Panetta Again Calls on Congress to Exercise Leadership
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2011 Congress must show leadership as the deadline approaches for its deficit reduction committee to find $1.2 trillion to close the gap between federal revenue and spending, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news briefing that the department already is working on cutting the defense budget $450 billion over the next 10 years.
Senior leaders across the department are working together to devise a strategy that maintains American military strength while being fiscally responsible, Panetta said.
Their immediate concern is to detail a five-year budget plan in February that reduces the department’s budget by $260 billion.
“This process … has to be driven by strategy,” Panetta said. “It also has to be a team effort. My hope is that … as we work through this, that we will put the entire leadership of the department, both military and civilian, in the same place so that we can finalize this effort within the coming weeks.”
The budget process continues in the building, but planners are casting a wary eye toward Capitol Hill, where the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is looking at ways to reduce the federal spending deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. If the so-called super committee cannot agree on how to do that by Nov. 23, an automatic “sequester” goes into effect.
“This sequester approach would virtually double the size of the cuts that we face here at the Defense Department,” the secretary said. “And it would also force us to cut across the board.”
Sequestration would take effect in January 2013, and would force the department to cut more than 20 percent in every area. It would lead to a “hollow force,” Panetta said.
“Obviously, that which is hollow retains a shell, but lacks a core,” he said. “A hollow military has the organizational structure, but lacks the people, the training and the equipment it needs to actually get the job done.
“It’s a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air wing without enough trained pilots. It's a paper tiger,” he said.
A hollow force has low morale, poor readiness, and is unable to keep up with potential adversaries. “In effect, it invites aggression,” he said. “A hollow military doesn't happen by accident. It comes from poor stewardship and poor leadership.”
The secretary’s message to Congress is to lead; to make the decisions to solve the budget problems. Congress “must show the necessary leadership by doing the job that they’ve been asked to do,” Panetta said. “That means identifying savings in the two- thirds of the federal budget that still has yet to be considered for deficit reduction along, in my view, with additional revenues.”
Panetta has told Congress that the nation’s service members are willing to fight and possibly die for the country. “It really shouldn’t be too much to ask our leaders to sacrifice just a little, to provide the leadership essential to solving the problems facing this country,” he said.