Financial Official Says Strategy Drove Budget Request
By William Selby
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2012 The fiscal 2013 defense budget request sent to Congress Feb. 13 is a product of the defense strategic guidance President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta outlined last month, a senior Pentagon financial official said yesterday.
Mike McCord, principal deputy to Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale, explained aspects of the budget request during a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable.
The strategy, McCord said, was shaped by three main factors: the end of the war in Iraq, the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, and the Budget Control Act.
“That shaped our budget as we tried to reconcile how to do the things that… we want the Defense Department to be able to do for this president, for future presidents and for the country,” McCord said.
Among the topics McCord discussed was how the Defense Department plans to use in implementing the strategic guidance in a more austere budget climate, noting that Panetta’s predecessor as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, had begun to revamp the Pentagon’s approach while he was in office.
“One of the primary focuses of Secretary Gates before he left was to reduce some of the aspects of service contracting in order to save money for the department,” McCord said.
The fiscal 2013 budget request, he added, is similar to the fiscal 2012 budget in that regard.
The new budget reality dictated cuts in some programs the military considers important, McCord said, but officials worked hard to achieve the necessary spending reductions while maintaining the military’s ability to carry out the defense strategy.
For example, he said, Air Force officials believed it was a good trade to slow down buying some unmanned aerial vehicles to put the money into training the air crews faster. “We tend to only show the … dollars change on the major end items themselves and not the rationale, maybe, for putting more on the personnel to man those assets and to slow down buying the assets,” he said.
Ultimately, McCord said, the size of the force is the budget’s “big driver.”
“If I know I have an Army of 500,000, versus 400,000, then that determines how many rifles I need to buy, and uniforms, and how many bases I need,” he explained. “So longer term, the way to adjust your budget is certainly to adjust the size of your force.
“In the short term,” McCord continued, “the size of your force is hard to adjust, and it does generate a lot of costs.” Toward that end, he noted, the Defense Department has asked Congress to authorize two more rounds of base closures and realignments to reduce infrastructure costs.
Many ways exist to adjust the budget, McCord said, but the range of what military leadership, the president and the nation would find acceptable in terms of the readiness of the military is narrow.