WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s request for a $553 billion base budget and an additional $117.8 billion to fund overseas operations for fiscal 2012 is the right amount for preserving America’s fighting strength during tight budget times, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a Senate committee today.
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took their case for the budget to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the day after presenting it to the House Armed Services Committee.
“These budget decisions took place in the context of a nearly two-year effort by this department to reduce overhead, cull troubled and excess programs, and rein in personnel and contractor costs – all for the purpose of preserving the fighting strength of America’s military at a time of fiscal stress for our country,” Gates said.
Full funding of the budget would continue the department’s efforts to reform its business practices, fund modernization efforts for future conflicts, reaffirm the nation’s commitment to the all-volunteer force, and ensure that troops and commanders on the front lines have the resources they need, he said.
Mullen, too, said full support is necessary “to reset the joint force needed to protect the American people.”
The chairman called the mounting U.S. deficits and national debt the country’s “greatest threat to national security.”
Because of that, he said, “We must carefully and deliberately balance the imperatives of a constrained budget environment with the requirements we place on our military in sustaining and enhancing our security.”
Resetting the military after ten years of war will be costly, Mullen said. Defense leaders will have to continue with efficiency savings Gates started last year to support the costs, he said.
“For too much of the past decade we have not been forced to be disciplined with our choices,” Mullen said.
Gates addressed four areas of concern he said he has heard since releasing the budget Jan. 6:
— First, he said, Congress’ failure to pass the fiscal 2011 Defense budget, resulting in the department operating under a continuing resolution is affecting readiness by delaying and disrupting programs, causing cuts to maintenance and operations, and in other areas.
— Second, the four-year plan to reduce the budget until it flattens in 2014 and 2015 still protects personnel, modernization and readiness, Gates said.
— Third, the budget’s projections for cutting end strength will not harm readiness or dwell time and will, in fact, leave the Army with 40,000 more soldiers than it had when Gates took office in 2007, he said.
— Finally, plans to save money in the TRICARE healthcare system are necessary to sustain the program, Gates said. Otherwise, he said, the military “risks the fate of other corporate and government bureaucracies ultimately crippled by personnel costs and health care.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)