The Department of Defense is currently preparing to conduct a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The end goal of this process is the production of a document that will guide U.S. strategic planning and procurement for the next two decades.

In past QDRs, the process regrettably amounted to the Pentagon’s way to justify reduced budgets and increased risks. According to Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute, “QDR 2014 will be the Pentagon’s last chance to get it right, with buy-in from Capitol Hill, before Congress throws out the process altogether.”

Despite the Obama Administration’s first round of defense budget cuts of over $500 billion between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, it is important that the strategy emphasizing protection of vital U.S. interests drives the QDR process, not the other way around. This is going to be particularly challenging as the Department of Defense prepares itself for an additional reduction of almost a trillion dollars, including sequestration, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011—unless Congress changes the law.

As The Heritage Foundation research shows, it is essential that Congress establish “an independent QDR review panel that would allow a transparent discussion about the size and scope of future U.S. military forces.”

Congress conducted independent reviews of the QDRs in 1996 and 2010. These independent reviews fostered informed, transparent public discussions about the armed forces America needs and what they will cost.

As Eaglen points out, “Wild swings in strategy and dishonesty about the impact of budgets on force structure weaken the services’ ability to build stable long-term plans.” Given the looming budget cuts, the QDR should be clear about what the military’s actual capability is in securing vital national interests and what are the risks involved in declining capabilities, increased strain on forces, and decreased morale. Congress might help in establishing a mechanism by which the Pentagon’s assumptions are objectively tested and challenged.