Carter was joined by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in presenting the president’s proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2016 to the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
Carter told the committee that he studied the budget proposal carefully and believes it is the right way forward.
“Most importantly, I strongly support the president in requesting a defense budget above the artificial caps of the Budget Control Act — that is, above so-called sequester levels — next year and in the years thereafter,” he said.
Any bill that locks in sequestration would be both unsafe and wasteful, the defense secretary said.
Bulwark Against Disorder
Around the world, it is America’s leadership and American servicemen and women who stand between order and disorder, he said.
They “stand up to malicious and destabilizing actors, while standing with those who believe with us in a more secure, just and prosperous future for all our children,” Carter said.
“But this Congress will determine whether our troops can continue to do so,” the defense secretary added. “… By halting the decline in defense spending imposed by the Budget Control Act, the president’s budget would give us the resources we need to execute our nation’s defense strategy. But — and I want to be clear about this — under sequestration, which is set to return in 211 days, our nation would be less secure.”
The great tragedy of sequestration is that this “corrosive damage” to national security is not a result of objective factors, logic or reason, he said.
“It’s surely not the case that the world has suddenly become more stable, or that America has less to do to keep it safe, allowing us to take a peace dividend of some kind,” Carter said.
“It’s not even that these cuts solve the nation’s overall fiscal challenges — because the sad math is that they are large and sudden enough to damage defense but fail to resolve our long-term fiscal issues and the real drivers of the deficit and debt,” he said.
“… Sequester is purely the fallout of political gridlock. Its purpose was to compel prudent compromise on our long-term fiscal challenges — a compromise that never came,” the defense secretary said.
Sequestration Constrains Reform, Generates Waste
In addition, sequestration has been coupled with constraints on the department’s ability to reform, Carter said.
“We at the Pentagon can and must do better with getting value for the defense dollar,” he said. “Taxpayers have trouble comprehending, let alone supporting, the defense budget, when they hear about cost overruns, insufficient accounting and accountability, needless overhead, excess infrastructure, and the like.”
The defense secretary said the department is committed to pursuing savings, but Congress must allow it to implement needed reforms.
“Reforms involving elimination of overhead and unneeded infrastructure, retirement of older force structure, and reasonable adjustments in compensation — have been denied by Congress at the same time sequester looms,” he said.
And instead of savings, sequester has caused waste, Carter said, as uncertain budgets force contract reductions and drive up unit costs.
Sustaining the Defense Strategy
If sequester returns, the current approach of incremental budget cuts will not be enough to sustain the objectives that anchor the defense strategy, the defense secretary said.
“We would have to change the shape, and not just the size, of our military — significantly impacting parts of our defense strategy. We cannot meet sequester with further half-measures,” he said.
“… I will not send our troops into a fight with outdated equipment, inadequate readiness or ineffective doctrine,” Carter said, “but everything else is on the table — including parts of our budget that have long been considered inviolate. This may lead to decisions that no Americans — including members of Congress — want us to make.”
He added, “I am not afraid to ask the difficult questions, but if we are stuck with sequestration’s budget cuts over the long term, our entire nation will have to live with the answers.”
Building the Future Force
“So instead of sequestration, I urge you to embrace the alternative — building the force of the future,” Carter said. “[A force] powerful enough to underwrite our strategy, equipped with bold new technology, leading in domains like cyber and space. Attracting and retaining the best Americans to our mission. Being lean and efficient throughout this enterprise and showing resolve to friends and potential foes alike.”
The defense secretary told the committee he hopes that together, Congress and DoD can again unite to protect Americans and make a better world.
“And I hope we can provide our magnificent men and women of the Department of Defense — who make up the greatest fighting force the world has ever known — what they need, and fully deserve,” Carter added.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)