WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2011 — Officials will make decisions on cuts to the defense budget strategically, with an eye to maintaining U.S. military dominance, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen also testified about the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The department, Panetta said, has initiated a strategy-driven focus on the defense budget as it looks to implement $450 billion in savings over the next 10 years.
“While this review is ongoing and no specific decisions have been made at this point, I’m determined to make these decisions strategically, looking at the needs that our Defense Department has to face not just now, but in the future, so that we can maintain the most-dominant military in the world, a force that is agile, ready, capable and adaptable,” Panetta said as a preface to his testimony on the current wars.
Panetta listed the guidelines the department will use in looking at any budget cuts.
“First of all, I want to maintain the best military in the world,” the secretary said. “Secondly, I do not want to hollow out the force.”
The military was downsized following the end of the Vietnam War and again after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The third guideline stresses a balanced approach to reductions.
“I am going to look at all areas,” Panetta said. “I’m going to look at efficiencies, reducing overhead, duplication — there are opportunities to try to achieve … additional savings in those areas.”
Panetta said he’ll examine defense procurement practices, seeking to tighten the process and encourage competition.
“I’m also going to look at the compensation area,” he said. “The fact is that in some of those areas, the costs have increased by 80 percent.” He cited health care costs, specifically, which have risen from $19 billion to $52 billion.
The secretary said he wants changes, but will not break faith with service members.
“I have to do it in a way that does not jeopardize the volunteer force, and to that extent, I’ve got to maintain faith with those that have gone deployment after deployment, put their lives on the line,” he said. “We cannot undermine the commitments we have made to them.”
The defense budget has almost doubled over the past decade, Panetta said.
“Now we have to look at a decade where we have to prevent war,” he said, “but [also] be able to fight wars and win wars, if we have to, recognizing we have less resources.”
If a congressional committee cannot agree how to trim hundreds of billions more from the federal budget as part of efforts to address the national deficit, an automatic mechanism would force defense cuts far above what is currently planned and would seriously endanger the military’s ability to defend America and its vital national interests.\
“It is kind of a blind formula that makes cuts all across the board and guarantees that we will hollow out the force,” Panetta said. “Working with this committee and others in Congress, I’m confident that we can meet our national security responsibilities and do our part to help this country get its fiscal house in order, but at the same time maintain a strong national defense.
“We do not have to make a choice between fiscal security and national security,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)