WASHINGTON, April 28, 2011 — The Defense Department has to be part of the solution for the country’s debt crisis, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen has called the federal debt “the biggest single threat to national security.”
It is simple math, the admiral told a Government Executive Magazine leadership forum at the National Press Club. “The worse the financial situation is in the country, the greater the likelihood that resources for national security will go down,” he said.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Defense Department budget has almost doubled. Having this ready spigot of money “hasn’t forced us to make the hard choices,” Mullen said. “It hasn’t forced us to prioritize,” he explained. “It hasn’t forced us to do the analysis. And it hasn’t forced us to limit ourselves and get to a point or deciding, in a very turbulent world, what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.”
Defense spending needs to be on the table, the chairman said, noting that it is his job to articulate national security requirements. The country is in a particularly difficult situation, he said, in regard to Air Force modernization.
“We are running out of life in those assets that we bought in the ’80s during the Reagan administration,” he said.
The national security environment is changing, Mullen said, and often changes. The chairman told the audience that four months ago, he would not have predicted that he would be concerned about Japan and Libya. But now a NATO operation is under way to protect the Libyan people from Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, and an earthquake and tsunami disaster sent almost 20,000 U.S. service members and 18 ships to the coast of Japan to assist in the aftermath.
“The demands continue,” he said. “We’ve got to be measured about what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.” The chairman said he is worried about ill-advised personnel cuts “hollowing out” the military.
“However we get to our future, it must be whole,” he said. “We talk about cuts in personnel. When I was head of the Navy, personnel was 60 percent of my budget every year. I need every single person I have, but I don’t need one more.”
Although eliminating force structure can save a lot of money, Mullen said, the country must evaluate that against overall requirements. Health care costs for the Defense Department, Mullen said, are another concern. In fiscal 2001, health care costs were $19 billion. Today, those costs are pegged at $51 billion, and they are projected to rise to $64 billion in 2015.
“That’s not sustainable,” he said. “We all have to sharpen our pencils and make sure that every dollar we spend is spent well. We need to be good stewards of the dollars the American taxpayers give us, and we’re going to have to do the hard work to get that right.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)