Israeli Defense Increases May Depend on Key Management Reforms
DID recently ran an article offering various lessons learned and analyses from Israel’s recent Round 1 conflict with Hezbollah. These included dismay at the state of Israel’s reserve forces and corruption within its procurement and maintenance efforts. Now Stella Korin-Lieber reports that elected Israeli representatives and government officials are demanding that any cash injection or increase in the Israeli defense budget (the FY 2007 request is reportedly for an additional 19.2 billion shekels, or $4.38 billion above the regular NIS 45 billion/ $10.26 billion) should be made conditional on the adoption of improved accountability measures.
According to her report, these measures reportedly include items such as:
# Unclassified items (mostly wages) would no longer be classifiable as secret, and instead of approval by the joint defense budget subcommittee they would be approved by the Knesset Finance Committee like all other ministry budgets. This would cover about NIS 20 billion of the present IDF budget.
# Reduction of the “notification limit” for internal budgetary changes or movement of funds from one budget to another, from NIS 90 million to NIS 10 million, and a change from the filing of mere retrospective reports to requirements that would demand approval from Knesset committees.
# Separation of financing of the Ministry of Defense from the financing of the IDF; at present, MoD jobs can pay more than twice what other departments earn. This will put MoD employees on a similar foundation with other government ministries. This would cover about NIS 2 billion.
# Separation of the roles of financial adviser to the IDF Chief of Staff is controller of budgets at the Ministry of Defense. Both roles are currently invested in one person.
# Possible new structures for approval of major military purchases.
Ms. Lieber writes:
“The second Lebanon war proved, above all, that the IDF is suffering from a profound management problem. Shortages of water, food, and half empty moldy emergency stores are not the result of a lack of money but of longstanding poor management. Money has never been short. The second Lebanon war was not a military failure. Rather, it was evidence of a multiyear failure in the management of the army and its massive budgets. This army has always benefited from massive unsupervised funding, without transparency, without a guiding hand, and without accountability to anyone.
A huge bowl of cream, the biggest in the country is distributed every year, and the lucky recipients can do whatever they fancy with it… It is time to impose some order, first and foremost financial order, which will lead to management order, and from there to military order.”
Perhaps. Then again, US system is choc-a-bloc with such measures. Many create a certain amount of waste, time delay, and lack of flexibility by their very nature – and don’t always solve the problem she discusses.
In the end, accountability that does not include inquiries and real consequences for those who have failed in the basic performance of their duties will ultimately be meaningless; no system, however elaborate, can produce financial, management, or military order if that is missing. DID would note that there’s also a basic conflict of interest at work, in that elected representatives themselves are often directly responsible for some of the problems in military procurement and management systems. Their inquiries tend to avoid examining that angle, however – no matter which country one finds oneself in.
Israel, a democratic nation with a very large military service system relative to population, may well cover that angle by addressing this problem in its next set of elections.
Which leaves us with the systemic and bureaucratic measures proposed. In the end, the answer is always a careful balance between the speed and flexibility required in a military at war, and the need for measures that make abuse more difficult. A failure in either dimension is likely to get soldiers killed, and Israel faces especially thin margins for getting the balance wrong.
Item #2 re: approvals and shifting budgets is particularly worthy of scruntiny re: its place in that balancing act. Within a small defense budget, flexibility is a very great benefit; and Israel’s record of delivering working weapons systems from concept to field is remarkable. It is very possible that these two factors are connected, and initiatives around “reinventing government” to be more effective have often focused on restoring exactly this kind of flexibility within defined areas.
This flexibility is compounded and assisted by the fact that Israel lacks the heated pro/con debates on individual weapons found in the American system, with their accompanying tugs-of-war, fragmentation of perspective, and negative effects on budgets and program planning. On the other hand, the American-style system does at least foster debates on force structure issues to some degree, rather than simply hoping that the military leaders have guessed correctly. It thus trades a host of guaranteed smaller inefficiencies for a theoretical reduction in the danger of really massive blunders.
These kinds of balancing acts are always part of a continuum, and a place that may be ideal for one country may be a bad idea for others – or even actively dangerous.
Israel definitely comes out of its latest conflict with serious management questions, as well as military and political questions. How it resolves them according to its own needs and military-strategic imperatives remains to be seen – and will be closely watched.