Panetta: Defense Cuts Will Be Made Strategically

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)