02 Feb 15. President Barack Obama’s defense secretary nominee this morning pledged to protect the nation and its allies in a turbulent world and to work with Congress to find a way through defense budget turmoil and the looming spending cuts of sequestration.
Ash Carter, who served as deputy secretary of defense from October 2011 to December 2013 and was the Pentagon’s acquisition chief before that, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee considering his nomination that he very much hopes to find a way with them out of the “wilderness of sequester.”
Sequestration spending cuts are scheduled to take effect in 2016 unless Congress changes current budget law.
“Sequester is risky to our defense,” he said. “It introduces turbulence and uncertainty that are wasteful and conveys a misleadingly diminished picture of our power in the eyes of friends and foes alike.”
Carter said that if he is confirmed as defense secretary, his responsibilities will be to protect America and its friends and allies in a turbulent and dangerous world.
Dangers to the Nation
The dangers include continuing turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, “malignant and savage terrorism” emanating from the region, an ongoing war in Afghanistan and a reversion to old-style security thinking in parts of Europe, Carter told the Senate panel.
Dangers to the nation and its allies and friends also may arise from long-standing past tensions and rapid changes in Asia, a continuing need for the stabilizing U.S. role in that region, a continuing imperative to counter the spread or use of weapons of mass destruction, and dangers in new domains such as cyber, he said.
“Strategy,” Carter added, “needs to keep all these problems in perspective and to craft lasting approaches to each of them.”
Despite these challenges, he said, “I never lose sight of the fact that the United States remains the strongest, most resilient and most influential nation on earth.”
World’s Finest Fighting Force
The United States has the finest fighting force the world has ever known, and an innovative economy that has long set the pace for the rest of the world, he said.
“Our country has friends and allies in every corner of the world, and our adversaries have few,” Carter said. “This is clear testimony to the appeal of our values, our principles and our leadership. All this makes me proud and hopeful and determined to grab hold of the bright opportunities in front of us, as well as to counter the very real dangers we face.”
Carter said he promised the president that as defense secretary he would offer Obama his most candid strategic advice.
“In formulating that advice, I intend to confer widely among civilian and military leaders, including [those] on this committee, and among experts and foreign partners,” he added. “And when the president makes a decision, I will also ensure that the Department of Defense implements it with [the department’s] long-admired excellence.”
Carter said he also would ensure that the president receives candid professional military advice, as is consonant with the law and with good sense, “since our military leaders possess wide and deep experience and expertise.”
Supporting Relief from Sequester Caps
On the fiscal year 2016 budget proposal submitted this week, Carter said he’s unfamiliar with the details. But he pledged, if confirmed, to come back before the committee for a full posture hearing to discuss those details.
“But I strongly support the president’s request for relief from the sequester caps in [fiscal] 2016 and through the future-year defense plan,” he told the panel.
Carter said he would do his part if confirmed to help the president work with Congress to resolve the defense budget and other issues of the country’s fiscal future.
“But I cannot suggest support and stability for the defense budget without at the same time frankly noting that not every defense dollar is spent as well as it should be,” he said.
Making the Defense Budget Work
“The taxpayer cannot comprehend, let alone support, the defense budget when they read … of cost overruns, lack of accounting and accountability, needless overhead and the like,” Carter said. “This must stop.” Every company, state and city in the country has had to lean itself out in recent years, he added, and it should be no different for the Pentagon.
Carter said he began his career in defense in connection with implementing the Packard Commission’s recommendations.
The commission, formally called the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, led by David Packard, was a federal government commission created by President Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12526 to study areas of defense management, including procurement.
Needed Changes in the Pentagon
“Issues and solutions change over time, as technology and industry change. They extend from acquisition — and this is important — to all other parts of the defense budget, [including] force size, compensation, and training as well as equipment,” Carter said.
If confirmed as defense secretary, Carter said he’d work to make needed changes in the Pentagon and to seek support from Congress, which holds the power of the purse.
“I look forward to partnership with this committee in what can be a period of historic advance,” Carter said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)