Linking the Readiness of the Armed Forces to DoD's Operation and Maintenance Spending

April 25, 2011

Letter to the Honorable C.W. Bill Young

Spending for operation and maintenance (O&M) supports the military services' day-to-day activities, such as the training of military units, maintenance of equipment, recruitment of service members, operations of military bases, and provision of administrative services. In 2010, appropriations for O&M (excluding funds for the Defense Health Program) totaled $157 billion and constituted some 29 percent of the Department of Defense's (DoD's) "base" budget.

DoD typically cites the readiness of military units to perform their missions in wartime as the primary justification for its O&M budget requests to the Congress. For example, budget materials that the Army submitted with its 2012 request for O&M funding state the following: "The budget provides resources to train and sustain the active component combat forces at readiness levels consistent with mission requirements. . . ." The Navy in part justified its 2012 O&M request with this statement: "Our top readiness priority is ensuring that forces are fully trained, ready to deploy, and fully supported while deployed. The budget reflects the best balance of resources to achieve this priority."

DoD broadly defines "readiness" as the ability of U.S. military forces to fight and meet the demands of the National Military Strategy (which describes the armed forces' role in achieving national security objectives). DoD assesses readiness on at least two levels—the unit level and the joint level. "Unit readiness" is the ability of units such as Army brigades, Marine Corps regiments, Navy ships, and Air Force squadrons to perform their designated missions. "Joint readiness" refers to a commander's ability to execute missions with units from more than one service.

DoD, however, has not been able to clearly identify the relationship between the department's O&M spending and the readiness of military units. Nor has the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO's) analysis—which used historical data to attempt to establish statistical relationships between O&M spending and readiness for selected units—yielded a well-defined linkage. (CBO's analysis focused only on unit readiness because of the role it plays in DoD's assessments of the services' need for O&M funding.) Those efforts were not fruitful, largely because the information needed to determine that linkage—effective measures of readiness and detailed data on spending—is not readily available or may not, in fact, exist. The military's current measures of readiness are not readily applicable to such analyses, and there are some concerns about the quality of its assessments of readiness.

Yet even if readiness were well measured, determining the relationship between readiness and O&M spending presents challenges. Some activities supported by O&M spending may be more directly related to a unit's current readiness than other such activities are; in addition, some spending from other types of appropriations may affect readiness. Also, spending intended to support units' readiness activities must be distinguished from spending for overseas contingency operations (for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan). If DoD is to determine how O&M spending affects units' readiness, it may have to conduct controlled experiments in which it methodically varies readiness-related spending for otherwise similar units.