WASHINGTON, March 3, 2015 —
Sequestration threatens military readiness, the size of warfighting forces, the capabilities of air and naval fleets, and ultimately the lives of the nation’s men and women in uniform, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate panel today.
Carter, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on President Barack Obama’s Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program.
“I am here to present the president’s budget for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2016,” Carter said, “[and] … I strongly support the president in requesting a defense budget above the artificial caps of the Budget Control Act, above so-called sequester levels, next year and in the years thereafter.”
For fiscal year 2016, the secretary said in his written testimony, the president is proposing $534 billion for DoD’s base budget and $51 billion in overseas contingency operations, totaling $585 billion to sustain America’s national security and defense strategies.
A Way Forward
Carter said he shares Obama’s desire to find a way forward that upholds the principles behind the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and supports the president’s commitment to vetoing any bill that locks in sequestration, calling such an action “unsafe and wasteful.”
The Joint Chiefs have said the same before the committee, he added, noting that “they could not have been more clear in their assessment of the damage sequestration would do to our national security.”
In his opening remarks, Carter described his first days in office as defense secretary and the commitments he made to the people of the Defense Department -- military members, government civilians and contractors.
His first commitment, he said, is to look out for the safety, welfare and effectiveness of service members, government civilians, contractors, and their families, as well as to those who came before them and those who will come after.
Carter said his second commitment is to help the president as he makes hard decisions about how to defend the country in a turbulent world and to carry out the decisions that involve the use of military force.
The third commitment is to the future, Carter added, to ensure the U.S. military remains the very best in a changing world, amid fast-moving technological and commercial change, as the nation seeks to attract new generations to the mission of national security.
Visiting Troops, Leaders in Afghanistan
It was “because of those commitments,” Carter said, that he traveled to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops and commanders and Afghan government and military leaders during his first week in office as defense secretary.
Next he traveled to Kuwait, meeting with leaders there before convening senior American diplomats and military leaders from the region -– ambassadors, commanders of U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Southern Command, and commanders involved in the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“In these regions of the world [and others],” Carter said, “it is America’s leadership and America’s men and women in uniform who frequently stand between disorder and order, who 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.”
Congress, he added, will determine whether U.S. troops can continue to do so.
Defense Budget Plus-up
The administration is proposing to increase the defense budget in line with the projection submitted to Congress last year, Carter said.
“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,” he said.
“But -– and I want to be clear about this -– under sequestration, which is set to return in 212 days, our nation would be less secure,” Carter added.
Carter said the department needs help from Congress to end sequestration as well as constraints hindering DoD’s ability to reform.
“We at the Pentagon can and must do better at getting value for the defense dollar,” he said, “ … [and] there are significant savings to be found through new reforms across DoD, reforms we’re committed to pursuing. But sequester cuts don’t help us achieve any of them.”
The department also needs help from Congress on Congress’s own denial of painful but necessary reforms proposed by DoD, Carter said.
“I need your help with these reforms, which have been frustrated at the same time sequester looms, at the same time we make new reforms,” he said. “I will work with Congress to resolve concerns and find common ground, but we must have your help.”
If confronted with sequestration-level budgets and continued obstacles to reform, Carter said, the department would have to change not just the size but the shape of the military, “significantly impacting parts of our defense strategy. We cannot meet sequester with further half-measures.”
A More Complicated World
Carter said he “will not send our troops into a fight with outdated equipment, inadequate readiness or ineffective doctrine.”
The world in 2014 was more complicated than anyone could have predicted, the secretary said.
“Given today’s security environment, the president’s proposed increase in defense spending over last year’s budget is responsible and prudent,” he added.
“I earnestly hope we can come together behind a long-term budget approach that dispels sequester and provides stability rather than doing this one year at a time,” the secretary said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)