WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2011 — Though defense spending must and will be part of the solution to the national financial struggle, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Defense Department workforce in a message today, budget reductions must take sound strategy and policy into account.
President Barack Obama signed a bill yesterday raising the nation’s debt ceiling and outlining spending reductions.
“One of the key challenges we face as a department [is] how to ensure that our military has everything it needs to protect our national security at a time of considerable fiscal challenge in our country,” Panetta wrote.
The secretary said reductions in defense spending that will result from the legislation — $350 billion over 10 years — are in line with what DOD leaders were anticipating. Defense leaders can implement those reductions while maintaining the military’s excellence, the secretary wrote, adding that spending choices must be based on sound strategy and policy.
“As a department, we are asking ourselves: What are the essential missions our military must do to protect America and our way of life? What are the risks of the strategic choices we make? And what are the financial costs?” he wrote.
Across-the-board cuts have in the past resulted in a force undersized and underfunded relative to its responsibilities, Panetta wrote. “I will do everything I can to ensure that further reductions in defense spending are not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe,” he added.
The debt ceiling agreement contains a mechanism that will take effect if Congress fails to further reduce the deficit, Panetta noted.
“If that happens, it could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation,” he wrote. The potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy, he explained, but rather is designed to spur responsible, balanced spending reduction and avoid misguided cuts.
“I am aware that as Washington discusses strategy and policy, you and your families are discussing the implications of the decisions that might result, on issues from the future of military pay, to benefits, retirement and health care,” Panetta wrote.
“I promised in my first message as secretary that I will fight for you. That means I will fight for you and your families as we face these budget challenges,” he added.
DOD owes the defense workforce and its families the support they have earned on the battlefield and the home front, he wrote. At the same time, he noted, aging equipment dating to the defense buildup of the 1980s must be replaced.
“Going forward, we must ensure that the military gets the effective and affordable weapons it needs by redoubling our efforts to enforce procurement discipline,” he wrote.
DOD must also continue to tackle wasteful and duplicative spending, and overhead staffing, he wrote. “We must be accountable to the American people for what we spend, where we spend it, and with what result,” he added.
Panetta emphasized that the military has succeeded in every mission it has been assigned, from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at home and abroad.
“You — the men and women of the military — have never said ‘I can’t do it.’ Nor have the civilians who support you. That is the military ethos — to salute and press on,” he wrote.
The ethos of the nation’s leaders and policy makers must be to ensure that the missions assigned to the military meet critical national security priorities, he wrote.
“It is our responsibility to determine those priorities and to ensure that you will always have the training and equipment to succeed in those missions,” the secretary wrote.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)