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Pentagon, Budget Office May Battle in Wake of White House Budget Plan

By John Lancaster
The Washington Post


Washington has been all but snowed under by policy reports on how to reshape the nation's post-Cold War military, but the latest offering from the Defense Budget Project is cause for special interest: This one was prepared under the supervision of Gordon Adams, who since has left the nonprofit organization for a top-level budget post in the Clinton administration.

The document, moreover, calls for substantially larger defense cuts than President Clinton and his defense secretary, Les Aspin, have proposed.

The report recommends, for example, cutting the size of the armed forces to 1.2 million uniformed personnel by 1997, 200,000 fewer than Aspin's plan -- and 400,000 fewer than what the Bush administration had planned.

Adams did not personally write the report, which is due to be released Friday, and he did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment on it. Nevertheless, the document does suggest a potential conflict between the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget, where Adams is now ensconced as the program associate director for national security.

OMB's program associate directors, or "PADs," traditionally have exercised great influence over administration spending priorities. Adams, a puckish former academic who founded the Defense Budget Project in 1983, is well-versed in the intricacies of the Pentagon budget process and is not expected to shy away from expressing his views inside the new administration.

"I won't deny that Gordon Adams had directorial control over our research," said Paul Taibl, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and analyst at the organization who is one of the report's two authors. "We've talked about this for the better part of a year."

The main thrust of the report is that the Pentagon cannot hope to pay for all the weapons currently in the procurement "pipeline" without substantially greater cuts in force structure.

In a conclusion that few are likely to dispute, the report forecasts that defense budgets will continue to shrink and calls on the Pentagon to plan a post-Cold War military that will be "sustainable" over the long term.

"You have to take into account the availability of resources," said Steven M. Koziak, co-author of the report. "If you plan a force without taking into account funding levels, you're planning in a fantasy world."

The report is explicitly critical of the Bush administration's plan for a "base force" of 1.6 million uniformed men and women, down from the current level of 1.8 million, calling it "unaffordable over the long run." But the report also questions the plan developed by Aspin last year when he was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Aspin's proposal called for a post-Cold War force structure of 1.4 million uniformed personnel, 15 active-duty and reserve Army divisions, three active and reserve Marine Corps divisions, 18 Air Force "fighter-wing equivalents" and 12 aircraft carriers, among other benchmarks.

The Defense Budget Project concludes that the nation could adequately safeguard its interests with a force of 1.2 million uniformed personnel, 11 active-duty and reserve Army divisions, four Marine divisions and 10 aircraft carriers. The plan would save $90 billion in defense spending by 1997, compared with roughly $60 billion under the Aspin -- and now Clinton -- version.

Given its origins, the report is certain to be used by those on Capitol Hill who have begun to argue that the Clinton administration needs to take a bigger bite out of defense than it has so far seemed willing to swallow.

Aspin, in a speech Thursday, prounounced himself open to all reasonable proposals. "We need to look at the world again," Aspin said. "Every time you turn around, something new is happening, and you've got to take another look."