Gates: Congress Must Address ‘Crisis on My Doorstep’

OTTAWA, Cana­da, Jan. 27, 2011 — The fail­ure of Con­gress so far to pass the fis­cal 2011 defense appro­pri­a­tions bill — which cre­ates the pos­si­bil­i­ty of fund­ing the depart­ment under a year-long con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion instead — is “the cri­sis on my doorstep,” Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said in an inter­view yes­ter­day.

Fail­ure to pass the fund­ing leg­is­la­tion will rep­re­sent a $23 bil­lion cut in the defense bud­get in the cur­rent fis­cal year, the sec­re­tary not­ed.

“It’s the worst of all pos­si­ble kinds of reduc­tions, in sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure because it comes halfway through the fis­cal year,” Gates told reporters trav­el­ing with him to a meet­ing with Cana­di­an offi­cials here.

The bud­get request was for $549 bil­lion, and the con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion would come in at $526 bil­lion.

War fund­ing will not be affect­ed, how­ev­er. The Defense Depart­ment will receive $159 bil­lion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this fis­cal year, a fig­ure that will drop to $120 bil­lion in fis­cal 2012, which begins Oct. 1.

The depart­ment like­ly would use oper­a­tions and main­te­nance accounts to com­pen­sate for the dif­fer­ence between the bud­get leg­is­la­tion fund­ing and that pro­vid­ed by a con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion, through stretch­ing out pro­grams and mak­ing cuts in train­ing and readi­ness, Gates said.

“Frankly that’s how you hol­low out a mil­i­tary, even in wartime,” the sec­re­tary added. “It means few­er fly­ing hours, few­er steam­ing days, cuts in train­ing for home-sta­tioned ground forces, cuts in main­te­nance, and so on.”

The cur­rent con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion runs out March 4. Gates said that if law­mak­ers don’t pass the appro­pri­a­tions bill before that date, “this new Con­gress would be respon­si­ble for a cut that’s near­ly twice the size of our fis­cal ’12 pro­pos­al, and much, much more dam­ag­ing.”

Forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan prob­a­bly will be pro­tect­ed from the more dra­con­ian cuts, but forces recon­sti­tut­ing or on watch in oth­er areas of the world will be affect­ed, the sec­re­tary said.

“Depend­ing on how it comes out, as I say, it could have an impact on train­ing across the entire force, on main­te­nance, on facil­i­ties main­te­nance,” he added.

Gates pledged to do all he can to ensure mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and wound­ed ser­vice mem­bers don’t bear any of the brunt.

“I will do every­thing in my pow­er to pro­tect all the mon­ey asso­ci­at­ed with fam­i­ly pro­grams, and I mean that,” the sec­re­tary said. “I will pro­tect the mon­ey asso­ci­at­ed with fam­i­ly pro­grams and with wound­ed war­riors, and so on.”

Gates ques­tioned the seri­ous­ness of mem­bers of Con­gress who are up in arms about cuts to defense in fis­cal 2012, but are ignor­ing the effect the con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion will have on the ser­vices.

“In short, talk about not cut­ting defense in [fis­cal 2012], as far as I’m con­cerned, is sim­ply rhetoric with­out action on the [fis­cal 2011] defense bud­get that’s already in front of the Con­gress,” he said.

Gates also dis­cussed some of the con­gres­sion­al con­cerns over his pro­posed $78 bil­lion cut in the pro­ject­ed defense bud­get over the next five years.

The impact on the ser­vices is very mod­est, he said. Of the $78 bil­lion, $54 bil­lion in sav­ings come from reduc­tions in defense agen­cies and oth­er cuts. About $14 bil­lion of the cut comes from changes in assump­tions, Gates explained. For exam­ple, he said, infla­tion is low­er than antic­i­pat­ed and pay rais­es will be small­er than the ones that were fig­ured into bud­get pro­jec­tions.

“So $68 bil­lion of the $78 bil­lion don’t touch the ser­vices, real­ly, at all,” he said. “An addi­tion­al $4 bil­lion comes from restruc­tur­ing the joint strike fight­er pro­gram, and I would argue that’s actu­al­ly to the advan­tage of the ser­vices. And $6 bil­lion is from the force reduc­tions in ’15 and ’16.”

The bot­tom line, Gates said, is that “only about $10 bil­lion come out of any­thing hav­ing to do with the troops or invest­ment funds or capa­bil­i­ties.”

The fis­cal 2011 bud­get is get­ting mixed into issues that range far beyond the Defense Depart­ment, Gates said, adding that he is address­ing his respon­si­bil­i­ties to the depart­ment. “My view is these issues are not option­al,” he said. “This has to do with the secu­ri­ty of the coun­try.”

The train­ing cuts a con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion would neces­si­tate would work against address­ing readi­ness con­cerns the ser­vice chiefs and some law­mak­ers have expressed, the sec­re­tary not­ed.

“The irony in this would be one of the ser­vice chiefs’ con­cerns and one of the Congress’s con­cerns, the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tees’ con­cerns, have been the lack of readi­ness for the full range of com­bat,” Gates said. “We are just now begin­ning to get the kind of dwell time [at home sta­tions between deploy­ments] that would allow us to car­ry out that kind of train­ing.

“And it would be incred­i­bly iron­ic,” he con­tin­ued, “if now that we are able to do that kind of train­ing, we are unable to do so for the rest of [fis­cal 2011] because we don’t have the mon­ey, because we end up on this con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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