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Secretary of Defense Opening Remarks for Testimony Before the House Appropriations Committee – Defense (AS PREPARED)

Chair McCollum, Ranking Member Calvert, distinguished members of the committee … thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2022.

I’m pleased to appear before you alongside General Milley, whose advice and counsel has been instrumental to us as we developed our budget and as we continue to defend this nation … our chief responsibility and my top priority. 

Members, as you know, the President’s budget has not yet been released …

but I will do my very best to provide you as much information as possible about what we are asking for and, more importantly, why we are asking for it.

Let me say at the outset that I believe our budget request will help us match resources to strategy, strategy to policy, and policy to the will of the American people. 

Informed by the President’s Interim National Security guidance and my own Message to the Force, it funds the right mix of capabilities we need most to defend this nation … now and in the future.

It invests in hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, micro-electronics, 5G technology, cyber capabilities, shipbuilding, climate change resilience, and nuclear modernization … to name a few.

And it gives us the flexibility to divest ourselves of systems and platforms that do not adequately meet our needs… older ships, aircraft and ISR platforms that demand more maintenance, upkeep, and risk than we can afford.

As you know, we have commissioned a Global Posture Review and a new National Defense Strategy, which will further inform and guide our resource decisions.

The Department must be ready to meet and keep pace with our competitors …

and, if necessary, to win the next fights … not the last ones.

That’s why this budget stays true to our focus on matching the pacing challenge we see from the People’s Republic of China. However, we recognize that is not our only challenge.

The budget also invests in efforts to counter the damaging effects of climate change, and to be prepared for potential future challenges like another pandemic.

The budget helps us counter the belligerence we see from Russia, particularly in the cyber realm. 

With its emphasis on missile defense and more sophisticated sensors, our budget will also help us counter the increasing ballistic-missile capabilities of nations like North Korea and Iran. 

It funds a troop presence and counter-terrorism capabilities in the Middle East and South Asia to meet the threats posed not only by Iran but also by terrorist networks like ISIS, al Qaeda … and, in Africa, like those posed by al Shabaab.

I am also confident that this budget will help us maintain the integrated deterrent capability and global posture necessary to credibly back up the hard work of our diplomats, and demonstrate our resolve all over the world … alongside our allies and partners.

Speaking of our partners, I know Afghanistan is at the top of your minds.

As you know, the President directed us to withdraw our forces by early September.  I can report to you today that the retrograde is proceeding on pace … indeed, slightly ahead of it.

We accomplished the mission for which our troops were sent to Afghanistan.  I am proud of that … and of the brave men and women who made it possible, and those who gave their lives for that mission.

I am also deeply grateful to the families of our service members who have endured so much as they sent their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives to battle.

Our budget will help us develop the over-the-horizon capability we need to ensure that terrorist attacks on our homeland can never again emanate from that country.

We will now transition to a new bilateral relationship with our Afghan partners … one that continues to help them meet their responsibilities to their citizens, but one that will not require a U.S. footprint larger than what is necessary to protect our diplomats.

And that is one reason why we are asking to move overseas contingency operations funding inside the base budget. 

This will give us -- and you -- greater transparency, accountability, and predictability in the budgeting process.  And, because all necessary provisions currently established in OCO funding are retained, we expect no impact to other operations.

This is the right thing to do … and, frankly, it’s long overdue.

Now, taking care of our people is also the right thing to do. 

The budget request increases funding to support in-home care and support, which has become increasingly important during the pandemic.

We will also be seeking funds to improve military base pay, retention bonuses, and other incentives that will help us attract and retain the best talent.

And we will be working hard to combat challenges that make service in the ranks more difficult for all the men and women of the department … from getting a better handle on the extent to which we experience extremist behavior, to combating sexual assault and harassment.

As you know, my first directive as Secretary of Defense -- issued on my first full day in office -- was to service leadership about sexual assault.  I made it clear then, and I still maintain, that we must not be afraid to try new approaches … to change our minds … so that we can truly and fully address the scourge of sexual assault in our force.

Because clearly what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working.  The numbers of sexual assaults are still too high … and confidence in our system is still too low.

The Independent Review Commission we established has provided me with an initial set of recommendations, first around the issue of accountability. This line of effort is focused on how these crimes are investigated and prosecuted.

I have shared these recommendations with Chairman Milley and with the civilian and military leaders of the service branches.  I have asked them to review the recommendations and to provide me their views in return.

There will be additional recommendations coming to us on prevention, culture, and victim support.  I look forward to receiving them as well.

But I will say this to you, today:  these are attacks by our own people … on our own people.  Insider attacks.

And they tear at the very fabric of who we are and what we represent to each other and to the American people. 

As I review recommendations on how to address this challenge, I continue to keep an open mind.

You have my commitment to that, and to working with you as you consider legislative proposals. 

Madam Chair, members of the committee, we field the greatest military force in human history … made up of the finest men and women who have ever donned the cloth of their nation. We also enjoy a civilian workforce deeply committed to every mission we take on.

For all the things we know we need to do better, no adversary can match the quality of our people.

I am immensely proud … humbled, really … to be of service to them and to serve again with them and their families.

I know the values they espouse, the oath they took.  I know what they are capable of.  And I believe I have a very good sense of what they need to do their jobs.  I can assure you that the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 fulfills that obligation.

And I look forward to answering your questions about it. 

I thank you for the unwavering support that you continue to provide the Department of Defense, and for all the efforts you make every day to ensure that we remain ready to defend this nation.

Thank you.