Turner faulted department leaders for some of the problems with those broader issues.
"I think on policy shifts you need a more holistic approach, and the Pentagon usually doesn't engage Congress in discussions of finding cuts or program changes. They send them up as missiles for Congress to deal with, instead of using a deliberative approach."
Harrison said the Pentagon needs to do a better job explaining and selling its arguments for such politically unpalatable spending cuts.
"If you actually try to do smart targeted reductions, like closing bases, like actually reducing the size of the workforce, targeted cuts have winners and losers," Harrison said. "And Congress has not been willing to make those tough decisions."
As a result, he said, lawmakers resort to broader, across-the-board cuts, such as the furloughs.
"It spreads pain across evenly," he said. "So everyone can wash their hands of it."