USA — Gates Vows to Focus on Reform, Reducing Overhead

WASHINGTON — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates today vowed to take the time nec­es­sary to reform the Defense Depart­ment and elim­i­nate unnec­es­sary over­head expens­es.
At a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence, Gates said he has made fight­ing this fight the goal of his remain­ing time a defense sec­re­tary.

“I intend to spend every day, for as long as I remain sec­re­tary of defense, doing all I can to imple­ment these reforms that are so crit­i­cal to sus­tain­ing our mil­i­tary in the years ahead,” he said.

The sec­re­tary also threw down the gaunt­let to Con­gress, say­ing that if the fis­cal 2011 defense autho­riza­tion bill includes funds for an alter­na­tive engine for the F‑35 Light­ning II joint strike fight­er, he will ask Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma to veto the whole bill. If Con­gress includes an addi­tion­al half of a per­cent­age point to the mil­i­tary pay raise over the administration’s rec­om­men­da­tion, how­ev­er, he said he will not rec­om­mend a veto.

“I believe the defense bud­get process should no longer be char­ac­ter­ized by busi­ness as usu­al with­in this build­ing or out­side of it,” the sec­re­tary said. “We in [the Defense Depart­ment] must make tough choic­es and deci­sions to ensure that cur­rent and future mil­i­tary com­bat capa­bil­i­ties can be sus­tained in a time of bud­get strin­gency.” Gates has the full sup­port of the uni­formed mil­i­tary in the build­ing, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the news con­fer­ence.

“The prop­er stew­ard­ship of the tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars is high on absolute­ly everybody’s list,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said. “I don’t under­es­ti­mate the chal­lenge that is here. But I think being able to get at over­head and shift it … and do so inside the force struc­ture that we have right now is absolute­ly crit­i­cal.”

Gates unveiled his goal of elim­i­nat­ing over­head and shift­ing the sav­ings to more crit­i­cal mis­sion-ori­ent­ed pro­grams dur­ing a speech at the Eisen­how­er Library in Abi­lene, Kan., May 8. “I have chal­lenged this depart­ment to become more effi­cient in the way it is orga­nized, staffed and oper­at­ed and, in so doing, find the sav­ings nec­es­sary to sus­tain essen­tial mil­i­tary force struc­ture and capa­bil­i­ties,” he said.

The sec­re­tary met with defense and ser­vice lead­ers ear­li­er this week to estab­lish a plan and process for attain­ing this goal.

“Get­ting this done will require the pri­or­i­ty atten­tion of our entire lead­er­ship team and include all ser­vices, com­mands, com­po­nents and ele­ments of America’s defense estab­lish­ment,” Gates said.

The depart­ment also will work with Con­gress, think tanks, acad­e­mia and oth­ers for “spe­cif­ic and work­able pro­pos­als on how to change the way this depart­ment does busi­ness,” he added.

Gates stressed that he is not ask­ing for cuts in the defense bud­get. As the depart­ment fights two wars and as plan­ners antic­i­pate an unset­tled future, he said, the depart­ment needs a cer­tain amount of year­ly real growth.

“The president’s bud­get pro­pos­al … pro­pos­es such a real growth path,” he said. “How­ev­er, the depart­ment will face very dif­fi­cult choic­es with regard to sus­tain­ing need­ed mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties in the years ahead unless it is able to shift resources away from excess man­age­ment struc­ture or low­er-pri­or­i­ty areas and towards cur­rent and future com­bat capa­bil­i­ties.”

His intent in shift­ing funds is to pro­tect the required bud­get growth in areas most impor­tant to the defense of the Unit­ed States, Gates said. These include force struc­ture, uni­formed per­son­nel or future com­bat capa­bil­i­ties.

The sec­re­tary told reporters he is wor­ried about con­gres­sion­al actions on the joint strike fight­er pro­gram and the desire of some in Con­gress to buy more C‑17 Globe­mas­ter III trans­port jets that he says the Defense Depart­ment does­n’t need.

The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has passed its ver­sion of the autho­riza­tion bill, he said, and “it appears that the com­mit­tee con­tin­ues to insist that the depart­ment add an extra engine to the joint strike fight­er.

“In addi­tion,” he said, “the detailed con­di­tions they have imposed on the over­all [joint strike fight­er] pro­gram would make it essen­tial­ly unex­e­cutable and impose unac­cept­able sched­ule and bud­get costs.”

The joint strike fight­er pro­gram is the largest and most impor­tant acqui­si­tion project over the next decade. It has been through some tough times, and Gates per­son­al­ly inter­vened in an attempt to get the pro­gram back on track.

“Our team has tak­en aggres­sive steps to restruc­ture and man­age it through this crit­i­cal phase in devel­op­ment,” he said. “I am there­fore deter­mined to ensure that it remains on track. Accord­ing­ly, as I have stat­ed repeat­ed­ly, should the Con­gress insist on adding fund­ing for a cost­ly and unnec­es­sary JSF extra engine or direct changes that seri­ous­ly dis­rupt the JSF pro­gram, or impose addi­tion­al C‑17 air­craft, I will strong­ly rec­om­mend that the pres­i­dent veto such leg­is­la­tion.”

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