Fund It Or Kill It

Posted: August 3, 2009 in Funding, initiatives, programmatics

During the mid and late 1990s, when we were reaping the benefits of the peace dividend, I first heard an ancient and wise programmer (someone who runs a DoD program or series of programs, not a software person) use the mathematical phrase D + I = O. For the uninitiated, that was shorthand for “disconnects plus initiatives equals offsets.”

In a era of no DoD budget growth, as the 1990s generally were, any broken or flawed programs (disconnects) or any new programs (initiatives) had to be “paid for” with money coming out of other programs (offsets). This sort of mindset led to money coming out of previously healthy programs with the here-to-for healthy programs themselves becoming chronically drug-out and broken. A planned five year program at $85 million would end up taking eight years and costing $135 million; a 15-year program would take 20.

It was all because the program, previously healthy, now had money taken out of it in order to make something else “executable” or healthy, with the unintended and ironic effect of the previously healthy program then becoming disconnected itself. Basically, programs that are not adequately funded cannot be expected to meet performance, cost, or schedule parameters.

Now, DoD has told the services to come up with $50-60 billion across the next 5-6 years for the purpose of providing “initiative” money for new programs that will fill capabilities gaps. This is not inherently evil, because priorities can and do change, and funding needs to change to match. The sad part is the programs that are “marked” to provide offsets are almost never killed. As such, they just limp along, needing more and more money put into them as them move towards completion, which will almost always be much later than desired.

The taskings to the services should rather be to kill enough programs to save $60 billion across the FYDP. Programs that come in missing the mark on performance, schedule, and cost often do so due to funding instability. While it is really difficult to kill a program, it often makes the most sense to do just that rather than allow it to exist on the margins, where it will be doomed to fail, falling short of providing a particular capability by a certain time. Leadership is all about establishing priorities, and when every program is important enough to save, all programs pay the price.

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