The Insider

By Dan Dupont
September 22, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The New York Times today takes a good look at what the two campaigns are doing to get ready for a transition of power should they win. It's not all about defense, but it's worth a read.

To wit:

Democrats said that John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, was leading the transition preparations for Mr. Obama. Mr. Podesta, who founded a lobbying firm with his brother in 1988, is president of the Center for American Progress, a sort of government-in-exile waiting for Democrats to regain power. At the McCain campaign, Republicans said, transition work is being coordinated by William E. Timmons, a longtime Washington lobbyist whose clients have included the American Petroleum Institute and the mortgage company Freddie Mac.

If Mr. McCain wins, Republicans said, his transition team will probably be led by Mr. Timmons and John F. Lehman, a McCain fund-raiser who was secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan. . . .

Clay Johnson III, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said "the White House staff has met with transition representatives" for Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama.

"Both campaigns are doing what they need to do to be prepared to govern on Jan. 20 at noon," said Mr. Johnson, who was executive director of the Bush transition team in 2000-1. "The amount of work being done before the election, formal and informal, is the most ever."

One more excerpt, this one more on-target for our purposes:

Experts on national security worry that America's opponents will try to take advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the transition, the first since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

"In every transition, there's a total vacuum for anywhere from three months to a year," Mr. Lehman said. "It's appalling. On 9/11, President Bush had only 30 percent of his national security appointees in place, and that was eight months after the inauguration."

Elaine C. Duke, an under secretary of homeland security, said her department was "poised and ready" to work with the McCain and Obama campaigns on transition planning before the Nov. 4 election. But she said, "We have not been contacted by either campaign."

Planning is essential, Ms. Duke said, because "terrorists perceive government transitions to be periods of increased vulnerability." She cited the bombing of the World Trade Center five weeks after Mr. Clinton took office in 1993; the Madrid train bombings in 2004, three days before national elections in Spain; and the car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow just days after a new British prime minister took office in 2007.

By Marjorie Censer
September 22, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The New York Times reports that the Defense Department has been slow to train military personnel in different languages, particularly Arabic. Though the Pentagon planned three years ago a sharp increase, the Times' story says the ramp-up has been slow and the objective is not entirely clear.

Figures from the department indicate that only 1.2 percent of the military receives a bonus paid to those who can speak languages judged to be of critical importance for the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other areas of strategic concern.

The military has struggled for years to develop a clear objective for language training.

In July, at a hearing of the House subcommittee charged with assessing the military's progress in language training, the chairman, Representative Vic Snyder, Democrat of Arkansas, said: "I think the Pentagon has a sense that they're moving in the right direction. I just don't think they have a sense yet of what that endpoint is."

John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who is co-author of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, said in an interview that the military had been moving too slowly, and he questioned the military's assertion that language needs were difficult to assess since they were subject to changing global security conditions.

The military by now should "have a pretty good idea of what countries we're fighting in," he said.

Improving the military's cultural awareness and language capabilities has been a key goal for many DOD officials -- and, most notably for our purposes, is among the top 25 transformation priorities in Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England's

By Kate Brannen
September 22, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Last night in an interview with 60 Minutes, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said government spending has gone "out of control" -- and that his administration would take steps to reduce it, which he said would include cuts in defense spending.

McCain: ... I think the major point here is that spending got out of control. How many Americans know that the size of government increased by 40 percent in the last seven years? We Republicans for six of the eight years presided over the greatest increase in government since the Great Society. Republicans came to power to change Washington. And Washington changed us.

Pelley: But how do you cut the budget?

McCain: Oh, easy. Look

Pelley: That much.

McCain: Look, if you were able to increase the budget and the size of government by 40 percent, don't you think you could cut some of it?

Pelley: What are you gonna cut?

McCain: I think we'll frankly, you can eliminate so many agencies of government that are outmoded. Obviously I would scrub defense spending. Obviously we would look at every institution of government. I would stop these protectionist tariffs. I would stop subsidizing sugar.

Pelley: Did I just hear you say you're gonna cut the defense budget?

McCain: I think there's areas in defense where we can save a lot of money in cost over runs.

McCain offered no specifics, though he has issued a budget plan that includes the following:

Balance the budget requires slowing outlay growth to 2.4 percent. The roughly $470 billion dollars (by 2013) in slower spending growth come from reduced deployments abroad ($150 billion; consistent with success in Iraq/Afghanistan that permits deployments to be cut by half -- hopefully more), slower discretionary spending in non-defense and Pentagon procurements ($160 billion; there are lots of procurements -- airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System -- that should be ended and the entire Pentagon budget should be scrubbed). . . .

However, there's been some confusion on that FCS bit -- he has, in fact, criticized Sen. Obama for allegedly opposing the program.


By Dan Dupont
September 22, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) spoke for the Obama campaign today at the 130th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States, held in Baltimore.

A taste:

When it comes to equipment -- to train on, to deploy with, and to have available at home for war or natural disasters - we have not provided what you need.

And that's wrong.

Ninety percent of units have serious equipment shortages.

Collectively, over $100 billion worth of equipment has been left in Iraq.

And we've seen the consequences of that.

Simply put, the states have been left with the tab to make up for this equipment shortage.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke to the group yesterday.

Biden also threw this out there:

Remember in 2006, when it was reported that the Department of Defense was making plans to cut National Guard force structure and strength?

Barack Obama and I were two of the 75 Senators to send a letter to the Secretary of Defense strongly opposing those plans.

John McCain didn't sign.

We believe we shouldn't be cutting back on the Guard at the very time we're asking you to do more.

By Dan Dupont
September 21, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was in Baltimore today to talk to, and about, the National Guard.

The occasion was the 130th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States. He called for a "new and lasting commitment" to the Guard that he said "must begin with our political leadership recognizing the sheer magnitude of what we ask Guard units to accomplish -- abroad and here at home -- with a force comprised primarily of part-time soldiers and airmen."

This means a national leadership that respects and treats our governors and adjutant generals as partners in national and homeland security policymaking, rather than as impediments and intruders. Part of that essential effort was to grant the Chief of the National Guard Bureau the fourth star that the position merits -- and I'm pleased to congratulate General-Select Craig McKinley on being the first Guardsman to wear that fourth star.

This means getting rid of policies, practices, and customs that fail to promote a seamless Total Force based on cooperation, jointness, and the mutual respect that all components, including the Guard and Reserve, have earned with their blood and bravery. We cannot afford -- and I will not tolerate -- an environment in which parochialism stands in the way of building an integrated Total Force.

This means giving the National Guard all the manpower it needs -- including a sufficient complement of full-time positions -- so that every unit is ready to mobilize for any contingency. This means providing all the training the Guard requires, so that no one is asked to take on a mission unprepared. And it means ensuring that our Guard is well supplied, so that no unit will ever go into harm's way without the best equipment that America can provide.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) speaks for the Democratic ticket tomorrow.

By Marjorie Censer
September 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Talk of the Pentagon's goal of institutionalizing the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization flared back up again this week on Capitol Hill, where Bradley Berkson, director for programs, analysis and evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, assured lawmakers that the Pentagon has increased its base budget funding for JIEDDO in the future years defense plan, among other steps. (Transcript here.)

Institutionalizing JIEDDO is, of course, one of the "top 25" transformation priorities laid out over a year ago by Defense Secretary Gordon England.

In his Aug. 9, 2007, memo, he said the objective was "to complete or advance to a major milestone each of these initiatives and also to have them institutionalized by December, 2008" -- right before the new administration comes in.

England added that "(c)ompleting these initiatives by the end of next year will be greatly beneficial to the next management team and to our military forces."

Other goals included in England's memo were rapidly fielding Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles --- for which the last anticipated contract was awarded earlier this month; strengthening cultural awareness and language capabilities; and pursuing targeted acquisition reforms like the Configuration Steering Boards now in place.

Read the memo and judge for yourself how many goals have been met.

By Dan Dupont
September 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

And it is a race -- for the new administration to figure out what to do with space, according to a new report written up today on

In the wake of last year's Chinese anti-satellite test and the more recent U.S. shoot-down of a defective intelligence satellite, the next administration needs to address as soon as possible what kind of international space regime best suits its interests, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations report.

Last December, a Chinese missile destroyed an aging weather satellite, and earlier this year, the United States shot down a defective intelligence satellite deemed to pose a danger to human health because of its toxic fuel.

"While the United States will likely remain the preeminent space power at least for the next twenty to thirty years, it will no longer enjoy the level of near-monopoly on military space capability that it has enjoyed since the fall of the Soviet Union," the report, released Sept. 18, states. "As China becomes a credible space power with a demonstrated offensive counterspace capability, the question for U.S. policy is what kind of feasible and stable space regime best serves U.S. long-term security interests.

"This question should be addressed early in the new administration's tenure, if not earlier," the report emphasizes.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey recently wrote his own report on Air Force Space Command, asserting that because the existing Air Force space strategy is "under-resourced and severely constrained," the next administration will have "at most a year" to make critical decisions relating to the United States' global superiority in space -- before it starts "rapidly eroding."

By Dan Dupont
September 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Among the many initiatives being punted to the next administration is, of course, the new Air Force tanker, something that has occupied one of the presidential contenders -- Sen. John McCain -- for quite a while.

Today's Inside the Air Force brings word that the Air Force's top acquisition executive is open to embracing a relatively new Pentagon policy -- competitive prototyping -- for the next tanker:

During a broad-ranging interview with Inside the Air Force this week, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Sue Payton pulled the curtain back on several aspects of the collapse of the service's KC-X tanker competition and what acquisition officials are doing to make sure it does not happen again.

Payton -- who has served as the Air Force's top weapons buyer since 2006 -- discussed the need for competition for military contracts and was extremely supportive of Pentagon acquisition chief John Young's guidance for the services to invest more in the research and development phases of programs, which includes prototyping.

"We could have invested and had a fly-off and had some real concrete data," Payton said on the tanker competition during the Sept. 17 interview.

When asked if she supported prototyping in the next go-round of bidding, Payton replied, "I tell you what, I would."

Whether Sen. McCain would is another question.

Another good question: If McCain wins -- or, for that matter, if Sen. Obama wins -- will the author of the prototyping policy, Pentagon acquisition chief John Young, stick around?

More reading, from last September:

By Jason Sherman
September 16, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The Defense Department is going through the Mother of All Budget Drills, gaming options for how it would spend an additional $57 billion in fiscal year 2010, according to the Pentagon's No. 2 official.

"We have considered a range of possibilities, and that's certainly one of them," England said of the $57 billion boost, first reported by "But we won't have that budget together until November." England's comments, delivered following an address to the Navy League of New York City on Sept. 12, mark the first public acknowledgment by a Pentagon official that a major increase in defense spending could be in the offing.

Such a boost would be an 11th hour bid by the White House to revise the Pentagon's base budget, which the administration set on a course to steadily decline between FY-10 and FY-13 in its current five year budget plan.

The big question on the minds of many inside the building and on the Hill is when a decision on the size of the FY-10 budget will be made: before or after the Nov. 4 presidential election.

By Dan Dupont
September 16, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The presidential campaign descends on Baltimore -- and the National Guard -- early next week, with Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Biden scheduled to address the NGAUS general conference.

McCain will present Sunday at 3:30 p.m. while Biden will speak Monday at 11:30 a.m. More than 4,000 Guard officers and guests are expected to attend the conference at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The candidates will speak in Baltimore as thousands of Guardsmen handle a wide range of duties worldwide. More than 52,000 Guard soldiers and airmen are currently deployed overseas while another 21,000 are on domestic missions, such as helping Louisiana and Texas recover from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

"The candidates are well aware of the Guard's contributions, and they know the Guard will be critical in the years ahead," said retired Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Koper, NGAUS president.

"But the candidates are coming to Baltimore because they also know that Guardsmen vote, many are opinion leaders in their local communities and the best way to reach them is the NGAUS conference," he said.

This is the fifth consecutive presidential election that a member of the Democratic and Republican tickets will speak to the NGAUS conference.

September 12, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar and commander of the 24th Infantry Division during Operation Desert Storm, has done another in a series of after-action reports, this one on Air Force Space Command.

His main point? The new president and his advisers, whoever they may be, have some work to do, and that right quick. From our story:

Because the existing Air Force space strategy is "under-resourced and severely constrained," the next president will have "at most a year" to make critical decisions regarding the United States' global superiority in space before it starts "rapidly eroding," according to a retired Army general.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey -- an adjunct professor of International Affairs at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY -- visited Air Force Space Command last month and met with the command's leadership in order to provide an independent operational assessment of Air Force capabilities and requirements. His "after action report" -- obtained by Inside the Air Force -- was submitted to Cols. Mike Meese and Cindy Jebb of West Point on Sept. 2.

McCaffrey has taken good long looks at Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, too:

By Zachary M. Peterson
September 12, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Advisers to presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama talked about intel last week, urging U.S. agencies to better coordinate and share information at home and abroad, Inside the Navy reports:

"The New York Police Department intelligence unit, I think, is the best intelligence unit in the world," John Lehman, a former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan who advises McCain, said Sept. 10 at a conference on homeland security sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. "I would far sooner get a briefing from them every morning than I would CIA -- they are small, they're lean, they're agile and they bring in people with outside expertise; they're not bureaucratic."

Lehman argued the intelligence community in the United States is "bloated."

"In my judgment, though there have been great efforts made and some tremendous leaders and professionals trying to work and rearrange the deck chairs on this Titanic, it is worse than it was at 9/11 in producing usable intelligence product for the president, for commanders engaged in combat," he said.

"Fundamental reform is going to have to be addressed to the intelligence community, including the FBI," Lehman added.

Also quoted is Rachana Bhowmik, Obama's adviser for homeland security:

"One of the important issues that we've seen under-exercised in the last eight years is the role of intelligence in the Department of Homeland Security," Bhowmik said. "I think we're still kind of getting our sea legs. How does the director of national intelligence interact with the Department of Homeland Security? How does the Department of Homeland Security handle its intelligence role? This is still not clear, but what is clear is we do not have an effective, cooperative relationship with our state and local governments."