Obama adviser targets weapons costs, lack of oversight

A senior defense policy adviser to presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., signaled Thursday that an Obama administration would take a hard-line approach to the development of the military's weapons systems.

In a wide-ranging interview, Richard Danzig criticized the Bush administration for significant cost overruns on many of its high-priority weapons programs. Danzig, who served as Navy secretary under President Bill Clinton, acknowledged that his tenure at the helm of the Navy was not "nirvana." But he stressed that there had been tighter control over costs during the 1990s.

"The requirements need to be more appropriately fashioned -- not only to the desire to buy the most modern equipment but also to the realities of cost," Danzig said. "You then need to drive programs, I think, to conform to that cost decision."

Danzig pointed specifically to two programs -- missile defense and the Army's Future Combat Systems -- as two worthy efforts that need to have their costs monitored. At roughly $10 billion a year, missile defense is the most expensive program on the Pentagon's books. The Obama campaign has a "strong view that national missile defense is a rewarding area that should be invested in," Danzig said. But he criticized former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for treating the program like a favored "hobby horse," and not giving it careful scrutiny. Meanwhile, Danzig said the $160 billion FCS program, which has raised cost concerns on Capitol Hill, "needs to be looked at closely."

Addressing the overall Pentagon budget, Danzig said he doesn't see "defense spending declining in the first years of an Obama administration." Obama, he added, would balance investments across a variety of programs and capabilities to better position the military to meet a wide range of threats.

"It's easier to preach than practice. The achievement of it is challenging," Danzig said. "I don't mean to slight that. But I don't think you can overinvest in one dimension versus another and say this is what we need."

Danzig again criticized Rumsfeld, who came to the Pentagon in early 2001 with a blueprint to transform the military that barely focused on the types of counterinsurgency missions central to current operations. "One of his problems was he overinvested in a theory and I just don't think we can afford to do that with the military," Danzig said.

But Danzig had words of praise for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, citing his pragmatic leadership at the Pentagon.

"Defense Secretary Gates has been a good secretary of Defense," he said. "I think he'd be an even better one in an Obama administration."

Danzig said he and Obama have not discussed any candidates to lead the Pentatgon, but he added that Gates has many of the same goals as Obama, including increasing the size of the U.S. force deployed to Afghanistan and closing the military's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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