Gates: Bush ‘Interested, Understands’ Need For More Procurement Funds
President Bush is interested in the emergent fiscal crunch in weapons platform procurement programs, and understands the problem, according to his nominee, Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates.
“In a very brief conversation that I had about these matters with the president, he very clearly is very interested, and understands the nature of these problems as well,” Gates told key lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee as they reviewed his nomination.
There may be some “flexibility” to increase total defense spending, he added.
The exchange began as Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), a committee member, said it is unavoidable that Congress bite the bullet and increase total defense funding, including money for the future CG(X) cruiser that will provide anti-ballistic missile defense capabilities.
U.S. armed forces need to obtain the currently ongoing weapons platforms under contract, such as the DDG 1000 Aegis missile-firing destroyer, the Virginia Class submarines that also are a missiles platform, the emergent Littoral Combat Ship, the F-22A and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter stealth supersonic aircraft, and much more, Talent said.
As well, he added, stretched forces show that “we have got to have an Army bigger than we have,” meaning an increase in personnel strength.
The bottom line here is that recent and contemplated funding levels just won’t be able to provide these needs, Talent warned, leaving weapons acquisition programs bereft of needed funds.
“The procurement baseline [is] inadequate to achieve that,” Talent told Gates.
Congress must stop dithering and have the courage to raise defense acquisition and other outlays, the senator continued. “We have been kicking the can down the road” for too long, he said.
Gates, while expressing sympathy, gave no guarantees of fiscal relief, especially in the near term.
For example, as far as the next defense budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006, it is too late in the cycle to make major alterations, Gates indicated. Bush will present the Pentagon spending plan to Congress in February as part of Bush’s total fiscal proposal for the entire federal government.
The fiscal 2008 “budget is basically put to bed,” Gates told the senators, though he pledged to them that he would “take a close look at it” before it is finalized, and see whether changes must be made.
However, Gates agreed with Talent and others that defense spending, even in a time of wars, is minimal, when viewed against the total size of the U.S. economic output of goods and services, or gross domestic product (GDP).
“As a percentage of GDP, even with the costs of the war in Iraq,” the amount of money being spent by the armed forces is “at a relatively low level,” compared to the portion of GDP spent on the military since World War II ended in 1945.
Thus there may be flexibility in planning for later-years funding levels, he said.
“So certainly this business of planning for the future is every bit as important as taking care of today and tomorrow,” Gates said.
Talent said Pentagon leaders and others, including Congress, have been deferring an honest facing up to the shortage of funds for programs to which military forces are committed.
“Every year we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Talent said.
In the defense budget, money has been juggled among programs; cost-cutting moves have been attempted; acquisition of hardware has been stretched over more years (making outlays in a given year less while increasing the total program costs), and more.