Mullen: DOD Must Help Solve Federal Debt Crisis

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)

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