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Cohen Says Budget Will Keep America Unrivaled

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 1999 – The U.S. military will continue excelling in all its missions under the president's $268 billion fiscal 2000 DoD budget, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Feb. 1.

DoD's portion of the $1.8 trillion fiscal 2000 federal budget marks the first year of a sustained increase in defense spending. The 2000 budget request is $8 billion higher than was projected last year, and projections now through fiscal 2005 show an overall spending increase of $112 billion.

"People first" drives the budget, Cohen said. The fiscal 2000 increase pays for a 4.4 percent pay hike on Jan. 1; reform of military pay tables effective July 1, 2000; restoration of a military retirement system that provides 50 percent of basic pay after 20 years of service; and increased specialty pays and recruiting bonuses.

"We think this package will go a long way toward dealing with the issues of recruiting and retention," he said. It also shows defense leaders have heard what service members have been saying, he added.

Demonstrating the priority of people, he said, funding for modernization programs was $1 billion under initial projections in order to fully fund personnel pay and retirement. The budget proposal now calls for $53 billion in modernization funding which is up $4 billion from fiscal 99. Cohen said modernization is on track to reach the QDR goal of $60 billion by 2001. The budget request isn't enough to cover all of DoD's family housing, barracks and other military installation needs, Cohen said. It will, however, take care of the military's "most pressing needs" and support the "shape, respond and prepare" strategy of the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, he said.

Keeping U.S. service members forward deployed is at the heart of shaping the international environment, Cohen said. The presence of American troops is a calming influence throughout the world.

DoD will also help shape the international environment spending another $2.9 billion in the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. This program helps the countries of the former Soviet Union control and draw down nuclear arms.

The budget allows DoD to respond to the full range of threats, Cohen said. The threats run from two near- simultaneous major regional conflicts to humanitarian relief operations. "We have increased funds for readiness, including funds to attract and retain quality service members," he said.

The possibility of a rogue state launching a weapon of mass destruction at the United States is becoming more likely, Cohen said, and DoD is planning to combat the threat. DoD plans to request $10.5 billion in National Missile Defense spending through fiscal 2005, nearly triple the fiscal 1999 budget forecast, he said.

Cohen said the 1997 Defense Reform Initiative remains an important program for the department's long-term health. He said DoD is privatizing utilities and moving toward paperless processing. "We have almost finished the one- third reduction of the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] staff," he said. Defense agencies are expected to cut personnel by 20 percent.

"By 2005, we will have competed 229,000 civilian positions with private sources," he said. No matter who wins the job bidding, costs will fall and DoD will save -- by some estimates as much as $11 billion by 2005, he added.

Finally, Cohen will ask for two more rounds of base closures in 2001 and 2005. He said Congress can take the savings generated by two more rounds of closures and "put it in the hands of the men and women who serve," or continue to pay for unneeded and unnecessary installations.

He said legislators must know there won't be as many F-22 fighters, Joint Strike Fighters or V-22s as the military needs if "we're still carrying infrastructure we don't need."

He said the U.S. military is the best in the world. "From Desert Storm to Desert Fox, the U.S. military in known for flawless execution of military operations," he said. "I would like to assure Americans that their military is ready for the next century. Ten years after the end of the Cold War the professionalism of America's military is undiminished, and we have an unrivaled human and technological foundation to build on for the future."

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