Book Excerpt from “Resourcing the National Security Enterprise” (Chapter 3)

In chapter 3, “The Role of Congress in Resourcing National Security,” of Resourcing the National Security Enterprise: Connecting the Ends and Means of US National Security, Heidi Demarest examines the role of Congress in resourcing American national security from historic and bureaucratic perspectives. She explains that despite its constitutional role to “provide for the common defense,” Congress faces substantial impediments to the effective execution of its legally enshrined mandate. Among these are a substantial information asymmetry with executive branch agencies as well as a static committee structure that effectively precludes a holistic appreciation of national security. Demarest also points to the relative lack of education in the processes of resourcing national security among congressional staffers as significant factors in the successful implementation of legislation. To ameliorate these deficiencies, she recommends a return to biennial budgeting, including changing the default expiration for national security appropriations from one to two years. Demarest also recommends a mandated program of education for congressional staffers to familiarize them with the vocabulary, concepts and processes associated with budgeting for national security. Finally, she advocates for the creation of a select committee on national security affairs to improve synergy between the multiple House and Senate committees.

Demarest notes:

Despite Congress’s constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense, significant impediments exist to exerting legislative voice and influence over the direction of national security. Among them, Congress faces an inevitable asymmetry of information with executive agencies, particularly within the complex, opaque Department of Defense. Congress has also maintained over the past century a relatively static committee structure that fragments a holistic perspective on national security budgeting and inhibits the ability to identify, evaluate, and deliberate trade space among programs. Finally, constituents’ particularized interests over the short term, coupled with an annual budget process, disincentivize many Congress members from considering and providing oversight of long-term strategic choices proposed by federal agencies—for who among the American public, absent, perhaps, national security professionals, can determine whether their member of Congress has made the right decision about buying fighter jets versus nuclear submarines?  

Potential solutions to remedy the legislative branch’s handicaps in the arena of resourcing national security include a robust training and education program for relevant members of Congress and their personal staff on national security threats, strategy, and existing programs; creating a select committee on national security affairs to evaluate long-term consequences and tradeoffs of budgetary decisions pertaining to national security; a return to biennial budgeting to promote better fiscal discipline and enable longer-term strategic thinking among decision makers; and, ultimately, education of the electorate to demand a more sustainable view of budgeting for defense and the ability to hold elected officials accountable for their constitutionally mandated role. Budgeteers and programmers in executive agencies provide critical expertise to turn resources into capability, but the ultimate architects of national security are the voting public who elect the chosen few to carry out the business of aligning ends and means to strategy on the public’s behalf.

Resourcing the National Security Enterprise: Connecting the Ends and Means of US National Security by Susan Bryant and Mark Troutman is available in hardcover, paperback, and digital editions. It is part of the Cambria Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS) Series (General Editor: Dr. Geoffrey R.H. Burn).

Heidi Demarest is a lieutenant colonel in the US Army and an associate professor of American politics at the United States Military Academy. She is the Deputy Head of the Department of Social Sciences and holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BS from West Point. She is the author of US Defense Budget Outcomes: Volatility and Predictability in Army Weapons Funding and coeditor of US National Security Reform: Reassessing the National Security Act of 1947.

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