WASHINGTON – The White House is circulating a draft Executive Order looking at how best to strengthen the Pentagon, which would include plans for an immediate, short-term budget increase for the military.
The draft, first reported by the Washington Post, requires the Pentagon to carry out a 30-day review of the fight against the Islamic State group, as well as on how prepared the US is to deal with near-peer competitors like Russia and China.
The draft also orders the Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop an emergency budget amendment to boost military spending this year, and for Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to update and revise existing budget plans for fiscal year 2018 within 90 days, the Post reported.
Finally, the draft requests Mattis develop a new national security plan by next January, which would include plans for modernizing the nuclear forces and developing new missile defense capabilities.
Since winning election in November, President Donald Trump has pushed plans to grow the military as a cornerstone of his administration. But the use of an executive order to push forward with these ideas is unusual, said Loren DeJonge Schulman, a former official with both the National Security Council and the Pentagon now with the Center for a New American Security.
“While a new administration giving written guidance to the Department of Defense on its strategy and budget isn’t unprecedented, the draft EO is both strange and problematic,” Schulman said, while noting that she had not seen the actual draft itself. “It’s a major case of putting the cart before the horse. Telling the Department where and how to invest before the administration conducts any review of its strategy isn’t just bad process, it’s bad for the military.
“Written commander’s intent is nothing new at DoD, but giving this text force of law for the executive branch is overkill – the content of the EO could just as easily be conveyed to Mattis as marching orders. But an EO gives it a public (and press) component since they have to be published on the federal register,” Schulman noted.
More specifically, Schulman raises questions about the order for the Pentagon to develop a national strategy rather than the NSC.
“Buried in the text is a huge issue: tasking DoD to develop a national security strategy,” she said. “The National Security Strategy is report transmitted by the President to Congress and normally drafted by the president’s national security staff. Assigning the pen to the Pentagon is unprecedented and bizarre.”
Another potential challenge in the language is the order for the Pentagon and OMB to develop a budget amendment to plus-up the military right away. Trump’s nominee to head OMB, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., is a strict budget hawk who is widely expected to refuse budget increases unless they are balanced out with cost cuts from elsewhere in the government.
Defense analysts generally agree that for Trump to reach the heights of military spending he seeks, he will have to increase the defense budget significantly, something that could be a challenge under Mulvaney’s strict guidelines.
Todd Harrison, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also notes that pushing out any sort of budget move out of OMB in the near-term may be difficult, as Mulvaney’s views are likely to clash with those of the professional staff who have been there a while – requiring Mulvaney and his team to go back and redo much of the preliminary work that has been laid down already.