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Michele Flournoy Calls For Next Admin To Reverse Sequestration; Discusses Women In Defense

Michele Flournoy, then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, visits Shindand District, Afghanistan, in April 2011. Defense Department photo.

Michele Flournoy, then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, visits Shindand District, Afghanistan, in April 2011. Defense Department photo.

U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY — The next president of the United States should act quickly to undo sequestration and create a defense budget that allows for smart long-term planning and investment, a former under secretary of defense for policy said today.

Michele Flournoy, the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security who is widely considered a top choice for defense secretary if Hillary Clinton were to win the presidential election this fall, called for a reasonable budget deal at the 2016 Naval History Conference hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute.

“I think, I hope the first national security act of the new president will be to negotiate a budget deal with Congress. If we locked the doors of this auditorium right now and said you can’t go to lunch until we outline the basic parameters of a common-sense budget deal with reasonable Republicans and Democrats, I bet we’d be done well before lunch,” she said at the Naval Academy’s Alumni Hall.
“Reasonable tax reform. Some entitlement reform. Smart investments in the drivers of American economic competitiveness and job growth, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and smart investment in national security. So I would hope that would be the first step towards putting us on a path.

“Now, a lot of people are hoping that this would be a windfall, that suddenly there will be no constraints in military spending – we will be spending five percent of GDP or something like that,” she continued.
“That is not going to happen. If you look at our deficit and look at our debt, if you look at the fact that the foundation of our national security is a strong economy, that is not going to happen. But if we get some relief with greater predictability, we can make smart tradeoffs and pursue a more aggressive agenda of reform to make sure we’re investing in what we need in the future.”

Flournoy’s remarks during a keynote discussion, moderated by senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy Kathleen Hicks, focused largely on the history and the future of women in the national security arena.

“We talk a lot about the need to keep our technological edge for the future, the cost, the strategy – but just as important is envisioning the all-volunteer force of the future and asking ourselves, how are we going to recruit, retain, develop the future leaders of the force, keep those leaders in the force, and have a military that looks increasingly more and more like America?” she said.

Flournoy added that millennials and the Gen Z-ers after them increasingly want a healthy work-life balance – and she made clear that was not a women’s issue but rather a generation-wide issue, with young men at CNAS today taking paternity leave at the same rate as young women taking maternity leave, for example.

She discussed a 2012 study conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency to understand why incoming classes of intelligence officers were 50/50 men and women but the balance shifted to 75/25 men and women after 10 or 15 years. Flournoy served on the CIA advisory panel that investigated the topic, and she said there was a range of both personal reasons and systematic barriers that discouraged women from continuing their CIA careers.

The CIA not only collected hard data on why women leave the organization and tried to address the barriers they found, but the agency also sought to create on-ramps to bring former intelligence officers back to the CIA after some time off to have children or pursue other goals.

The Navy last year implemented an 18-week maternity leave policy but had to scale it down to 12 weeks after a new Pentagon-wide policy was put in place. The service is also requesting that Congress expand paternity leave from 10 days to 14. And the Pentagon is also working on initiatives to help balance careers and personal lives, such as “career intermission” opportunities to earn an advanced degree or work in industry while still remaining competitive for future promotions.

Flournoy told USNI News after her speech that military organization and procedures may prevent the services from mimicking how the CIA addressed its gender gap, but she said she hoped they would read the CIA study and try to apply lessons learned.

The former under secretary told the audience that having more women and minorities in leadership positions would encourage future generations to seek high-ranking jobs in national security as well, seeing a role model that looks like them.

“Let’s get the national security cadre to look more like America, to benefit from that diversity of opinion,” she said, adding that there has been much progress since she began her career but there is still more room for improvement.

Using senior defense leader meetings as an example – when the secretaries, service chiefs, combatant commanders and other top leaders come together – Flournoy said there had previously been one or two women in the room and they stuck out a bit.

Now, she said, “when that starts changing and now there are five women … there’s a certain tipping point in the composition of the group where a minority starts affecting the culture and the conversation and the expectations of inclusivity of the group.”