(Media Availability with New Members of the Senate Armed Service Committee. Also participating: Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.); Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.); Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.); and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.))
Moore: Good morning. I'm Powell Moore, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs. We have just completed an hour-long meeting with four newly assigned members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The secretary hosted the breakfast. It included the secretary of Air Force and the secretary of Army and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Senator Dole, Senator Ensign, Senator Chambliss, and Senator Graham are here to respond to your questions.
Q: Mr. secretary, could you tell us, some Democratic members were also invited and didn't come. Did they say why?
Moore: No. We just extended the invitation and they had conflicts. But they were invited. Of course they were invited. We do everything here on a bipartisan basis, as you know.
Ensign: Just to make a couple of comments. I'm Senator Ensign from Nevada. And first of all, I think we're getting a little bit tired of meeting with the secretary. He's consulting the Senate a little too often nowadays.
But on a serious note, we are -- as new members of the Armed Services Committee, we are very excited by the agenda that the secretary has. Not only do I feel personally that he is doing a great job operating our military in these difficult times overseas, but we're also excited of how he wants to reform the military.
It's important that the military be good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. There's a lot of reforms within the military that can happen, and I think that this secretary has the right ideas; changing the way that personnel is managed, changing the way that we run our bases, changing the efficiencies, even changing the bureaucracy here at the Pentagon. There were a lot of discussions along those lines.
And I think that between the Armed Services Committee and the military working together, I truly think that we can transform our military and bring it in to the 21st century to where it can remain the best fighting force in the entire world, but do it in a much more efficient way.
And I'd like to give my other senators a chance to respond, as well.
Dole: Well, let me just say that I want to underscore everything that Senator Ensign just said. I thought this was a very productive meeting. I look forward to continuing this kind of opportunity to talk about many of the issues, because the secretary -- and I have great confidence in him; we've worked together in the past and over many years -- and certainly, as he moves forward with transformation to meet the needs of the 21st century, there are going to be a number of changes that will need to be made. Many have already been made; the -- of course, the quadrennial review; the new unified command plan and many other aspects; financial management were discussed this morning; the accomplishments already over the past two years but also a number of needs as the Pentagon moves forward with their plans and some changes that will require legislation. So, I look forward to working closely with him and his team and my colleagues as a new member of the committee. But I found this to be very helpful this morning, and look forward to continuing dialogue on a regular basis.
Chambliss: Well, I'm Senator Chambliss from Georgia. And Senator Graham and I of course come over from the House Armed Services Committee and we bring, I think, some experience, but more importantly, we bring some cooperation between the Pentagon and the Hill to the Senate side that we have experienced on the House side.
And I'm pretty excited about the way that this secretary of defense is running this department over here. For the first time in my eight years in Congress, we now are running the Pentagon with a businesslike approach. It is a big business, and this secretary is doing all the things, in my opinion, to move us into the 21st century, in the way that the military should be moved -- from a structural standpoint, from an operations standpoint and from a fiscal standpoint. I think we're making the right changes and the right moves to make sure that we're leaner and meaner and that we are going to be able to win every single battle that this military is faced with.
Graham: Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.
I've been in a lot of meetings in the last eight years. This is the first time since I've been a member of Congress that an agency has invited me over to tell me that they can save money if I will help them, that they can reduce their budget and they would like to close up some of their assets. That was very striking to me.
The secretary, as John said, has an ambitious plan for restructuring the hiring and firing of the military, civilian component part of it, to give us more flexibility; to budget in a new and different way so the money will go further; and to do some things that are, I think, long overdue structurally. But he mentioned and challenged us to support base closings. And politically that would be difficult, but he has indicated to us that they have a lot of assets under their control they have to manage and pay for that are probably not as productive as they should be.
So we have a federal agency challenging the Congress to give them the tools be more flexible, save money and be more efficient. I hope we'll rise to the occasion.
Q: The secretary said yesterday that he wasn't giving --
Q: Senator Graham? Senator Graham?
Q: Speaking of saving money, the secretary said yesterday that he needs more, that the high cost of the buildup in the gulf and the fact that Congress failed to pass the $10 billion amount that they asked for fighting the war on terror has left them in a bind. They're robbing Peter to pay Paul. Did he make the case for a supplemental? And how do you-all feel about that?
Graham: He told us two things that I thought were important: that he's living in a world of inefficiency, and we have tasking we've assigned to the military and just the world events have assigned to them and need some immediate help. But I think the meeting was about long-term restructuring of the Department of Defense so that we can get a bigger bang for our buck. And if we'll listen to what he's doing and help him legislatively, I think we can trim up the budget, save money and put it into areas that are more meaningful.
But in the short term, his request for money is probably legitimate. In the long term, his desire for change is equally legitimate, but it will challenge us as politicians, because he's asking us to look at closing some facilities. He's asking us to change the law to give more power to hire and fire than currently exists. So I hope we'll do both things for him: help him in the short term, help him in the long term.
Moore: Any other questions?
Q: Yes. Senators, basically you mentioned -- Senator Graham, you mentioned inefficiencies. I just wondered if that would extend to closing bases such as Charleston or anything like that.
Graham: Well, they've already closed Charleston. (Laughter.) So we're past that one.
But the point is well taken. Does it meant South Carolina? Does it mean Georgia? Does it mean Nevada and North Carolina? I guess what he's telling us is that they're going to come up with a list based on what they think is best for the military's operating needs, how they can best manage the force and save money. And there's some colleagues of ours would like BRAC not to continue. I think if we're going to do a good job for the future of taxpayers and manage the war well, we're going to have to listen to change. And yes, ma'am, that would include suggestions for changing in South Carolina. And we've already lost two bases.
Q: What about closing overseas bases? What about closing overseas bases?
Graham: Everything's on the table.
Q: What were some of the other legislative changes, aside from personnel, flexibility and BRAC, that he talked about?
Ensign: Let me mention one last thing on BRAC. First of all, we have obviously closed more bases overseas than we have domestically, but overseas bases are on the table. But I think that we, as senators, have to look -- and we just can't be worried about protecting jobs when it costs the entire country a lot more money. I mean, there's about 20 percent of the bases, probably, domestically, that need to be closed. That's going to cause a lot of political heartburn.
And a lot of our colleagues are nervous because the last administration politicized the BRAC. We've got to take it out of politics. This building, this whole military, needs to be depoliticized. It needs to be -- we need to be operating in a bipartisan fashion, because this is the -- fundamentally, the most important job of the federal government is defending our country through the military, and we have to operate in a bipartisan way. So we have to get this whole thing out of politics.
Q: Senator Dole, you didn't mention about the closing bases. I just wanted to know what your thoughts are. And also, they're talking about a possible $30 billion -- has been one figure mentioned for the cost of Iraq. I wondered if I could hear your thoughts on --
Q: Yes, that's supplemental.
Dole: Well, first of all, let me say that I think it's premature right now to be addressing particular bases. Obviously, everything will be presented. We'll look at all of the various options, but I don't want to say today what my decision would be. I think the -- North Carolina has some very, very important bases -- (laughs) -- and obviously, I'm going to want to work with the Pentagon on this. But I'm not going to say today what I would -- what my answer would be on any particular matter. And, you know, I look forward to working with the secretary and to getting the reports.
Q: Did the secretary give you all any idea of what supplemental might be sought -- the amount of the supplemental?
Chambliss: No. We didn't get into specifics of the supplemental. Certainly, I think we all know that the likelihood of that forthcoming is going to be there, but we didn't talk about specifics.
Graham: Okay, thank you all.
Q: Thank you.