WASHINGTON: Defense Department officials are working to cut extraneous and wasteful programs, despite a requested modest increase for the fiscal 2011 budget, the department’s chief financial officer said.
During a Feb. 2 “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable, Robert F. Hale, undersecretary of defense, comptroller, provided a summary of the department’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011, listing four “themes” to explain certain aspects of the request.
On Feb. 1 President Barack Obama submitted a $708 billion defense budget request to Congress that included $549 billion for the base budget and $159 billion for wartime activities. The base budget request is $18 billion more than the $531 billion enacted for fiscal 2010, which represents an increase of 1.8 percent real growth after adjusting for inflation.
Hale said that while the Defense Department needs modest real growth to maintain, train and equip the forces that sustain the nation’s wartime efforts, department officials are doing everything they can to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
“Now this is a huge amount of money, coming, obviously, at a time when the United States is having economic problems,” Hale said. “I always remain in awe somewhat of the size and complexity of this organization — about 3 million people working on a variety of tasks, … involved in two wars, drawing down in one, building up in the other, as well as a number of other operations, most notably right now the Haiti operation.
“It’s an organization that’s very busy, and therefore asks a lot in terms of resources,” he added.
Hale said the four themes associated with the budget request are taking care of Defense Department employees, rebalancing the military to fight today’s wars while preparing for future conflicts, supporting the troops in the field, and reforming defense acquisition programs.
“Our highest priority and theme in this budget is taking care of our people,” Hale said. “That involves adequate pay raises. We’ve proposed a 1.4 percent pay raise. It involves family-support initiatives.”
Hale explained the defense budget will invest substantially in military health-care programs, including $2.2 billion to take care of wounded warriors, an issue particularly important for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
“Secretary Gates has said that, other than winning the wars themselves, nothing is more important than taking care of these brave people who have sacrificed for us. So taking care of people [is] our highest priority,” Hale said.
Ensuring warfighters have the money and equipment to do their jobs in the field is critical, Hale said. About $192 billion has been requested to fund troop and operational increases in Afghanistan as well as to pay the cost of drawing down in Iraq.
“But we know that we aren’t terribly good about guessing where we might have to fight next,” he noted, “and so we are investing broadly in a variety of capabilities that will hopefully prevent, or, if necessary, let us prevail in future conflicts, as well as support today’s conflicts.”
Hale said that the growth in the budget doesn’t reflect a disregard for the country’s economic situation, nor does it reflect a growth in unnecessary spending. In fact, he said, the budget calls for cuts in many programs department officials have deemed wasteful.
“We owe it to the American taxpayers to be careful with that money and to weed out programs we no longer need,” he said. “And to that end, we have proposed ending production of the C-17 aircraft — it’s a great plane, but we’ve got all we need — and not pursuing an alternate engine for the joint strike fighter, for various logistics and cost reasons. Secretary Gates has said that if Congress chooses to add money for these two programs, he will strongly recommend that the president veto any legislation that does that.”
The F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, the Army Future Combat System and a ship-building program for the Navy are being restructured.
Officials also are trying to change the way the Defense Department buys weapons. Better cost estimating and adding more government employees to oversee contracts will greatly improve acquisition, Hale said.
Understanding a project’s requirements early on also will cut costs, Hale said. Many projects that go over budget do so because requirements for the equipment change, sometimes calling for complete redevelopment.
“So we’ve got a budget sizable in amount, an organization that is very busy, an overall theme of continuing a reform agenda and providing all the resources that the United States needs … so the Department of Defense can maintain national security,” Hale said.