PPBE Commission Recommendation: Congress should require the DoD to utilize scenario-based prioritization budgeting tools

Congress has made improving the financial system of the DoD a main priority to eliminate the acquisition “Valley of Death” and allow the U.S. to stay ahead of near peer adversaries such as China. To transform the system, a commission was established by the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2022 to evaluate the current planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process (PPBE).

Since this announcement, many organizations and publications have provided suggestions to the PPBE Commission on how to reform the 60+ year-old process. In reviewing these suggestions, we believe there is one idea yet unexplored: requiring budget scenario tools to understand and prioritize potential spending impacts resulting from changing world events and unexpected innovation. This requirement would deliver the data-driven, fiscally informed decision-making critical to creating a long-term operational advantage for the DoD.

This approach would add much needed agility into the PPBE process. The added agility would allow for faster reprioritization of funds as needs change.  Since Congress, rightfully, has ultimate oversight of the Department of Defense’s spending, we recommend utilizing the existing reprogramming process, but with the requirement that DoD include an analysis derived from scenario-based prioritization tools to support the request. 

Such an approach would also greatly improve the reprogramming process which tends to be manual and time-consuming. Congressional approvals would thus take less time due to faster analytical justification, less time manually pulling data, and consistent data governance.

The Heritage Foundation has authored an interesting article on the topic, Cumbersome Defense Reprogramming Process Hampers National Defense and Should Be Streamlined.

Why does re-programming present such a challenge?

  1. It can be cumbersome: Reprogramming of funds could require several layers of approval and review and today’s manual approach requires significant resources to accommodate additional data requests.
  2. It can be time-consuming: While DoD and Congress have acted quickly for many major events, response times are inconsistent – studies suggest some approvals may take months - resulting in potential delays in action.
  3. It can be difficult to describe impact analytically: Problems describing the requirements with source justification delay the approval process.

Each of the last several years have had unanticipated events which demonstrate the need for better agility to rapidly respond while minimizing the impact on readiness. Events such as the COVID pandemic, Operations Allies in Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, and rising inflation have required either re-programming or supplemental funding requests to Congress.

As discussed in the Harvard Business review article, Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming – some of these challenges or a reasonable facsimile should be anticipated in advance. However, planners and programmers can only submit a single future funding plan to be approved by Congress.

When the world inevitably deviates from that scenario, the ability to respond quickly becomes critical. Leveraging new technologies would allow the DoD to conduct alternative scenario analysis turning a manual, slow resource re-allocation process into a comprehensive and agile response. Backed by solid, real-time, consistent data governance Congress could use the provided insights to more efficiently review these scenarios and approve funding changes all while ensuring good stewardship of tax dollars.

A next-generation defense budget system demands Congress require the Department of Defense to rely on tools which provide comprehensive, defensible, flexible scenario analysis. To further improve efficiency, scenario analysis does not need to be exclusively reactive in nature. Instead, there should be agreement on potential threats and scenarios run in advance to understand how appropriations and spend would shift in response.

Similarly, technology advances at a much faster rate than the government’s budget cycle moves.  The technology warfighters think they will need when they submit their budget will certainly be superseded by the time DoD’s budget is appropriated.  There needs to be a mechanism to substitute the latest technology in place of what was requested in the budget years before. Once DoD can demonstrate to Congress that they had more analytical rigor behind their reprogramming requests, Congress could expand the limits for below threshold reprogramming actions and raise overall reprogramming authority to make the Government even more agile.

Technology will play a critical role in making scenario-based analysis a reality. Decision Lens is leading this revolution, incorporating scenario planning within our software to allow comptrollers, budget analysts and leaders across the DoD to assess an uncertain future. Better technology, process re-engineering and improved governance can make budgeting more responsive and agile.

Imagine a world where a Combatant Commander’s unfunded requirements list could quickly be re-prioritized to have significantly higher mission impact as world events unfold, or the latest version of software, Artificial Intelligence, or unmanned vehicle could be substituted for the newer equipment than the DoD requested in their budget two years prior.  With the right technology Congress could quickly receive change requests, understand their impact, and make informed approvals. The result is a more efficient, informed, effective, and responsive DoD.

The time required to implement new technologies into the PPBE environment is worth the investment to maintain U.S. overmatch, deliver agility, and continue to meet the mission despite the dynamic global threat environment. 

Note: George E. Kovatch, former DoD Deputy Comptroller (Budget & Appropriations), contributed

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