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Pentagon Determining Fate of Revered Net Assessment Office

Oct. 15, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
Andrew Marshall receives the 2008 Presidential Citizens Medal from President George W. Bush in the Oval Office. (White House)
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is considering reorganizing its internal think tank, an organization credited with helping the US win the Cold War, according to defense sources.

The office has been around since 1973, and is the ultimate rarity in Washington, where senior officials come and go like the seasons. Andrew Marshall, who is over 90 years old, was its boss on Day 1 and continues to be its boss.

But now as the Pentagon looks to build itself for the decade ahead, a period with fewer spending cash, the revered office could be reorganized or, as some have suggested, eliminated.

Defense officials stress that no final decision has been made, however DoD is in the midst of reducing its headquarters staffs by 20 percent over the next five years, a move intended to save the Pentagon billions of dollars.

Any change in the office’s status has prompted concern on both sides of the political aisle.

Asked if he thinks closing the Net Assessment shop is a good idea, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin’s eyes grew large as he replied: “No!”

“It doesn’t strike me as a good idea,” the Michigan Democrat said. “But I would at least consider their argument. I’m sure before they do it, they’ll talk to me about it.”

In an Oct. 11 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, House Armed Services seapower subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes, R-Va., noted panel members have been “made aware that the Department is considering the elimination of the Office of Net Assessment (ONA).”

Forbes told Hagel that the Marshall-led office “has been at the forefront of the most innovative defense strategies of the last two generations.”

“Given the critical contributions to U.S. national security made by the office during its forty-year history and its role as a central repository for long-range strategic thinking, we believe it would be a serious error to further consider its abolition,” Forbes wrote.

The office is “helping to drive the development of the Air-Sea Battle concept” and long-range strategies, Forbes wrote.

“[T]hroughout ONA’s history the office has trained and mentored numerous strategic practitioners who have made considerable contributions to our nation’s long-range thinking,” he wrote.

Forbes wants Hagel’s commitment to remain “appropriately funded in light of its singular and continuing contributions to American national security and interests.”

The proposed move also has caught the attention of some in the think tank and consulting worlds. Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute, is as unimpressed with the idea as Forbes.

“The decision to eliminate [Net Assessment] might make sense were it an expensive endeavor, employing a large staff that might be better deployed elsewhere,” he wrote.

The Net Assessment office is less than a dozen people, tiny when compared with the rest of the Pentagon sweeping bureaucracy, Goure noted.

“Its budget is a few million dollars annually, much of that devoted to outside studies and analyses, he wrote. “You wouldn’t save enough from this action buy even one tactical fighter. Furthermore, the loss of the intellectual energy NA provides at a critical time for the Pentagon’s future could have negative effects far outweighing the utility of the few dollars that would be saved.”

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