Home inFocus Agenda: America (Summer 2024) Building Enduring Advantages in Defense

Building Enduring Advantages in Defense

A Heritage Foundation Roundtable

Navy Personnel Command (NPC), hosts a listening session focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at a Career Development Symposium. (Photo: U.S. Navy / PO1 Jeanette Mullinax)

Editor’s Note: The Biden Administration’s official fiscal year 2025 defense budget request “does not fund the military sufficiently and does not allocate resources appropriately,” according to the Heritage Foundation Special Report “A Conservative Defense Budget.”  This section, “Building Enduring Advantages” is focused on the human side of defense spending.

The U.S. military must invest in the well-being of its service members both because it is the right thing to do, and because these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are the future of the force.

Supporting the Troops

The conservative budget request supports the officially requested 4.5 percent pay raise for the troops. The conservative budget also increases spending for family housing in all three military departments. This additional spending is intended to address the appalling living conditions at some family housing units that have come to light across the force.

Critically, the conservative defense budget calls for $400 million in reallocated spending to improve housing conditions for American servicemembers and their families. At the House Armed Services Committee Quality of Life Panel in 2023, the Director of Defense Capabilities and Management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified that military housing had mold, sewage overflows, pest infestations, and multiple instances of unsafe conditions. The Biden Administration is paying $2.5 billion in taxpayer funds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house illegal migrants but failed to allocate sufficient resources within the official budget request to address these issues. Unacceptably, family housing funding for the Air Force and Navy decreased in the official budget.


The national recruiting crisis is a threat to national security. The Army in particular has fallen short of its recruiting goals since 2018.

A declining number of Americans are qualified for service, many average Americans are concerned about politicization within the military, and there is a declining sense of patriotism among America’s young people.

Obesity has become one of the top medically disqualifying conditions for prospective recruits—a negative trend that is likely to continue as adolescent obesity rates are expected to increase to 24.2 percent by 2030, up from 21 percent in 2017. If the military hopes to address and overcome this challenge, it needs to engage with American youth much earlier. Congress should provide funding for the military to increase the number of programs available to help prospective recruits lose weight at the recruiting office before shipping out to basic training. The military could also establish stronger partnerships between recruiters and high school physical education classes.

Recruiting messages should focus on the importance of service and duty. Many American service members belong to generational military families and join out of a deep, heartfelt sense of patriotism and duty to country.

Student debt has become a major issue for young people nationwide. Those worried about student debt need to know that the GI Bill offers them a way to finish a four-year college degree or technical certification from a vocational school without incurring debt. Military veterans receive the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees and partial or full funding at private universities. Full-time students also receive money for housing and books while attending classes.

Major Defense Reforms

The DOD must cut waste and spend money as efficiently as possible. Defense spending is designed to defend the interests of the American people, and this includes being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars. Out-of-control federal spending and the ever-increasing national debt threaten the economic security of the nation, and wasteful spending undermines public confidence in the DOD. The DOD must cut or relocate wasteful and non-defense spending and identify new efficiencies within the defense budget.

Major Internal Reallocation. This conservative defense budget moves $18.8 billion out of defense-wide Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and Research Development Test & Evaluations (RDT&E) accounts into the Procurement and O&M accounts of the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army. The intent is for less money to be spent on the bureaucracies at the departments and more money to be spent on real military capability for the warfighter.

Delivering Capability. Every RDT&E program should be constantly evaluated to ensure that it is progressing toward necessary fielded capability. RDT&E programs often spend years, even decades, in the research and development phases without delivering any warfighting capability. Certainly, some technologies that initially appeared promising do not pan out, but the DOD should be required to conduct more frequent reviews of program progress.

Any program that has been in RDT&E longer than three years should be brought up for consideration and potential elimination if it has not transitioned to an acquisition program. This would not affect long-term programs like Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD). Instead, it would focus spending and effort on the most critical projects that are most likely to become military programs of record and deliver a new capability to the force.

Contracting Reform. There are potential areas for savings in contracting reform. Section 1244 of the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) removed munitions contracting requirements to allow a faster response in Ukraine. Current contracting requirements are burdensome and have grown over time. The Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition Regulations (also known as the Section 809 Panel) performed some work in this area, but more is needed. Reducing contracting requirements would increase speed and save billions.

One problem is that any time a contractor does something unethical or costly to the DOD, instead of punishing one bad actor, Congress or the DOD creates new regulations meant to prevent the same thing from happening again even though 99.9 percent of other contractors did not engage in similarly bad behavior and even though the bad actor may have been flaunting some already existing regulation. Offending firms should be held more firmly to existing standards and subjected to congressional scrutiny when found to be in violation. Put another way, any large defense contractor engaging in unethical practices should be publicly shamed, both to encourage it to reform and to deter other contractors from engaging in similar behavior.

Under Secretaries of Defense (USD) and Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense (DASD). USD and DASD positions should not be created unless others are eliminated on a one-for-one basis in order to prevent bureaucratic bloat and duplication of efforts across the Department of Defense. Congress should implement a one-for-one rule for creation of new USD or DASD positions.

Professional Military Education (PME). PME schools are expensive to run, and military personnel can often receive the same education from private universities. PME schools should not be eliminated entirely, as many of them are necessary to an educated officer corps, but their overall numbers can be reduced, and their delivery of training and education can be modified. Officers should be permitted to attend only PME schools that are tied to their career paths. Congress should ask the GAO for a report on the total number of PME schools and their enrollment and the feasibility of proposals to reduce the overall number. The education being funded must fit within the officer’s career path and provide a benefit to the DOD. There is no critical need, for example, to send medical officers to a war college to study the history of grand strategy and warfare. There should be a demonstrable mission purpose behind the education being funded.

Additionally, the FY 2025 conservative defense budget endorses the following reforms in President Biden’s FY 2025 defense budget request:

O&M Unobligated Balance Carryover. This proposed general provision would allow the DOD to carry over up to 50 percent of unobligated balances in the O&M account into the next fiscal year. This change reinforces good fiscal stewardship by giving financial managers a tool they can use to make better year-end spending decisions and enables the DOD to respond to emergent requirements.

Two-Year Permanent Change of Station (PCS) Funding. This proposal (to change appropriations language) changes the PCS funding availability period from one to two years in the military personnel appropriations for the Active Components. This change maximizes the use of PCS funds, which typically cross fiscal years because of the seasonal nature of PCS moves and minimizes the unexpended balances in the military personnel appropriations for the Active Components, ultimately allowing the DOD to maximize the use of congressionally appropriated funds for their intended purpose.

National Guard 2 Percent Carryover. This proposal (to change appropriations language) allows a percentage of National Guard funding to carry over into the following fiscal year to address emerging National Guard missions without undermining core baseline training requirements.

O&M, Defense-Wide, Civil Military Program (CMP) Enhancement. This proposed general provision allows any excess funds not needed for a specific CMP project to be transferred back to the originating appropriation for use on another project. This flexibility ensures maximum execution of the Innovative Readiness Training opportunities that will help to increase deployment readiness while simultaneously providing key services with lasting benefits for our American communities.

Health Care Transformational Fund. This proposed general provision allows the Defense Health Program (DHP) to transfer unobligated balances of expiring discretionary funds in any of its accounts into a Transformational Fund. This change helps the DHP to target structural investments, such as the backlog in Facilities Sustainment, Restoration, and Modernization, and enables the DOD to maximize its health care investments without additional topline increases.

Depoliticizing the Department of Defense

The American military is not a social laboratory. It is the guarantor of the American people’s safety and prosperity and as such needs to prioritize lethality over other considerations. Non-defense spending and initiatives should not be included in the defense budget.

Under the Biden Administration, all manner of woke policies have been forced on the DOD. These hyperpolitical, left-wing policies distract the military from its core mission and cause division within the force. These policies alienate conservative Americans and contribute to the recruiting crisis.

American servicemembers are subjected to training sessions on inane concepts such as the correct use of personal pronouns according to the latest gender theory. American servicemembers are taught that America is fatally flawed because of systemic racism and white privilege—left-wing ideological concepts with their roots in the Marxist tenets of critical race theory. West Point cadets have to attend lectures with titles like “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage.” Such policies are divisive and demoralizing and have no place in the American military.

The FY 2025 conservative defense budget includes recommendations that the DOD:

Eliminate all diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and positions.

Eliminate all climate change initiatives and positions. The current Pentagon leadership has stated that climate change will touch every aspect of the department’s planning. While energy and electricity are of paramount importance in every aspect of military operations, the reliability of energy sources is more important than their carbon emissions. In many of the environments where the Pentagon operates, such as Alaska, having energy is a matter of life and death. Congress should prioritize mission needs when evaluating incoming energy proposals from the Administration.

Make all physical fitness tests gender neutral. Physical fitness is a key aspect of military readiness, especially in combat roles.

Strive to be apolitical. Military officers should avoid weighing in on sensitive political issues. Senior military officials, by inserting their views into culture-war issues over the past several years, have decreased the American people’s traditional esteem for and trust in the military.

Refuse to fund abortions either directly or indirectly.

Robert Greenway is Director, Allison Center for National Security; Wilson Beaver is a Policy Advisor, Robert Peters is a Research Fellow, Alex Velez-Green is a Senior Policy Advisor, Brent Sadler is a Senior Research Fellow, Jim Fein is a Research Assistant, and John “JV” Venable was a Senior Research Fellow. This article was adapted with permission.