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Budget Master Becomes Deputy Defense Secretary

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 31, 1997 – John J. Hamre didn't think he'd be nervous facing a group of U.S. senators. The DoD comptroller was well-versed in the doings on Capitol Hill. In fact, he'd been a Senate committee staff member for 10 years.

But this visit to the halls of Congress was different. Hamre was President Clinton's choice to be the next deputy secretary of defense. As such, the South Dakota native appeared July 24 before the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing. The Pentagon's budget master admitted he was "very nervous."

"It dawned on me when I was driving up what a remarkable country it is -- that some kid could grow up in a little town that was so small it didn't even have numbers on the houses or names on the streets -- that I could have a chance to become the deputy secretary of defense," he said during his opening statement to the committee.

Expressing his gratitude for being chosen, Hamre pledged his complete honesty, loyalty and "every ounce" of his energy to the president, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, members of the armed forces and DoD civilians. As deputy, he said, he will work to ensure the department is capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

Restoring the American public and congressional confidence in the Defense Department is Hamre's personal goal, he said. Keeping department problems in perspective and at the same time focusing on the department's accomplishments will work toward this end, he said. "There is far greater emphasis on the shortcomings in the department and far too little focus on the remarkable good things that are happening each and every day in the Department of Defense."

Hamre praised service members for their faith, hard work, industry and honesty.

"I find the Defense Department to be a remarkable organization with 1.4 million enormously dedicated people," Hamre said. "Every hour of the day and in every time zone in this planet, there are members of the armed services who are doing their job faithfully and very effectively.

"As we're sitting here, there's probably a change of watch in a submarine that's been out on patrol for 30 or 40 days. ... Right now some place in the ocean, there's an F-14 strapped to the butt of some pilot getting ready to get thrown from a catapult, and he's doing his job superbly. We've got soldiers right now in the middle of their watch in Korea, a very dangerous place. They're ready to defend at a moment's notice."

Hamre promised to work with Cohen to provide the best defense program possible and to be open and honest about defense policies and programs. He said every budget he sent to Congress during his four years as comptroller "came back better and stronger because of congressional oversight, and I think that has to be the hallmark of our work."

"When we do have problems, we're going to work the problem, not work the audience," he said. "We're not going to simply try to put on a best face, but we're going to tackle the problem and come up and ask you to help us work that problem."

Officials credited Hamre with making major headway in streamlining the department's financial affairs. During the hearing, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin commended Hamre's efforts.

"In 1993, we had 25 civilian pay systems in the DoD," Levin said. "We now have two. We had 24 military pay systems. We now have four. Our contract overpayments are down 69 percent in three years. Our so-called problem disbursements [are] down 77 percent in the last three years."

Problems still exist, Levin said, but "we also ought to give credit where credit is due for the significant improvements we've seen in financial management in the DoD over the last three years, and a lot of that credit goes to John Hamre."

The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved Hamre's nomination shortly after the hearing. He was confirmed by the full Senate later that evening and was sworn in at the Pentagon July 29.

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