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Defense Comptroller Addresses ‘Reform’ Budget Proposal

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2009 – The recently submitted $664 billion defense budget proposal for fiscal 2010 by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates can best be characterized as a “reform budget,” the Pentagon’s chief financial officer said.

“We sometimes use that term ‘reform’ loosely, but I think this time it applies,” Robert Hale, the Defense Department’s comptroller, said during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable May 15. “And I would say it's reform mainly because he is trying to [bring about], and I think gradually accomplishing, a reshaping of the budget to focus more on unconventional war and irregular war, while maintaining a balance of conventional capability.”

Hale provided examples of programs that will balance the need to fight the wars of today with the scenarios the Defense Department most likely will face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks and contingencies.

“We've added 2,400 people to the Special Operations Command,” he said. “We've increased our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, including [unmanned aerial vehicle] increases, heading for 50 combat air patrols with UAVs by fiscal year '11.”

Despite much of the news coverage on the proposed Defense budget focusing on program terminations, there is a 5.6-percent increase in the weapons procurement budget between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010, Hale said. “This was a case where the secretary said, ‘We got a lot of studies; we got a lot of information — it’s time to act on some of these programs that are troubled as to cost, schedule or performance,’” he added. And although some prominent programs were cut, he said, the budget contains large increases for some, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and the extremely high frequency satellite program.

Significant reform also will occur in how the department buys equipment and services, Hale said, including a “beefing-up of the acquisition work force, because I think it's both too small and probably needs a higher percentage of government personnel involved.”

“We've planned some overall insourcing,” he continued. “Although we need contractors to run this department, we also feel the pendulum has swung too far toward dependence on contractors. We're going to hire more government employees and reduce somewhat our dependence on contractors. So there's a people side to how we buy differently.”

Although the department ultimately will hire more civilian employees, Hale also addressed whether possible job impacts in the defense industry were considered in the decisions on which programs to keep or cut.

“The goal of the secretary of defense is to recommend to the president the programs that we think make sense for the national security,” Hale said. “I sat through I don't know how many budget debates or meetings as we led up to this budget. Not once was there a discussion of job impacts. We really don't feel that it's our job to consider job impacts. Our job is to recommend what's best for national security.

“That said,” he continued, “we are mindful that we are affecting people's lives and livelihoods. And certainly we hope that for those programs that were terminated or where there's going to be reduced employment, that there are other benefits -- whether they're federal, state or nongovernment -- that come to these people's aid. And we'd want to note there are programs that are growing. I mean, we're going to increase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by $3.5 billion between '09 and '10. There will be a lot of new jobs there.”

Hale went on to say that deciding what programs to fund, increase or stop really depends on lots of small, but very important decisions.

“Increasing funding for things like the building partnership capacity, where we're either working with the State Department or our allies to provide them ‘training and equip’ roles so they can join us in supporting our common goals” plays into the decision process, he said.

Since the budget details were announced May 7, Hale said, he has been spending a lot of time briefing congressional members and staffers.

“The Constitution is real clear – we propose, they dispose,” Hale said. “We have made our best proposal, and while we would like it back 100 percent, I think there probably will be some changes.

“We will provide the Congress with all the information they need and continue to make the case that the 2010 budget proposal is in the best interest of our warfighters, the department and the nation,” he added.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

Related Article:

Gates Outlines Details of ‘Reform Budget’ for House Subcommittee http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=54427

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