Spending on defense falls into two broad categories: dollars that go toward combat capability and dollars that go toward supporting combat personnel. The percentage of spending on military combat capability relative to support is commonly known as the tooth-to-tail ratio. While the concept is well accepted, the specific definitions of “tooth” and “tail” are not. Broadly defined, “tooth” is personnel, systems and support in the hands of operational combat forces. The “tail” is everything else, ranging from data processing, accounting and housing to transportation, health care, education and surplus property disposal.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Department of Defense has taken historic steps to reduce the size of the combat tooth, cutting the number of people in the military by 40 percent. Yet the Pentagon’s oversized support structure has been mostly resistant to change. The trend of non-combat functions absorbing more and more of the Pentagon budget is dangerous. It threatens to erode the ability of our fighting forces to accomplish their primary military missions.

To some extent that is already happening. Year after year, money budgeted for procurement of new equipment to modernize and re-capitalize the force was diverted to pay for current operations. Spending for new weapons and other equipment declined by more than 60 percent in real terms from its Cold War high point.

During the 2000 campaign, both presidential candidates cited the need to re-build the nation’s military might. But without serious and significant reforms in the way the Pentagon does business, that rebuilding effort may well be impossible to achieve – at any affordable price. Some experts estimate that the cost of updating the Pentagon’s weapons and equipment will be as much as $100 billion per year. The President and Congress will have a hard time reconciling spending that huge sum on military hardware with ambitious tax cutting goals and domestic spending demands. They will have to spend smarter instead.

That is what the Business Executives for National Security (BENS) Tail-to-Tooth Commission is all about. BENS is a national, nonpartisan organization of business leaders working to apply successful business models to help solve key security problems. The Commission’s goal: to promote changes in the Pentagon’s business practices so that savings can be invested in combat capability.

Central to the Commission’s thinking has been the adage: “It’s not that more is better or less is better. Better is better.” To reach the goal of “better,” the BENS Tail-to-Tooth Commission’s Call to Action:
• identifies and promotes business models to cut overhead, buy smarter and budget better;
• recommends changes that the Pentagon must undertake to save money to reinvest in combat capabilities; and
• proposes specific steps for working with decision-makers in Congress, the Administration and the Pentagon to implement real change.
The Commission’s work is a roadmap for putting change into practice at the Department of Defense.

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