Unified Security Budget A Necessary Step

Our guest bloggers are Laura Conley, research assistant, and Sean Duggan, research associate at the Center for American Progress.

The House Armed Services Committee voted the FY 2011 Defense Authorization Bill out of committee last week at a whopping $567 billion. By contrast, the FY11 State Department and USAID budget request is a meager $52.8 billion, or about 9% of the money the administration expects to spend next year for DOD’s baseline budget (war spending is covered through a concurrent, but separate supplemental bill projected to include $33 billion for overseas operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, $13 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and $14 billion for other “emergency” measures). With this giant disparity in funding, it’s no wonder that efforts to institute an integrated, whole of government approach to national security have trouble getting traction in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted one potential fix for this problem in her remarks yesterday at the Brookings Institution. As noted by Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin and others, Clinton remarked that “You cannot look at a Defense budget, a State Department budget, and a USAID budget without Defense overwhelming the combined efforts of the other two and without us falling back into the old stovepipes that I think are no longer relevant for the challenges of today. So we want to begin to talk about a national security budget, and then you can see the tradeoffs and the savings.”

The Center for American Progress has long advocated for a unified national security budget, which would force authorizers and appropriators to consider the full picture of our country’s national security needs when making budget decisions. As we noted in the Center’s national security strategy report last fall, a unified budget “would enable policymakers to more readily recognize and evaluate the difficult trade-offs between the offensive (military forces), defensive (homeland security), and preventative (non-military international engagement, including diplomacy, nonproliferation, foreign aid, peacekeeping intelligence, and contributions to international organizations) aspects of American national power.”

The Center has also been a key contributor to the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget, which publishes an annual report identifying the trade-offs and benefits made possible by a unified budget approach. The Task Force’s sixth annual unified security budget report, published in November 2009, identified $55.5 billion in possible cuts to the baseline FY2010 defense budget. These funds could be redirected from outdated or unproven defense programs without undermining our national security, and could be better used to meet vital diplomatic, development, and homeland security needs.

One of the many areas of national security spending that could benefit from additional funding is the U.S. Coast Guard budget. Although technically a military service, the USCG is responsible for a diverse set of missions ranging from maritime safety and security, to environmental protection and disaster response. As we pointed out in an op-ed earlier this year in the New York Times, the service is perennially over-tasked and under-funded. The administration’s FY2011 budget request for the Coast Guard includes a 3.3. percent reduction from last year’s funding level, and anticipates reducing the Coast Guard’s active-duty strength by 1,112 positions. As CAP will point out in an upcoming report on the USCG, a unified national security budget would give lawmakers an opportunity to make the necessary trade-offs to address the USCG’s critical budget needs.

Clinton’s endorsement of a unified national security budget is a critical step toward reforming our outdated security budgeting process. U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have amply demonstrated that the U.S. can no longer guarantee its national security solely through the use of military force, and it is time to adopt budget procedures that recognize and support this fact. The State Department, USAID, the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community, and other critical government agencies and programs will be better able to do their part to safeguard our national security when we can provide them with adequate means to do so.