WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2015 —
The Defense Department’s budget and its partnership with Congress are central to the success of ongoing efforts to strengthen the institution, increase its capabilities and prepare for future challenges, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here today.
During what he called one of his last official news conferences as secretary, Hagel said the defense budget is critical to funding ongoing operations around the world and to pursuing cost-saving measures essential to fielding a ready and capable force.
Among the measures that received attention last year were the launch of a path-breaking defense innovation initiative, continuing efforts to strengthen and improve acquisition systems, and progress in embracing better business practices and moving toward greater institutional financial accountability.
“I appreciated members of Congress working together to provide DoD with the resources we needed last year,” the secretary said, referring to a two-year budget agreement reached in December 2013. The agreement offered temporary relief, until 2016, from severe budget cuts known as sequestration, and gave the Pentagon at least short-term stability on spending for the first time in several years.
Stability on Spending
“Given an increased operational tempo, the authorization and appropriation bills that Congress passed in December will help ensure our ability to execute the president's defense strategy this year,” Hagel said.
But the secretary said that recent progress would evaporate if the department is forced to make more severe cuts mandated by sequestration in 2016, cutting another $34 billion from the defense budget.
“We need long-term budget predictability and we need the flexibility to prioritize and make the difficult decisions in order to manage our institution more efficiently and more effectively,” Hagel said.
Deferring necessary decision and actions, he said, will make them more difficult and costly down the road and weaken the defense enterprise.
If Sequestration Returns
Hagel said he has been deliberate and direct with members of Congress about what will happen if sequestration returns.
“This institution will not be able to fulfill the commitments of the president's defense strategies with the kind of continued, abrupt, steep, large cuts that sequestration will demand,” he explained.
“It is unanimous in this building … that continuation of sequestration will impact readiness, it will impact our acquisitions, [and] it will impact the uncertainty of our budgeting,” he said. “And that means platforms being deferred into the future.”
Hagel said he will speak with two senior senators about sequestration, and added that over the past year the department has made progress with members of Congress, informing them and helping them understand and assimilate the consequences of sequestration.
An Example of Progress
“It does take time,” he said. “Our system takes time.”
As an example of progress, Hagel said, “you’ve got senior members of Congress, both parties, calling me and calling other leaders, asking for some time with us for us -- me, secretary of defense -- to explain in more detail, ‘because I am concerned,’ the congressmen and the senators say.
“That’s progress,” he added. “Now, will Congress have the courage to do what leaders have to do on these kinds of things? That's why we elect them.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)