WASHINGTON: Recommendations for the fiscal 2010 budget include a 2-percent growth requirement for the Defense Department to help sustain its programs, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
“I believe we need at least 2-percent real growth going forward and I will make the best case I can,” Gates said today during a Pentagon roundtable.
The topline, or the total amount of money the department can budget, for fiscal 2010 is $534 billion. Two-percent real growth is 2-percent growth on top of inflation.
The department cannot sustain its programs with flat growth. The department’s budget must grow in the “out years,” which in this case is beyond fiscal 2010, to keep the programs on track, Gates said.
The secretary also emphasized the need for warfighters to have a place at the budget and resources table. His recommendations put the warfighters needs in the base budget. Since 2001, these needs have been funded through supplemental budget requests.
These programs include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; and greater helicopter and special operations forces capabilities.
“All of those things being in the base budget rather than in the supplemental means they will be part of a service’s budget,” Gates said. “And we know how good the services are at defending their budgets.”
Gates also has built into the base budget an increase in end-strength for the Army and Marine Corps and a halt to personnel reductions in the Navy and Air Force. These and other quality-of-life initiatives also had previously been paid through supplemental budget requests.
“By putting those in the base budget it becomes a permanent part of the [Defense Department] budget going forward rather than depending on whether we get a supplemental next year or not,” Gates said.
The department then must ensure warfighters’ needs are met in the future. Placing needed equipment and programs in the base budget is one way, but “maybe because I’m an old Kremlinologist,” Gates said he thinks the real institutionalization comes through appointments.
Leaders such as Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.; Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli; Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command; Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command; and Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of 18th Airborne Corps, all have served in places and positions that give them the experience and understanding of the warfighters.
“Their experience will allow them to institutionalize in the Army the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “These are all warfighters. Their appointments were not accidents or happenstance.”
An institution can always beat one or two people, Gates said. But “it’s very tough to outlast four, five or six. It’s very tough to outlast that many,” he said.
These generals then will recommend appointments of those behind them. Gates used Petraeus chairing the Army brigadier general board last year as an example of this. The same situation holds true for the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, the secretary said.
Turning to health care, the secretary said he would like a dialogue on Tricare with Capitol Hill as part of his fiscal 2010 budget recommendations. The department is fully funding the health care program in the 2010 request, but there must be an agreement between the Hill and the Pentagon on the program.
“We have gone up there three years in a row seeking an increase in premiums — a very modest increase, I might add — in a program where there has been no increase since it started,” Gates said. “I think we need to lay out for Congress how health care is eating the department alive.”
In the fiscal 2010 request, health care costs $47 billion. “We will spend on health care what the entire foreign affairs budget is,” he said.
The secretary said he delayed making recommendations in some cases to either let the technology mature a bit or so a more complete review can be done as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review or the Nuclear Posture Review next year. “That work will go toward reshaping the fiscal 2011 budget,” he said.
The secretary stressed that “all the debate and discussion and the decisions that were made really emanated from within this building. I got no outside ‘steers’ or direction of guidance.”
President Barack Obama agreed with the unorthodox method of announcing the recommendations weeks ago, Gates said. He wanted to do this so people could put the recommendations in context.