Gates, Mullen Take Budget to Senate Committee

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)

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