The "comprehensive strategic review," or as we've called it, the Mother of All Reviews -- the latest Big Forthcoming Document that has sparked the latest vibrations of Review Messianism across Washington -- won't be out until next year, a top DoD spokesman said Wednesday. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed for reporters that the review will be submitted along with the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 budget request to Congress, likely in February. That will be well after the joint congressional panel known as the "super committee" will have succeeded or failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction, and after it becomes clear whether the budget sequestration of the Doomsday Device will go into effect.
Little reiterated the Pentagon's position that it has given more than its fair share of budget reductions, which he said will be difficult enough to absorb, and repeated that the Building would be so devastated by sequestration that it's too horrifying to contemplate -- Buzz's words, not his. But the message was clear. The Pentagon will deal with the super committee behind the scenes as much as possible, betting that defense spending will survive intact and that lawmakers will reach an accord. Then, next year, DoD will try to control its destiny as much as possible with the double-barreled blast of its big review and its annual budget submission.
Secretaries Gates and Panetta both said it's essential that the coming defense build-down must follow a blueprint, a strategic framework that dictates where to reduce spending and where to maintain it. The build-down must not, they repeated, be a math exercise in which Congress or the White House picks a number and the budget gets cut across the board. To get a blueprint, you need a big review, hence the one now underway. But in the meantime, the White House imposed a $400 billion reduction in DoD budget growth anyway, as part of this summer's debt ceiling farce. There was a lot of bad noise, but it was a shrewd move by the administration: DoD had already been anticipating a budget hit around that level after President Obama's speech in the spring, so the debt ceiling deal enabled it to keep the internal work it had already done and get political points as it appeared to weather double shockwaves, even though it was effectively the same one.
That appearance of a double-whammy may be what has given Pentagon officials confidence they'll be safe from the super committee. If people believe the Pentagon has already taken a one-two punch from budget cuts, further reductions may be that much tougher to sell. And we all know that if the super committee fails to get a deal, that's the worst fate of all, because it would trigger the dead-man's switch on the Doomsday Device, and then it's just game over, man. So the view inside the Building is that the super-team just isn't allowed to fail.
But DoD's sometime allies on the Hill evidently have not been read in on the master plan -- if in fact there is one. As Defense News ace Kate Brannen reminded us Wednesday, congressional defense advocates have been writing and asking for details about what's going to happen with all this, but they've been getting radio silence. As Brannen wrote, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon even asked specifically about the comprehensive review. If past experience is any clue, McKeon and other defense advocates want a report that helps reinforce their belief that it's a dangerous world and requires a lot of military hardware. And they'd probably like that report yesterday, to have it ready while the super committee does its business. But even though Little said he is confident Panetta and other top DoD officials will be in constant touch with Congress through the end of the year, Little said he doesn't anticipate any major reports will make it across the Potomac before next year's budget submission.
McKeon isn't just sitting on his hands, though: On Wednesday he released a YouTube video making a case for protecting defense spending, which you can check out here.
What do you think?