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Carter Urges Senators to Support Stable Defense Budget

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2015 – Slashed budgets and high worldwide demand for U.S. military forces have created an unbalanced defense program that is taking on increasingly greater risks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate panel this morning.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2015. DoD Photo by Glenn Fawcett

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The secretary testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee on the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2016 budget request. Joining him was Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Over the past three fiscal years the Defense Department has taken more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars in cuts to its future-years defense spending,” Carter said.

The frequently sudden and unpredictable timing and nature of the cuts and continued uncertainty over sequestration have made the stresses greater, he added, forcing DoD to make a series of incremental, inefficient decisions.

A Tumultuous World

“Even as budgets have dropped precipitously, our forces have been responding to unexpectedly high demand from a tumultuous world,” the secretary said.

Carter said he believes the result is an unbalanced defense program.

“We’ve been forced to prioritize force structure and readiness over modernization, taking on risks in capabilities and infrastructure that are far too great,” he added.

“High demands on smaller force structure mean the equipment and capabilities of too many components of the military are growing too old, too fast -- from our nuclear deterrent to our tactical forces,” Carter told the panel.

A Road to Nowhere

The secretary said that in recent weeks some in Congress have tried to give DoD its full fiscal year 2016 budget request by transferring funds from the base budget into DoD accounts for overseas contingency operations, or OCO –- funds that are meant to fund the incremental, temporary costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

“While this approach clearly recognizes that the budget total we’ve requested is needed, the avenue it takes is just as clearly a road to nowhere,” Carter said, explaining that President Barack Obama has said he won’t accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward, as this approach does.

“And he won’t accept a budget that severs the link between our national security and economic security,” the secretary added, “[so] legislation that implements this budget framework will … be subject to veto.”

If the Defense Department and Congress don’t find a different path by fall when a budget is needed, Carter said, the department will again have to make hasty and drastic decisions.

‘Holding the Bag’

“The Joint Chiefs and I are concerned that if our congressional committees continue to advance this idea and don’t explore alternatives we’ll all be left holding the bag,” Carter said, adding that the OCO approach does nothing to reduce the deficit.

“Most importantly,” he added, “because it doesn’t provide a stable multi-year budget horizon, this one-year approach is managerially unsound and unfairly dispiriting to our force. Our military personnel and their families deserve to know their future more than just one year at a time -- and not just them.”

Defense industry partners also need stability and longer-term plans to be efficient and cutting-edge, Carter said, “[and] … as a nation we need to base our defense budgeting on a long-term military strategy, and that’s not a one-year project.”

Such a funding approach reflects a narrow way of looking at national security, the secretary said.

Ignoring Vital Contributions

Year-to-year funding “ignores the vital contributions made by the State Department, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department and the Homeland Security Department,” he said.

And it disregards the enduring long-term connection between the nation’s security and factors like supporting the U.S. technological edge with scientific research and development, educating a future all-volunteer military force, and bolstering the general economic strength of the nation, Carter said.

“Finally, the secretary added, “I’m also concerned that how we deal with the budget is being watched by the rest of the world -– by our friends and potential foes alike. It could give a misleadingly diminished picture of America’s great strength and resolve.”

A Better Solution

To create a better solution than the one now being considered, he said, “I hope we can come together for a longer-term, multi-year agreement that provides the budget stability we need by locking in defense and nondefense budget levels consistent with the president’s request.”

Carter pledged his personal support and that of the department to this effort, and, he told the panel, “I would like to work with each of you, as well as other leaders and members of Congress, to this end.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)

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Ash Carter

Related Sites:
Special Report: FY 2016 Budget Proposal

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