The Agile Future of Defense Planning and Budgeting

On January 18th, members of the PPBE Reform Commission presented at the Society of Defense Financial Management’s Program and Budget Summit in advance of their final report being published on March 6.

One objective stood out, as highlighted by Commissioner Hale, “The last thing I’m going to mention in terms of important principles where improvement is needed, is agility, that is being able to adapt and change while the process is going on.”

Agility must be delivered through reliance on near real-time data, which can account for current spend levels and allow for immediate action to put the money where the mission is.

Ensuring actions are mission aligned requires a re-engineered process combined with modern software. Together, these elements deliver on a strategic imperative of reform, again highlighted by Commissioner Hale, “It’s important to an effective PPBE system that it introduces and assesses tradeoffs in major areas for major decisions, and then brings analytic information to bear both on costs and benefits to allow decision makers to make informed decisions that in turn lead to an effective national security at a reasonable price.”

However, making these changes will be perilous due to systemic inertia and fear of change. To succeed, the Commission in conjunction with Congress and the Department of Defense must first address several issues, including:

  • Lack of data standardization. Organizations must be able to effectively compare subordinate groups to most effectively allocate funds and make mission aligned decisions. Today’s lack of standardization leads to an inability to compare and contrast, which delays decision-making and results in investments that may be duplicative or not aligned to the mission.
  • Limited transparency. Tools which provide insight into why decisions were made and how the budget connects to and supports the defense strategy will be necessary for Congress and leadership to provide FMers the autonomy to make decisions across all echelons.
  • Unempowered front-line financial managers. Other countries have found ways to better empower front-line financial analysts while maintaining oversight. Empowering these individuals requires better processes and modern technology which will allow analysts to spend less time on manual tasks and more time on data analysis.

It will not be easy to introduce a more agile, data-driven PPBE system without addressing the areas outlined below.

Improving PPBE business systems and data analytics by introducing modern technology & a unified decision framework

Defense business system transformation is critical to reforming, accelerating, and providing agility to the PPBE process. However, many PPBE systems and communication approaches remain antiquated, such as transmitting PDF documents and hard copies without an emphasis on using more efficient technology. 

This type of information transfer is not only inefficient, but it also leads to slow decisions made on out-of-date data. To overcome this, leaders at all levels must have access to standardized data and tools which rely on increased automation to enable better apples-to-apples comparison across the enterprise to make decisions with full understanding of their impact.

The result will be leaders who can address changing conditions at speed and scale.

Updating the PPBE processes to enable innovation and adaptability to deliver needed agility

The rigidity of the current PPBE process limits rapid course changes. The Commission highlighted how Program Managers did not have the agility in the year of execution to ingest new technology and innovation or pivot effectively to an unplanned requirement.

The result has been a rush toward year-end funding for use or lose dollars, leading to less-than-optimal year-end spending decisions and not enough time to create quality contracts. Reprogramming is helpful in that it allows for money to be moved, but unhelpful in that it is excessively time-consuming. One recommendation is to change re-programming limits, which would add agility during the year of execution.

However, a system which better tracks spend and obligation rates throughout the year coupled with flexibility in reallocating money is the ideal situation. At Decision Lens, we are proud to offer software designed to allow the DoD to understand current spend trends and use that data to develop various scenario plans. This proactive approach eliminates the end of year rush to ‘just spend’ and ensures investments are aligned to the mission.

Uplevelling the capability of the DoD PPBE programming and budgeting workforce to drive decisions across all echelons

Departments are understaffed but still required to continue working as if they are fully staffed. According to the Commission – at CAPE – 12 to 18 percent of their positions currently remain unfilled as of the first quarter of FY 2023.

The considerable stress on the workforce means there is little downtime for training, leave, and a reasonable work-life balance, leading to recruiting and retention challenges. Further, being mired in the minutiae is not the reason many individuals chose a career in the public sector.

However, integrating automation removes some of the manual tasks allowing frontline workers to better focus on supporting the warfighter. Technology that is transparent and collaborative will allow these financial experts to invest time saved from automation into data analysis and making recommendations to meet the mission.


There is real momentum behind reform, and the time for change is now. As Lara Sayer commented during the panel, “You know, Decision Lens is here, I think Definitive Logic, all these great new tools and data analytics, and is there enough training so that the folks that are used to using the old school methods, right, how do they use these tools?”

Adopting and training on new tools is the essential next step. Commercial software such as Decision Lens was developed for rapid implementation and broad adoption. This is achieved through embedded best practices, on-demand training, and an experienced implementation team.

As we look towards the final PPBE report, Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Commission must work together to make reform reality. With technology quickly advancing, the time to identify, adopt, and deploy commercial software will power the future of PPBE.

Already, Decision Lens is transforming how commands in the Army, Navy, and Air Force are planning and programming. If you’re ready to make reform reality, learn more on their website or reach out directly.