What Deadline? Sources Say DoD Putting More Time on Strategic Review Clock

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s sweeping strategic review has confirmed one thing about the Pentagon: Inside its corridors, a due date remains anything but a hard deadline.

The review, ordered by Hagel to help the Defense Department handle sequestration, was nominally slated to be “completed” Friday (May 31). But, according to sources and reports, the strategic choices and management review (SCMR), isn’t close to being “completed.”

“They will be lucky to have the SCMR done by the Fourth of July at the rate it’s going,” said one plugged-in industry source with knowledge of the Pentagon’s review process.

Missed “deadlines” on major reports are nothing new for the Pentagon. Still, the SCMR was ordered by the defense secretary for the defense secretary. So why is the something the boss ordered going to be weeks late?

It’s not just because Hagel is in Asia on a lengthy visit that will include his participation in the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major meeting of regional defense leaders.

Another defense source with close ties to the E-Ring told Defense News some major reason for the delay are typical Pentagon internal bickering, posturing and power plays.

“There seems to be a number of disconnects between what SecDef — and perhaps Ash — were expecting and what the various groups were doing,” the source said, referring to Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

And it should come as no surprise that the delay, which allegedly will inform major budget and program decisions, is partially due to the military services objecting to various parts of the SCMR.

“Also, the services have been pushing back hard,” the defense source told Defense News on Friday morning.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said on Friday that while the “heavy lifting” on the review has been completed, some elements of it will likely continue to be tweaked before Secretary Hagel is briefed on it next week.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and aides already are building the 2014 Pentagon policy and appropriations bills. Committee leaders have made clear they want some SCMR findings before they complete their bills so they have some idea where to cut so their bills fit under defense spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Yet, several senior congressional aides say they’ve heard noting from the Pentagon on the soup-to-nuts review — despite public promises from DoD officials to the contrary.

“We haven’t heard anything,” said one aide to a senior Senate Armed Services Committee member.

That panel is slated to mark up its version of the 2014 defense authorization bill in two weeks. It appears the SCMR likely will remain unfinished when the Senate panel completes its bill.

The House Armed Services Committee will mark up its version of the authorization bill next Wednesday — without the SCMR input panel leaders wanted.

Aides say they expect to get a look at the review and its recommendations only after it has passed its bill and forwarded to lower chamber leaders to begin the process of bringing it to a floor vote.

Asked if HASC leaders have been even partially briefed on what the review likely will recommend, a senior committee aide replied: “Not yet, but I assume after mark up if there are questions we will get briefed.”

— Paul McLeary contributed.

(Photo: Scott Olson/AFP/Getty Images)

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett