Options to Improve U.S. Army Ground Combat Platform Research and Development

Mel Daniels has served in the United States military for nearly twenty years. Mel is new to writing. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group or person.

National Security Situation:  The modernization of U.S. Army ground combat platforms includes risks that are not presently mitigated.

Date Originally Written:  August, 16, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that the U.S. Army’s over reliance on immature technologies are a risk to national security. Further, the author believes that the risk can be mitigated by slowing development and reducing research and development (R&D) investments while reinvesting in proven material solutions until new systems prove technologically reliable and fiscally feasible to implement.

Background:  The U.S. Army is investing in programs that remain unproven and are unlikely to provide the capabilities sought. Specifically, the Army is heavily investing in its Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) and remote combat vehicles[1]. These programs are predicated on optimal battlefield conditions. Firstly, the assumption exists that enemy forces will not be able to degrade or destroy the battlefield network required to operate unmanned vehicles. Secondly, the risk of the enemy developing weapons that specifically target transmissions coming from control vehicles is a factor that needs to be taken seriously in threat assessments and in planning purposes[2].

Significance:  If the Army’s assumptions are incorrect and if these efforts fails to procure reliable and sustainable ground combat platforms for future operations, there will not be additional resources to mitigate this failure. Moreso, if the Army procures vulnerable systems that fail to deliver effects promised, the Army risks catastrophic defeat on the battlefield.

Option #1:  The U.S. Army could reduce and spread out its R&D investments to further invest in its legacy combat forces to offset the risks associated with funding unproven and unreliable technologies.

Risk:  The significant risks associated with Option #1 are that the technological investments needed for future capabilities will be delayed. The Army would lose its plan for fielding, as the Army will not fully field the OMFV until the early 2030’s, assuming there are no complications to the program of record. Additionally, Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV) would be delayed until they can also be realistically evaluated. Lastly, investments into legacy systems could threaten the need for future platforms.

Gain:  If the Army elected Option #1, it would have the time to properly and realistically test RCV’s, OMFV and Manned-Unmanned Teaming concepts (MUM-T). This additional testing reduces the chances of investing significant resources into a programs that do not deliver as promised. It also reduces disingenuous and fraudulent claims prior to further funding requests. Simply put, the chances of ineffective systems being funded would be mitigated because proper and realistic testing from an independent entity would occur first. The Army would also gain additional capabilities for its current systems that otherwise would not be upgraded but yet will remain in service for decades.

Option #2:  The Army consolidates their modernization efforts and cancels select requirements. Currently the Army funds 4 major ground combat programs; the Mobile Protected Firepower, RCV program (Heavy, Medium and Light), OMFV, and CROWS-J/30mm. The Army could cancel the MPF program because the program is questionable due to its inability to defeat enemy near peer armored threats that will likely be encountered[3]. This cancelation would allow the Army to invest into the RCV light program, armed with the 50mm cannon and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM). The Army would retain a viable anti fortification and direct fire support vehicle, while reducing needless expenses. Further, the Army could cancel or delay the unmanned requirement of the OMFV until the technology and network is fully secured and matured, with no limitations or risks.

Risk:  A significant risk associated with Option #2 is that the Army will not get a light tank or get RCV Medium or Heavy platforms and it will not receive the “optionally manned” portion of the OMFV until later. The risk with not obtaining these desired capabilities mean that the Army would have to accept an alternative material solution that defeats enemy fortifications and armor as opposed to the MPF.

Gain:  The Army retains its desired capabilities while maximizing resources. The Robotic Combat Vehicle-(Light), armed with a 50mm cannon and ATGM’s, is less expensive, lighter and carries more ammunition than the MPF. Further, the RCV-L is better armed to defeat enemy armored threats, as the MPF’s 105mm cannon is inadequate to defeat enemy tanks[3]. Additionally, by removing the unmanned requirement from the OMFV, the Army would gain savings and reduce reliance on unproven technologies, reducing risk of battlefield defeat[4]. This option enables the Army to retain remote controlled concepts by shifting the focus to the RCV-L and equipping the Infantry Brigade Combat Team community with it, as opposed to the Army risking its combat strength and forcing immature technologies upon the Armored Brigade Combat Team community, which is the Army’s main combat formation for near peer conflict.

Other Comments:  The Army is heavily investing in vulnerable technologies without first ensuring it has an effective network able to completely support the operational concepts it desires. Without ensuring that the required network will be immune to enemy countermeasures, these technologies will not fully support operational requirements. Further, the costs associated with these efforts are already exceeding 60 billion dollars, and do not afford the service increased lethality or survivability, even by common English definitional sense. Army R&D efforts will continue to be at risk if they refuse to allow independent agencies full access and evaluation rights prior to further funding.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Freedberg Jr, Sydney. August 6th, 2020. Breaking Defense. GAO Questions Army’s 62B Cost Estimates for Combat Vehicles. Retrieved from: https://breakingdefense.com/2020/08/gao-questions-armys-62b-cost-estimates-for-combat-vehicles

[2] Trevithick, Joseph. May 11th 2020. The War Zone: This is What Ground Forces Look like to an Electronic Warfare System and Why It’s A Big Deal. Retrieved from: https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33401/this-is-what-ground-forces-look-like-to-an-electronic-warfare-system-and-why-its-a-big-deal

[3] Central Intelligence Agency. Gorman, Paul. Major General, USA. US Intelligence and Soviet Armor. 1980. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000624298.pdf

[4] Collins, Liam. Colonel, USA. July 26th 2018. Association of the United States Army: Russia Gives Lessons in Electronic Warfare. Retrieved from: https://www.ausa.org/articles/russia-gives-lessons-electronic-warfare

Budgets and Resources Emerging Technology Mel Daniels Option Papers Research and Development U.S. Army

Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.

Matthew F. Smith is an active duty officer in the United States Army. He can be found on Twitter @Matt_F_Smith. The views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the author and are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defense or of the Department of the Army.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing the Dependency of U.S. Below Threshold Competition on Department of State Modernization

Date Originally Written:  June 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 5, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States. The author is interested in the strengths and limitations of resourcing the U.S. Executive Branch Departments and Agencies primarily responsible for executing foreign policy strategies below the threshold of armed conflict.

Summary:   U.S. policymakers are deciding how to compete with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and counteract their objectives. Given fiscal realities, the opportunity exists to rebalance current militaristic policy tendencies and force institutional reforms. The U.S. Department of State, due to its largely below-threshold mandate, is a good target for modernization so it can better lead foreign policy efforts through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance.

Text:  Over the last decade, American foreign policy has focused increasingly on competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Regardless of the various administrations’ policies, the central strategic aim has been how the United States can best compete with China while remaining below the threshold of armed conflict. The PRC’s central strategic aim is to undermine current U.S. alliances and other historically U.S. lead global institutions[1]. Given the $2.5 trillion in federal spending in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recession, a fiscally conscience U.S. government is likely to exist moving forward[2]. As a result, future foreign policy decisions will focus on the smart application of strategic tools that are gauged not merely by measures of performance but also by the financial effectiveness in achieving the desired outcome. For the U.S. to maintain the fundamental ability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict, the State Department, whose mission is to “lead America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance”; requires equipping through bipartisan commitment of resources to compete in the current environment[3]. Understanding that near-term competition will likely remain below the threshold of large scale combat operations, and U.S. strategy aims to promote a range of acceptable options short of armed conflict, the resourcing of such efforts is a fundamental issue.

Just as the U.S. military is resourced to innovate and adapt in response to emerging military threats, undertaking the institutional reform necessary for the State Department to have the capability to lead an integrated approach to promote U.S. strategic interests is of vital importance. An environment that is competitive but not combative requires the State Department to be capable of frustrating Chinese interests in areas that cooperation is not possible while seizing fleeting moments of opportunity for mutually beneficial agreements. Without a properly resourced and organized State Department, opportunities to frustrate China will be lost altogether or be handled in such a manner that its potential benefit will be greatly diminished. The Indo-Pacific region is vital to U.S. objectives because of its continuing economic opportunities, and yet, to fully reap the benefits of those opportunities, the United States, China, and the other countries that are impacted by regional competition must work together to communally benefit whenever possible. Competing with China requires the U.S. to advance its position by smartly leveraging all instruments of national power that enable the current strategic approach.

Policymakers can ask themselves how the U.S. can be expected to compete below the threshold of armed conflict without adequately resourcing the primary agency responsible for executing the policies in that environment. The Department of Defense requested $705.4 billion for FY21; and while defense spending on military capability is an important component of a deterrence strategy, it only inadvertently promotes the U.S. capability to compete below the threshold of armed conflict[4]. The State Department requested $40.8 billion for FY21, which is an $11.7 billion, or 22-percent decrease from the 2020 enacted level[5]. In the face of reports calling for the State Department to modernize, the U.S., as is evident in the proposed budget, is prioritizing military capability for deterrence at the expense of investing in deterrence through greater diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts[6]. Ignoring the reality of State Department capability will lead to U.S. policy missteps and encourage China to expand their focus beyond military development and increase investing in other strategic sectors[7]. These sectors, which include the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, are effective in increasing the political clout the PRC can wield in forming new alliances and dependencies while degrading the U.S. position in the region.

The current United States strategic approach to the PRC reaffirms many of the incorporative strategic approaches described in the 2017 National Security Strategy, 2018 National Defense Strategy, 2019 Department of State Strategy, and the 2019 Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy Report[8]. Specifically, the current U.S. strategic documents accept China as a major power in its own right and describe many unconstrained approaches that will foster cooperation and competition wherever possible while not allowing rivalry to degrade the entire relationship. While these documents allude to a networked approach for competing with China in some areas while cooperating in others, the fiscal allocation of resources and the demonstration that when under stress, the liberal virtues championed in these strategies are easily sacrificed, make clear that execution of the supporting policies is an issue. To compete with China, policymakers can consider sufficiently budgeting the resources required for the State Department to increase its capability to promote U.S. strategic interests across the many non-military domains[9].

The State Department, as the primary agency that coordinates diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance efforts, is critical in a competitive environment that falls below the threshold of armed conflict. The United States cannot effectively or efficiently compete with China while using inflexible and un-adaptive organizational structures that are ill-equipped to deliver relevant solutions[10]. Just as the U.S. military has been equipped to conduct modernization efforts, the Department of State requires the same focus of resourcing for their modernization efforts to successfully outcompete China. Without adequate funding, the State Department will not reform into a more agile institution that can deliver the strategic objectives in a manner reflective of the current period of great power competition[11]. The undervaluing of non-military strategic tools and agencies such as the State Department, over time, will make the military option the most preferred deterrence and engagement method for shaping foreign affairs. The United States’ costly global military presence as a result of the war on terror and extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have only reinforced this militaristic reality and are an impetus for assessing foreign policy approaches to foster more competitive practices below the threshold of armed conflict.


[1] Araya, D. (2019, October 20). China’s Grand Strategy. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielaraya/2019/01/14/chinas-grand-strategy/#27ce4ef61f18

[2] Swagel, P. (2020, April 24). CBO’s Current Projections of Output, Employment, and Interest Rates and a Preliminary Look at Federal Deficits for 2020 and 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.cbo.gov/publication/56335

[3] United States Department of State. (2019, May 13). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/about/about-the-u-s-department-of-state

[4] Department of Defense 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-9.pdf

[5] Department of State and Other International Programs 2021 Budget Request. 2020, Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2021-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2021-BUD-18.pdf

[6] United States Government Accountability Office. (2019, March). Integrated Action Plan Could Enhance Efforts to Reduce Persistent Overseas Foreign Service Vacancies. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/697281.pdf

[7] Ju, S. F. (2018, March 6). China’s diplomacy budget doubles under Xi Jinping. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.ft.com/content/2c750f94-2123-11e8-a895-1ba1f72c2c11

[8] United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China. (2020, May 20). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf

[9] Congressional Budget Justification: Department of State Diplomatic Engagement. (2020, March). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/FY21-CBJ-Appendix-1-FINAL-for-GPA-Mar-26-2020.pdf

[10] Daalder, I., & Lindsay, J. (2001, March 1). How to Revitalize a Dysfunctional State Department. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/gs_20170927_dos__usaid_listening_report_2017.pdf

[11] Office of Inspector General. (2019, November). Review of the Department of State’s Organizational Reform Effort. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.stateoig.gov/system/files/aud-mero-20-09.pdf

2020 - Contest: PRC Below Threshold Writing Contest Budgets and Resources China (People's Republic of China) Diplomacy Matthew F. Smith Option Papers United States

Assessing U.S. Relative Decline

Adam A. Azim is a writer and entrepreneur based in Northern Virginia. His areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy and strategy, as well as political philosophy and theory. He can be found on Twitter @adamazim1988.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing U.S. Relative Decline

Date Originally Written:  March 7, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from an American point of view, in regards to U.S. relative decline vis-à-vis Russia and China.

Summary:  American policy since World War II imposed “world order,” which is fraught with the inability to enforce as well as aspirations exceeding capabilities. As a result, America is entangled in futile Middle Eastern conflicts, plagued with populism and President Trump, faced with the rise of Russia and China, debt, polarization, and public health issues. This situation prompts a paradigm shift from excess militarization to the elevation of national spirit.

Text:  In the early 20th century, a British historian named E.H. Carr made an odd proclamation: “Only the West is in decline.” The author sought to explore this idea by writing a book titled “Is The West in Decline? A Study of World Order and U.S. Relative Decline” published January 2018. This article seeks to summarize the findings of this book by making a few key points.

The United States, as the linchpin of Western civilization after Europe’s collapse in the 20th century, is not going through absolute decline. Rather, the United States is experiencing what Joseph Nye of Harvard University calls “relative decline,” which means other countries are rising as a result of America’s slowdown which can turn around. But the slowdown is yet to be a cause for severe concern. In a short book titled “Is the American Century Over?” Nye conducts an assessment and concludes that the United States is at least fifty years ahead of its nearest competitors in terms of military and economic capabilities.

But there are clear symptoms of American relative decline vis-à-vis other countries. In a number of public lectures, Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago argues that there are three evident symptoms of American decline: entanglement in Middle Eastern conflicts, the rise of Russia and China, and the emergence of President Donald Trump. In addition to this are three internal symptoms that result from Mearsheimer’s list of external symptoms: the growing national debt, polarization, and a downturn in public health. One can argue that the national debt is the biggest threat to national security. As a result of debt, the United States barely has the capacity to stem the rise of polarization as evinced by problems such as domestic terrorism and health problems such as the recent opioid crisis and the mental health epidemic. When combining these six symptoms, the resulting decline in American power is evident. For example, one of America’s key tasks during the post-World War II period was to keep Europe united within political institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. These institutions are presently fraying as a result of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and Britain’s faltering relationship with Germany.

From a big picture perspective, American foreign policy boils down to the fulfillment of one task after it emerged as the world’s foremost power subsequent to World War II, which was the maintenance of what is known as “world order.” During Sir Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” Speech in Fulton, Missouri, Britain passed the responsibility of managing world affairs to the United States after its empire had severely contracted during the 1940’s. Now, the United States no longer seeks to shoulder the entire burden of maintaining world order. President Donald Trump has made “America First” the main priority of his political agenda. World Order has always been fraught with two permanent conditions. For one, aspirations always exceed capabilities, as noted by Pankaj Mishra in a book titled “The Age of Anger.” Second is the issue of enforcement, as noted by Henry Kissinger in his last book titled “World Order.” It is simply impossible for one nation, despite their capabilities, to enforce law and order on the entire world.

These conditions have led to the failure of liberal democracy as a system that can be imposed on the world.  The result is the United States incurring ongoing costs by defaulting to a realpolitik approach towards Russia and China, and in turn the costs have led to polarization and populism domestically. America is now faced with the option of experimenting with a constructivist foreign policy and a paradigm shift from a militaristic and costly realpolitik approach to a diplomatic approach that brings multiple parties together in the way of a burden-sharing approach to world order. Combined, Europe and East Asia have a higher GDP than America; it would be remiss to not ask these two regions to increase their share of defense spending. America will eventually be forced to advance its security and economic interests to contribute its fair share to world order, while considering a shift from an offensive approach to a defensive approach to national security. Overreach and America’s unnecessary entanglement in Afghanistan, which is considered “The Graveyard of Empires”, has led to the neglect of America’s first ever foreign policy proclamation, namely, “The Monroe Doctrine.” Because of Afghanistan, which Andrew Bacevich has called “a flight of fancy,” Russia and China have found apparent holes in American defense and have penetrated Africa and Latin America to the detriment of America’s hemispheric security.

For a long time, America has traded off a truly free market system, education, and health care for militarization and the imposition of world order. International relations theorists call this “the security dilemma.” John Herz, an international relations theorist, has called it “the absolute predicament and irreducible dilemma,” which is the inability to allocate resources to social welfare due to security concerns. As a result, radical leaders like President Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders who appeal to American pathos are gaining momentum. Europe, Arab Gulf Countries, and East Asia have long prospered from the U.S. security umbrella by enjoying U.S. defense subsidies that enable these regions to invest in human development instead of defense, to the detriment of American citizens. To resolve this “security dilemma,” one must evaluate the main threat, which is not a physical one; rather, the threat is a moral and spiritual one. Baudelaire wrote of the “baseness of men’s hearts” that will lead to what Kierkegaard called “the common plight of man.” From a realist perspective, this threat is relevant. Hans Morgenthau, in “The Politics of Nations,” identified six dimensions of power: military, economic, population, territory, natural resources, and spirit. As long as there is a disproportionate amount of focus on militarization at the expense of national spirit, the United States will not be able to reverse what is known as “relative decline” vis-à-vis Russia and China.


[1] Azim, A. A. (2018). Is The West In Decline? A Study of World Order and U.S. Relative Decline. Brandylane Publishing. / https://www.amazon.com/Decline-Study-World-Order-Relative/dp/0692967168

Adam A. Azim Assessment Papers Budgets and Resources Competition United States

Options for a Joint Support Service

Lieutenant Colonel Jason Hughes has served in roles from Platoon Leader to the Joint Staff with multiple combat deployments to Iraq and operational deployments to Africa and Haiti.  He is presently the Commander of 10th Field Hospital, a 148 bed deployable hospital.  He can be found on Twitter @medical_leader, manages the Medical Service Corps Leader Development Facebook page, and writes for The Medical Leader.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  “The Department of Defense will reform its business practices to gain the full benefit of every dollar spent, and to gain and hold the trust of the American people. We must be good stewards of the tax dollars allocated to us. Results and accountability matter[1].” – Former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis

Date Originally Written:  December 24, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  February 3, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that without dynamic modernization solutions the DoD will be unable to sharpen the American Military’s competitive edge and realize the National Defense Strategy’s vision of a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force. While DoD’s strategic guidance has evolved, its force structure has not.

Background:  Common support roles across the military create redundant overhead, separate doctrines, equipment and force designs, development and acquisition processes, and education and recruiting programs. Resources are scarce, yet organizations within DoD compete against each other developing three of everything when the DoD only requires one joint capability to support the operational requirement.

The Department’s sloth-like system and redundant capabilities across services create an opportunity for change. Reform and efficiencies realized in manpower, resources, and overhead cost directly support Lines of Effort One and Three of the National Defense Strategy[2]. Consolidation efforts could realize a 20-40% overhead[3], training, and equipment savings while providing the Joint Force access to low density, high demand capabilities.  Each Armed Service recruits, trains, and educates; develops policy, doctrine, and equipment; and manages careers separately for similar requirements. A review of similar capabilities across the services illustrates 16 commodities that could possibly be consolidated:

  • Human Resources
  • Logistics
  • Engineering
  • Communications
  • Intelligence
  • Medical
  • Cyber
  • Public Affairs
  • Religious
  • Finance
  • Contracting
  • Legal
  • Military Police / Criminal Investigation Forces
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear
  • Operations Research/Systems Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulations

Significance:  Similar reform efforts – health care transition from the services to the Defense Health Agency – have or will produce significant savings and efficiencies. Dollars saved focus scarce resources on combat readiness and lethality at the tip of the spear.

Option #1:  The DoD establishes a separate Armed Service focused on Joint Support.

The commodities listed above are consolidated into a separate Joint Support Service with Title 10 authorities commensurate with line requirements. The line (other Services) provides the requirement and “buys” what they need. This system is similar to the United States Marine Corps (USMC) relationship with the U.S. Navy (USN) regarding medical support. In this relationship the USMC defines their requirement and “buys” the commodity from the USN.

Risk:  Armed Service requirements documents are esoteric and do not allow the Joint Support Service to plan for force structure and requirements to meet those concepts.

Gain:  Option #1 ensures commonality and interoperability for the Joint Force (e.g., one scalable Damage Control Surgery set versus 8-10 service sets; fuel distribution systems that can support all forces; management of low density, high demand assets (Trauma Surgeons, Chaplains etc)).

Option #2:  The DoD pursues “Pockets of Excellence.”

The commodities listed above are centralized into a single existing Armed Service. The Secretary of Defense would redesign or select an Armed Service to manage a commodity, removing it from the other Armed Services. The lead Armed Service for a specific commodity then produces capacity that meets other Armed Service’s operational demands while building capability, doctrine, equipment, education and recruiting center of excellence for that commodity.

Risk:  The Armed Services, with resident expertise in specific commodities may impose their doctrine on other services instead of building a true joint capability that supports line operations across multiple Armed Services.

Gain:  The Armed Services are more likely to support this effort if they receive the manpower and appropriations increasing their bottom line.

Option #3:  Hybrid.

Each Armed Service develops commodity talent at the junior officer / Non-Commissioned Officer level much like today. This talent transfers into the Joint Support Service, providing support at “Echelons above Brigade,” later in their career.

Risk:  This option increases overhead in the Department by building a Joint Support Force without eliminating existing Armed Service requirements.

Gain:  This option would create a Joint Support Force that brings understanding of Armed Service systems, culture, and requirements.

Other Comments:  Lethality requires a support force organized for innovation that delivers performance at the speed of relevance, commensurate with line operational requirements, using a global operating model. The Armed Services hurt themselves by competing within the DoD. This competing leaves the overall DoD unable to produce a streamlined force using rapid, iterative approaches from development to fielding, that directly supporting the defeat of U.S. enemies, while protecting the American people and their vital interests at a sustainable cost to the taxpayer.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Mattis, J. N. (2018, January 19). Remarks by Secretary Mattis on the National Defense Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/1420042/remarks-by-secretary-mattis-on-the-national-defense-strategy/

[2] LOE 1: Rebuilding Military Readiness as we build a more lethal Joint Force; LOE 2: Reform the Department’s business practices for greater performance and affordability.

[3] German military reform forecasted a reduced total force by 18% while tripling the readiness force availability to support crisis management deployments. Larger cost savings should be expected in a force that is much larger than the German military. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/opinion/30thu2.html



Budgets and Resources Capacity / Capability Enhancement Defense and Military Reform Jason Hughes Option Papers United States

Options to Address U.S. Federal Government Budget Process Dysfunction

Thomas is a Sailor in the United States Navy.  He can be found on Twitter @CTNope.  The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the official position of the United States Navy, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  The current arrangements of tasks related to funding the U.S. Government enables government shutdowns to occur.  These shutdowns cause massive disruptions on many levels.

Date Originally Written:  January 30th, 2019.

Date Originally Published: 
 April 8, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a U.S. Navy sailor and undergraduate student, interested in the U.S. Government, foreign policy, and national security matters.

Background:  The United States Government is funded every year through an appropriations bill or through a continuing resolution of a previous bill. This bill, like all others, begins in the House of Representatives, is sent to the Senate, and signed by the President. Since 1976, when the current budget and appropriations process was adopted, there have been over 20 gaps in budget funding, commonly referred to as shutdowns. These shutdowns have lasted as little as 1 day to the recent 34 day shutdown of the Trump Administration. During a shutdown, federal agencies are unable to complete their missions, as their levels of funding degrade or run out entirely[1].

Significance: When the Federal Government runs out of funding, consequences arise at
all levels of society. Constituents, businesses, and institutions find it difficult to or are unable to execute tasks, such as filing tax returns, receiving permits for operations, or litigating judicial cases. Lapses in funding often lead to unforeseen, third-order of effect consequences[2]. It is challenging enough to strategically plan for the myriad of problems the United States faces, it is even more difficult to plan on a previous budget’s continuing resolution. But when the government runs out of funding, and agencies close, planning becomes all but impossible. While government shutdowns often end quickly, lapses in funding raise criticism on the stability of the United States and the ability of
elected officials to govern.

Option #1:  The budget process is changed from an annual to a biennial budget process. Congress would adopt a budget and all appropriation bills during the first year of a session, authorizing two years of funding, ensuing the budgets are only passed in non-election years. In addition, a review of tax expenditures would be mandated by a new law. This review would be conducted by creating a baseline projection of tax expenditures, drafted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and an automatic review of all tax expenditures when baseline projections are exceeded.

Risk:  The changes outlined in Option 1 might not be effective in combating the symptoms of the dysfunction inside of the budget process. While extending the timeline of the budget cycle could mitigate the potential for a shutdown, it is still possible for shutdowns to occur, as the Congress and President must still come to a compromise. The creation of a tax review could give policymakers a non-partisan foundation to make policy changes, yet policymakers already have similar resources, stemming from think tanks, academia, or the CBO[3].

Gain:  While not perfect, enacting Option 1 would be challenging but not impossible in the current political climate. According to Gallup[4], changes to the budget cycle are widely supported and bipartisan. Option 1 allows Congress to better fulfill their appropriation responsibilities. In addition, in not having to work on an annual budget, Congress will have more time for oversight and reauthorizations of programs, better utilizing limited resources. Furthermore, the review of tax expenditures will allow Congress to ensure that it is meeting its mission of sustainable funding the Government.

Option #2:  Take budget approval power away from the President. This option entails creating a joint standing committee, specifically called the Semi-Annual Budget Committee, with 8 members of the Senate and 16 members of the House. The Speaker and the Minority Leader of the House Representatives would each appoint 8 members. The Majority and Minority Leader of the Senate would each appoint 4 members. The President would no longer sign the budget into law, rather, the responsibility would rest completely with the Congress. The President would submit budget requests, but those would be requests only – as the executive would cease to sign the budget. Lastly, this option has precedent. From the adoption of the Constitution until 1921, with the signing of the Budget and Accounting Act during the Harding Administration, the legislature had the majority of the “power of the purse”, the power to raise taxes and appropriate resources[5].

Risk:  While the Government would no longer shut down due to conflicts between the executive and legislature, this radical restructuring of responsibilities could have significant consequences. Specifically, partisanship, so common inside the beltway, could threaten the productivity of the Committee. If another hypothetical ‘Tea Party’ or equally populist leftist movement were to materialize, it is not difficult to foresee the Semi-Annual Budget Committee bogging down in a partisan slugging match.

Gain:  This option would ensure a degree of budget stability for the future by preventing the President from vetoing budget bills.

Other Comments:  Regardless of the chosen course of action, the current political landscape holds unique opportunities. According to Gallup data, a significant percentage of Americans support reforms to the current budget process[6]. With this board public approval, lawmakers could institute various reforms that previously were politically impractical. Furthermore, reform doesn’t have to be radical. It can take the form of incremental change over multiple Congressional sessions.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Cooper, Ryan. “Make Government Shutdowns Impossible Again.” The Week, January 23, 2019. Retrieved From: https://theweek.com/articles/819015/make-government-shutdowns-impossible-again.

[2] Walshe, Shushannah (October 17, 2013). “The Costs of the Government Shutdown”. ABC News. Archived from the original on September 12, 2017. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 

[3] United States Government Congressional Budget Office. “Processes.” Congressional Budget Office. (n.d.). Retrieved From:  https://www.cbo.gov/about/processes#baseline

[4] Gallup Pollsters. “Federal Budget Deficit.” Gallup. March 2018. Retrieved From: https://news.gallup.com/poll/147626/federal-budget-deficit.aspx.

[5] Constitution of the United States, Article I, 

[6] Gallup Pollsters. “Federal Budget Deficit.” Gallup. March 2018. Retrieved From: https://news.gallup.com/poll/147626/federal-budget-deficit.aspx.

Budgets and Resources Congress Option Papers Thomas United States