Gates Urges Passage of Supplemental War Funds
By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today urged Congress to provide the remaining balance of President Bush’s fiscal 2008 supplemental funding request for the global war on terror, saying the delay in funding is damaging the Defense Department’s operations at home and abroad.
“Delay is degrading our ability to operate and sustain the force at home and in theater and is making it difficult to manage this department in a way that is fiscally sound,” Gates said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The Department of Defense is like the world’s biggest supertanker. It cannot turn on a dime, and it cannot be steered like a skiff.”
The department is waiting on approval of $102.5 billion from the 2008 supplemental request. President Bush asked for $189.4 billion for the war on terror for fiscal 2008. In December, Congress approved $86.8 billion of that request and deferred work on the remaining $102.5 billion.
In his testimony defending the fiscal 2009 defense budget request of $515.4 billion, Gates also said he was unable to provide a realistic estimate of costs for the war on terror for fiscal 2009. The administration has asked Congress for a $70 billion emergency “bridge fund” for the first quarter of fiscal 2009, which would cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through December.
The Defense Department has tried to be very open with Congress about the war costs, Gates said, but it cannot provide an estimate for 2009 war costs until leaders know when and if the department will receive the 2008 supplemental funds, and what adjustments commanders will recommend to troop levels in Iraq. When pressed, Gates said 2009 war operations could cost around $170 billion, but he stressed that he has no confidence in that figure due to these unknown factors.
Gates also pointed out that nearly three-quarters of the fiscal 2009 supplemental request will be spent by the next administration, which makes it even more difficult to make an accurate projection of what will be needed.
“While I would like to be in a position to give you a realistic estimate of what the department will need for FY 2009 supplemental funds, I simply cannot at this point,” Gates said. “There are too many significant variables in play.”
The overall defense budget request for fiscal 2009 represents about 3.4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, Gates said. This compares to levels during the Korean and Vietnam wars, when the percentages of the GDP going to defense were 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively. The request includes $183.8 billion for strategic modernization; $158.3 billion for operations and training; $149.4 billion for military pay, health care, housing and quality of life for servicemembers and families; and $20.5 billion to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.
The budget request must be considered in light of the current strategic landscape, in which old hatreds and conflicts have combined with new threats and forces of instability, Gates said. Current challenges include terrorism, extremism, and violent jihadism; ethnic, tribal and sectarian conflict; proliferation of dangerous weapons and materials; failed and failing states; nations discontented with their role in the international order; and rising and resurgent powers whose future paths are uncertain, he said.
“In light of this strategic environment, we must make the choices and investments necessary to protect the security, prosperity and freedom of Americans for the next generation,” Gates said.