Sharpening DOD's Competitive Edge: Tail-to-Tooth at 20

BENS hosted a public forum February 24 on the 20th anniversary of our Tail-to-Tooth Commission, which in 2001 convened defense and business leaders to devise over a dozen recommendations focused on reducing excessive Pentagon overhead and inefficient large-scale functions that took away from the resources available for U.S. warfighters.

This virtual public forum brought together BENS members and former Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, and other Defense officials and experts to celebrate the legacy of the Tail-to-Tooth Commission. The forum also analyzed and advanced the next decade of transformations that will assist the DoD in adapting to geostrategic competition in an environment of burgeoning defense and budgetary challenges.

intro remarks


Moderated by General Joseph Votel

  • The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, 25th Secretary of Defense
  • The Honorable Mark T. Esper, 27th Secretary of Defense
  • The Honorable Leon E. Panetta, 23rd Secretary of Defense


Moderated by Denis A. Bovin

  • The Honorable Gordon R. England, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and former Secretary of the Navy
  • The Honorable Frank Kendall, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
  • The Honorable Robert O. Work, former Deputy Secretary of Defense

BUDGET & REFORM PANEL and closing remarks

Moderated by Francis A. Finelli

  • John A. Bonsell, fmr Staff Director, Senate Armed Services Committee – Minority Committee Staff
  • Alexander B. Gray, fmr Deputy Director for the Defense Industrial Base
  • Peter K. Levinefmr Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense
  • Elaine A. McCusker, fmr Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)



Scenesetter document for 'Tail-to-Tooth at 20' event:

BENS 2001 Tail-to-Tooth Call-to-Action Report:

T2T 2021 Scenesetter cover

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T2T 2001 report cover

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Additional Background

The Department of Defense is at an inflection point. Much as it was 20 years ago – when defense leaders looked to realize post-Cold War paradigms and the realities of non-state enemies – the Pentagon today is in the midst of a transformation. Geostrategic competition from an ambitious Chinese Communist regime, coupled by an emboldened Russia, is forcing the Pentagon to shed the ideas of past conflicts and look forward to new, more innovative answers to today’s challenges – all at a time when federal coffers are strained and continued growth in military spending is unclear. Today’s defense solutions will require not only consideration of how to deter or defeat future foes, but how to deter or defeat America’s enemies under fiscal constraints.

In 2001, a group of business leaders, led by former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman and former Chairman and CEO of ADP Inc., Josh Weston, helped to usher-in fresh thinking within the Pentagon. The aptly named ‘Tail-to-Tooth Commission’ offered more than a dozen best business practices that joined a wave of positive reform over the following two decades that refocused the U.S. military toward combat readiness and effectiveness – improving the tail-to-tooth ratio from 70:30 in 2001 to 55:45 today.

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