Panetta Urges Leadership in Budget Decisions

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Nov. 8, 2011 — In his strongest lan­guage to date, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today called on Con­gress to “show some lead­er­ship” in the bud­get process.

Panet­ta, speak­ing at the Nation­al Guard’s Joint Senior Lead­ers Con­fer­ence here, said that the sequester mech­a­nism built into the Bud­get Con­trol Act is “like shoot­ing your­self in the head.”

The Defense Depart­ment under­stands there must be cuts and $450 bil­lion in cuts is already fac­tored in over the next 10 years. If Con­gress does not agree on fur­ther cuts, the seques­ter­ing mech­a­nism will kick in, dou­bling the amount that must be cut from defense.

“What they are basi­cal­ly say­ing,” Panet­ta said, “is that if they don’t do the job they are sup­posed to do, if they don’t pro­vide the lead­er­ship that they are sup­posed to do, they are going to allow these cuts to take place across the board.”

The cuts, he said, would crip­ple the abil­i­ty of the depart­ment to pro­tect Amer­i­ca.

“I have said to mem­bers of Con­gress, ‘Look, my friends. I have men and women who are will­ing to put their lives on the line to sac­ri­fice for this coun­try,’ ” the sec­re­tary said. “ ‘You sure as hell can sac­ri­fice and pro­vide a lit­tle lead­er­ship to get the solu­tion we need in order to solve this prob­lem.’ ”

The Defense Depart­ment is unit­ed in approach­ing fis­cal issues, Panet­ta said, not­ing there are para­me­ters that DOD lead­ers will fol­low. The first, he said, is the Unit­ed States will main­tain the best mil­i­tary in the world in the years to come.

The sec­re­tary vowed not to hol­low out the force. Through his­to­ry, he said, this has been the effect of reduc­tions in defense spend­ing. He cit­ed the expe­ri­ences fol­low­ing World War I, World War II, Korea, Viet­nam and the Cold War. Across-the-board cuts that were made then, he said, reduced the effec­tive­ness of the mil­i­tary.

The scope of demo­bi­liza­tion fol­low­ing World War II was so pre­cip­i­tous, the sec­re­tary added, that the mil­i­tary went from the strongest and best equipped in the world, to one that bare­ly sur­vived the North Kore­an attack a mere five years lat­er.

“We have to learn the lessons of the across-the-board cuts approach,” Panet­ta said. “It is not the way to do this, as it weak­ens every­thing in defense if we do it that way.”

This doesn’t mean there can­not be cuts, Panet­ta said. DOD lead­ers are look­ing at every area in the bud­get to find effi­cien­cies, dupli­ca­tions and pro­grams that must be cut.

“The Pen­ta­gon is a big, damn bureau­cra­cy,” Panet­ta rue­ful­ly said. “Going from the CIA to the Pen­ta­gon is like going from the cor­ner hard­ware store to Home Depot.”

Pro­cure­ment reform is anoth­er area of atten­tion, Panet­ta said, and the depart­ment is look­ing for ways to stream­line its pro­cure­ment sys­tems and reduce the time tak­en to devel­op and field new sys­tems.

“We also have to look at the area of com­pen­sa­tion,” the sec­re­tary said. “We have to look at those areas for sav­ings. Health care, alone, in my bud­get is almost $52 [bil­lion] to $53 bil­lion.

“But in doing that … I’ve got to main­tain faith with those who are serv­ing,” Panet­ta con­tin­ued. “We have promised them ben­e­fits and we need to stick to it.”

Any changes adopt­ed — like pro­posed changes to mil­i­tary retire­ment — will be grand­fa­thered for those in ser­vice today, the sec­re­tary said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)