogwash. "That's a sketchy answer because the law is clear: yes, a panel is required yet Congress has not forced DoD to convene that panel since the late 1990s. The panel only happens when Congress directs it by reminding the SecDef of the law and authorizing funds for the panel's work," she said in an email. She notes that there has been "only one official National Defense Panel and that was in 1997."
The Republicans want an NDP in part because they worry Gates is going to shut them out through the use of non-disclosure agreements as he did during the budget deliberations. While this would affect all in Congress the majority at least has the chance to do something about it. However, it's not a strictly partisan issue, as became clear when the House Armed Services Committee included language for an NDP in its bill.
I pressed Andrew Krepinevich , head of the respected Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, on the question of whether the country needs an NDP. When reading his answer, bear in mind that Krepinevich has been asked to work with Andy Marshall, legendary head of the Office of Net Assessment, and Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of Joint Forces Command, to help run what Defense Secretary Robert Gates called a Red Team to ensure there's an independent voice to speak out on the QDR.
Krepinevich would neither confirm nor deny that an NDP is needed. Instead, he set out conditions that would warrant its creation. He said a panel would be needed if it was clear we're going to get a lousy QDR. That's not clear yet. If the country faces a period of profound change" then we may well need one. He said we do face such a period. He did caution that sometimes independent panels do more harm than good. With all that, it seemed pretty clear he did not think the country absolutely needed an NDP, but he wouldn't speak against its creation either...
Eaglen is optimistic one will be created, in the long term. "It is very disappointing the SASC members are going to hope on a wing and a prayer there will be an independent assessment even though there is little precedent for this even with the law being clear. Given the strong sentiment in the House for a NDP, however, I hope and expect the truly independent panel to survive conference negotiations," she said.