How PPBS functioned (in my time)


 The "Planning, Programming and Budgeting System" (PPBS) is the future oriented financial planning system brought into the Department of Defense by Robert McNamara when he was Secretary of Defense in the 1960s.  He had been the boss at the Ford Motor Company and was offended by the lack of mathematically driven process and uniformity across the services at DoD.   McNamara had been Curtis Lemay's chief staff officer in WW2 and had scientifically planned the devastation of Japanese cities (other than Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by massed low level B-29 raids employing a lot of incendiary bombs.  All in all he was not a warm human being.  We belonged to the same club in Washington and every time I saw him there I remembered the Operations Research and Systems Analysis study that he had his staff do on the VN War in 1969.  It concluded that the North Vietnamese had surrendered to us in 1967.

In the PPBS system that he created for the Pentagon:

1.  Strategy comes first.  The USIC as a committee of the whole writes national intelligence papers normally called National Intelligence Estimates.  Exactly who picks the subjects of these studies is a little unclear to me although I worked on many as the DIA member.  These studies become the ground truth of the US government for the subject addressed; like "Russian General Purpose Forces in the next five years."  These studies go over to the NSC staff where they hopefully drive strategy formulation, but not always since the ideologues among the Borgists there sometimes try to drive US strategy in the direction they favor.  The opinions of institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, RAND and the other Federally Funded Research institutions, Brookings, AEI, etc. are at least read before strategy documents are completed.

2.  The emergent strategy documents and the NIEs go over to the Pentagon where they become the basis of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR),  (every four years maybe?) .  This is a massive undertaking that goes on for months and is done by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD – civilians) and delegations from the armed forces.  In this process it is decided largely by negotiation among the parties what the forces should be composed of in the future period under discussion.  To say that these negotiations are a bit tense would be an understatement.  OSD referees.

3.  There exist financial entities called "Programs."  These are for general categories of expenditure;  General Purpose Forces, Strategic Forces, Medical, Retirement Pay (my favorite), Building things on bases (not a real one), Intelligence, etc.  OK, wait for it – in this next phase of PPBS the results of the QDR are stuffed into the boxes of the "Programs" with subdivisions thereto.  For example the DNI is the manager for the Intelligence Program and part of his money is hived off to the Defense Intelligence Agency and beneath them to the non-tactical intelligence assets of the Army, Air Force, etc.  I once was the manager (among other things) for funds distributed by DIA to the services for HUMINT.

4.  Next, comes "Budgeting".  In this drill the programmed funds are reduced to "line items" in the budget of their organization.   These budgets are then presented to Congress for approval. 

State congressional delegations are, of course, acutely concerned about the locations of the facilities at which goods and services will be purchased for the armed forces.  These expenditures represent jobs and money in their districts and states.  Under the influence of lobbyists these congressmen talk to the OSD and the services pressing for more money to be spent where it will do them the most good politically.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes it does not. 

All in all, it can be said that this is a cumbersome system that impedes as much as it facilitates.  Thank you, Robert McNamara.  pl

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33 Responses to How PPBS functioned (in my time)

  1. Jan says:

    Is your nose itching?
    Idiot sectarian Trotskyist has a lot to say about you:

  2. This was a substantial block of instruction in the C&GSC. The closest thing I’ve done in this arena was in developing a mobilization and deployment plan/budget with the South Carolina STARC. Those NG colonels were much closer to confederate officers than union. It was quite an experience.
    Since 9/11 it was a mad scramble for GWOT money in the IC. Everyone was designing programs to expand and desperately seeking Congressional allies to include those pet programs in annual budgets and supplementals.
    it was a sordid process. I doubt this was the way the PPBS worked.

  3. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Me too, “I’m a complete nobody.”
    Humility can’t be demolished
    Powerless are floods against its short wall
    Saeb of Tabriz

  4. turcopolier says:

    It was a solid month at the Army War College. pl

  5. turcopolier says:

    He/she/it needs to get the facts right. I don’t think I ever advocated a strike against Iran. And, after I retired from the Army as a colonel I was a member of the SES at DIA. pl

  6. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    “Humility is my best quality.” anon

  7. ked says:

    For myself, I too embrace nobodiness – nothingness w/ soul.

  8. turcopolier says:

    We are all nobodies. at least I hope so. In spite of TTG’s statement about post 9/11 PPBS remains the DoD process. pl

  9. ked says:

    Got it in a planning course in the mid ’70s. I was impressed w/ its rationality as a system-process, how it could use quantities very effectively, how nicely it leveraged software dev. Case studies were examined & it was found to be a good tool. After college, in the midst of utilizing PPBS & living by it (in gov acquisition & private industry) now for 35 yrs, I note;
    – its a decent process that has become an end in itself,
    – it is highly dependent upon “goes-intos” and “comes-outtas”… kinda a type of black-box entity,
    – it does not address & manage qualitative factors well,
    – it is highly sensitive to the behaviors & values of those who inhabit it,
    – institutional momentum can easily overcome its utility,
    – it does not, in & of itself, re-examine a prioris well,
    – it is a great “place” to hide-from or deflect responsibility,
    I think the incredible scale of waste & ineffectiveness that we see in major gov programs (& plenty of private sector large enterprise projects) can be traced to misuse / misunderstanding of PPBS as a solution rather than a tool. I’ve found the DoD to be, on balance, the worst examplar of PPBS technique – more impeding than facilitating, unless self-licking of the cone IS the policy intent.

  10. Eliot says:

    “Those NG colonels were much closer to confederate officers than union. It was quite an experience.”
    Culturally alien?
    – Eliot

  11. Peter AU says:

    The second half of section 1 is the interesting part. Needs further expanding on.
    From what I can see, the same people can often rotate through many of these groups – “revolving doors” – which includes White House, companies like Boeing and Raytheon, and the think tanks.

  12. turcopolier says:

    Peter AU
    Why on earth would you think people would stay in one little box all their working lives? Do you live like that in Australia? Or don’t you know? pl

  13. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Col. Lang, SST;
    Speaking of nobodies, here is Emily Dickinson on the subject. I took the liberty of adding one “r”.
    Ishmael Zechariah
    I’m Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you – Nobody – too?
    Then there’s a pair of us!
    Don’t tell! they’d banish us – you know!
    How dreary – to be – Somebody!
    How public – like a Frog –
    To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
    To an admiring Borg!

    Emily Dickinson!-Who-are-you-

  14. Louis Proyect says:

    Of course it was Pat Lang who advocated a military strike on Iran. Read about it here:

  15. Eliot,
    Yes, I did find them culturally alien. But I admired them and enjoyed working with them. I also got the distinct impression they enjoyed working with me. I’m an anthropologist by education and a Special Forces soldier by trade. I revel in the culturally alien.

  16. walrus says:

    Peter AU,,,Moi, Eight career changes since graduating from university. Doctors, judges and practicing lawyers seem the only ones immune to the continual need for change.

  17. turcopolier says:

    Louis Proyect
    “It’s a kind of nonsense statement to say there is no military solution to this,” said W. Patrick Lang, the former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “It may not be a desirable solution, but there is a military solution.”
    “Mr. Lang was piercing to the heart of a conundrum the Bush administration recognizes: Iran could become a case study for pre-emptive military action against a gathering threat, under a policy Mr. Bush promulgated in 2002. But even if taking out Iran’s facilities delay the day the country goes nuclear, it would alienate allies and probably make firm enemies out of many Iranians who have come to dislike their theocratic government. And Iran simply has too many ways of striking back, in the oil markets, in the Persian Gulf, through Hezbollah.” Sanger in the New York Times
    Ah, you are a dishonest person … that is analysis, not advocacy. I am known for making the distinction. BTW, I would put myself in the anti-stupidity camp, not the anti-imperialism camp. pl

  18. turcopolier says:

    Yes. There is a certain insouciance about Southerners that can not be analyzed. It can only be appreciated, joined or rejected. My story. “Carolina in the Mornin’.” tries to capture that. pl

  19. TTG,
    I believe my time with those South Carolinians was the closest I ever got to the spirit of Bobby Lee’s boys. Though we wore the same woodland pattern BDUs, I swear their’s exuded a gray hue.

  20. optimax says:

    That’s a good picture pf Pat.

  21. Peter AU says:

    “Do you live like that in Australia”
    I watch how Australians have changed from when I was young. We are swamped in US propaganda, and entertainment. We are now simply a vassal state.
    Politically, Australia takes its foreign policy direct from US embassy. No thinking required. Not one effin politician made waves about MH17
    What goes on in the halls of power pl, where US strategy is determined?
    Many of these people have lived their professional lives when US has been sole superpower. Many do seem to rotate through the the various groups that make up US strategy.
    They seem to think that this will go on forever, Obama – the exceptional nation ect (Rio Olympics reminded me of 1936 Berlin Olympics) -yet history tells us this is just a blip in time.
    But back to “Do you live like that”. A few of us don’t. The percentage is perhaps similar to the percentage in the US that do not “live like that”.
    A frigging small percentage.

  22. Razor says:

    I don’t see any advocacy in that article, merely that there was a military solution, tho’ an undesirable one. It could be inferred from that, that a short term solution could lead to longer term, and even worse problems. And clearly he was speaking from a purely military perspective. War is too important to be left to the generals. Wise philosopher generals are thin on the ground.

  23. chantose says:


  24. trinlae says:

    Definitely sounds nothing remotely like any Marxists I’ve ever heard before….like trying to own a religion by appropriating the name?
    Interestingly, one whose views are more often assigned to a “leftist” position (bearing in mind that many considered Ronald Reagan left of B Obama) is Prof Noam Chomsky, whose public lecture in Baltimore (a day earlier) named the same cast of characters :
    So our “marxist” appears to be fulfilling the dutiful role of hack, as pacifica suggests. (Stay on the narrative, the collie dogs will heard you back on point otherwise, dont dare listen to someone who might, god forbid, challenge you to think for yourselves!)

  25. hemeantwell says:

    I was under the impression that one of the main drivers of PPBS was to end duplication of mission capabilities across services. Were there any successes? Or can it be summed up with the example of the F-111, a multipurpose aircraft that couldn’t do much of anything very well.

  26. turcopolier says:

    The F-111 was actually a very competent light bomber but unsuited for the multi-mission things the whiz kids tried to force on it. PPBS had many other bad effects. It badly distorted intelligence and operations analysis by imposing on these people driven processes an abstraction made up of the artificialities of applied math. pl

  27. wisedupearly says:

    I suppose this passes for deep thought in your part of the world.
    Why not confirm first before stepping into the hole?
    Any apology?

  28. William P. Fitzgerald III says:

    Pat Lang,
    I think Louis Proyect’s comment was intended to be taken as being facetious or ironic.

  29. LeaNder says:

    Ok, PA, there might be a system of suggesting without providing the relevant links. Which makes one wonder why the ones given, are given.

  30. LeaNder says:

    Pat, Jan sent me on a bigger journey. Interesting.
    But yes the quote “He/she/it” uses, is not only out of context, but also needs a cut and paste action if you are more curious. …
    On first sight another king, whose site is registered with an NYC address that doesn’t seem to be on first sight connected with Columbia. But on first sight leads to some real estate on offer or wanted? –1623 Third Ave. #13J New York??? Condo 833 sqft??? Upper East?
    A Columbia University project? Doubtful. But why not?
    Check the little crown on the browser tab. Some type of counter “cherry-blossom-king” or was it emperor? I forget. Or exactly the opposite? Who knows? Image Search? …
    Assad and Spencer? Assad and the White Suprematists? Reminds me of a larger pattern. But again no link.
    Category – Syria:
    Assad and Spencer:
    Needed to check. Alt-Right. Another Spencer on the back of my mind, admittedly, see below.
    this one:
    where is Tyler, anyway. He might be able to enlighten me as a misguided cultural Marxist. 😉

  31. turcopolier says:

    The PPBS piece was a response to someone who asked for it. It had nothing to do with explaining US foreign policy to hostile Canadians. I don’t have the time needed to deal with anti-American venting. Goodbye. pl

  32. Nobody is “nobody”! Thanks for suggesting the post!

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