Defense Speak Interpreted: POM—Explaining the Process for Defense Budgeting


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If you research POM on Wikipedia, you get 26 references, none of which relates to that secret language—“defense speak.” Maybe the two uses of “POM” you might be familiar with are a brand of pomegranate juice, or the decorative ball-shaped items used by cheerleaders.  

Anyone hanging around Defense programs will have surely heard of the term “POM.” Most of the connotations I have heard say that if you have a POM or will get “POM’d,” your program is “skating on solid ice.” That led me to infer that if you were in the POM, your program was established. But why and how?  

Actually, POM stands for program objective memorandum, and is a part of the U.S. Defense Department five-year budgeting/spending plan.  

Some of the predecessor policy positions that precede the POM:

  • The National Security Strategy (NSS) [1]: Issued in early March as an interim policy since the White House had only recently changed from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Key priorities included:
    • “Protect the security of the American people by defending against great powers, regional adversaries and transnational threats.”
    • “Expand economic prosperity and opportunity by redefining America’s economic interests, primarily by focusing on improving working families’ livelihoods and achieving an economic recovery grounded in equitable and inclusive growth.”
    • “Realize and defend the democratic values at the heart of the American way of life by reinvigorating American democracy, living up to our ideals and values for all Americans, and uniting the world’s democracies to combat threats to free societies.
    • Quadrennial Defense Review of the 2018 the National Defense Strategy (NDS) [2]: Produced by the Secretary of Defense, and a refinement of the NSS and is usually published every four years.   The 14-page 2018 version is public. Three major provisions include:
      • Build a more lethal force
      • Strengthen alliances and attract new partners
      • Reform the department for greater performance and affordability 
      • National Military Strategy: A document compiled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent up to the Secretary of Defense. By U.S. code, it is required by February 15 of even numbered years and goes not only to the President, but also the Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate along with overview comments from the Secretary of Defense. There is more detail to this report, as it must report the ends, ways, and means to accomplish the strategy [3]

Now, we are getting down to the detail to produce an annual budget, but allow for long term, multi-year programs. Obviously, much of this report must be classified, but there is an un-classified version available [4].  

Confused yet? Perhaps this graphic will help you before we go into the secret realm of the POM. 

fritz_fig1.jpg 

Figure 1: A PPBE process flowchart. (Source: Acqnotes.com) For further detail, a video [5] also provides an explanation.

A program objective memorandum (POM) is a recommendation from the Services and Defense Agencies to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) concerning how they plan to allocate resources (funding) for a program(s) to meet the Service Program Guidance (SPG) and Defense Planning Guidance (DPG).

Now we are ready to do some seriously detailed planning and budgeting. And worse, this POM process is outside the view of the public. You just get notified if you are included in the POM.     

To review the steps in developing the president’s budget (due February 1 each year), Figure 2 may be helpful, or not. It starts with the hidden POM and ends up five months later with the president’s budget.  

Fritz_fig2_DAU_Slideshare.jpg 

Figure 2: A program budget decision flowchart. (Source: Defense Acquisition University)

It seems complex, but there are other diagrams that help explain the factors the Defense Department considers in their budget process [6]

Fritz_Figure_3.jpg 

So, now that the President publishes a budget, we’re ready to move on with Defense expenditures, right? Not so fast. Congress now gets involved in the money appropriation process. My December 2019 Defense Speaks column touched on the normal NDAA budget process, with an emphasis on what happens if there is no Congressional approval and Presidential signature by September 30, the last day of the federal fiscal year. This results in a Continuing Resolution, as I detailed in my previous column.     

Anyway, Congress takes the president’s budget, shown complete by target date in February, and details expenditures into the summer. They may add amounts that the president (and Defense Department before him) did not request. They may cut some requested budget items, as well. Everyone knew in 2020 that with a Democrat House, and Republican Senate and President, that agreement would be hard; sure enough, on October 1, 2020, there was a Continuing Resolution—nothing new. And, President Trump vetoed the jointly approved NDAA in December 2020, with Congress overriding his veto for the first time in Trump’s term. 

This year, with Biden coming into the presidency, the president’s budget was not released until May 28 [7].

So, Congress got a late start on analyzing his requests, and we can anticipate either a “down-to-the-wire” approval process, or another continuing resolution for the 2022 NDAA. Isn’t Defense budgeting fun?

References

  1. The Interim National Strategic Guidance, crsreports.congress.gov, March 29, 2021.
  2. Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge, dod.defense.gov.
  3. National Military Strategy (United States), Wikipedia.org.
  4. National Military Strategy 2018. Available as an unclassified document at jcs.mil.
  5. Video: Tutorial, Program Objective Memorandum, acqnotes.com. 
  6. Defense Acquisition University, for one example, click here.
  7. The Department of Defense Releases the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Budget, defense.gov, May 28, 2021.

Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and is retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at (SAIC) supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012. 

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