Deputy Secretary Calls $515.4 Billion Budget Request Necessary
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2008 President Bush’s fiscal 2009 $515.4 billion defense budget request is “a lot of money,” but it is what is needed to defend the United States, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the House Budget Committee yesterday.
The base budget request -- independent of a supplemental war-funding request -- would give the military what it needs in a complex security environment, the deputy secretary said.
U.S. servicemembers are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are working with the militaries of other countries to strengthen the coalition against terror, England noted.
“We still, obviously, are concerned about the whole proliferation of (weapons of mass destruction), failed and failing states and emerging powers whose intentions are unclear,” he told the representatives. “So we're not only fighting a war, but we're also obviously trying to defer conflicts in the future.”
The base budget handles total capabilities the department needs to counter foreseeable threats, England said. “Our total security relies on a comprehensive approach and that's distinguished by a balanced set of capabilities for the entire spectrum of challenges,” he told the committee. “Now, when appropriated, the funds that we've asked for will provide the resources necessary to execute the national military strategy.”
Defense spending has risen since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but as large as the defense budget request is, it pales in comparison to what the country spent during previous wars, England said. Including supplemental funding, defense spending represents about 4 percent of gross domestic product. During the Vietnam War, DoD spending was about 9 percent of GDP, and during Korea, that number was 11.7 percent, he said. During World War II, almost a third of American GDP went to defense.
“So fortunately, while our costs have gone up to defend the nation, … the basic economics of the nation have grown considerably during that period of time,” he said. “We are, to some extent, a beneficiary of a vibrant economy, but we are also less of a cost for the economy than we have been in past conflicts.”
The deputy secretary told the representatives that the $70 billion supplemental “bridge” funding request for fiscal 2009 will not be enough to fund warfighting costs through the fiscal year, explaining that it is too soon to put a good number to what that cost would be. He said that when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates testified on the budget, “he offered a number of $170 billion as a total requirement, but he also said it was definitely imperfect.”
The estimate is imperfect, in part, because the department does not yet have all of its fiscal 2008 supplemental funding, he said.
There is $102 billion outstanding, and “frankly, we do not know when we're going to get it or if we will get that amount,” he said. “And that will cause increased costs and disruption, but of course depending on if we don't get it, then, of course, that will change completely as we go forward into our 2009 estimate.”
Also in flux is what will happen on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are due to make recommendations to the president on the way forward in April. The size of the deployed force, the money needed to support governance and economic programs will all be part of the recommendations.
The supplemental appropriation also looks beyond Jan. 20, 2009, when a new administration will take over. That administration will have a say in how the money is spent, England said.
“I would urge the Congress to support, first the budget request, but also to expeditiously appropriate the outstanding balance of the year's war-funding request so that we can fund our troops and provide them the support that they deserve and importantly to reduce any disruption of effort associated with this impending change in administration,” England said.
“I do want to comment that while we are all debating the budget, there are men and women who are on the front lines standing the watch, securing our freedom and liberty, which is what the Department of Defense is all about,” the deputy secretary said. “And so, while these are important discussions, we should not lose sight of the fact that we do have people deployed every day and we do need to support them. And I believe the American people do want to give them our full support.”