Citing a “coming together of two great historic forces,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter on Tuesday said that the Pentagon’s shift to a post-9/11 defense strategy and its execution of spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit, “if properly managed, can reinforce each other” in achieving the defense posture for the decade ahead.
Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, Carter during a strategic overview announced that the Pentagon is now reiterating requests made in the fiscal 2014 budget for a new round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and for adjustments to military health care premiums and copays. Congress last year rejected both ideas.
Carter also said the Pentagon will ask Congress for reprogramming authority to move funds to operations and maintenance to cope with sequestration, which is forcing across-the-board cuts of $37 billion this fiscal year. “Sequestration is not just bad in and of itself, it distracts from the true strategic and managerial tasks upon us,” he said. “We need the cloud of sequestration dispelled, not just moved to the horizon. [We] need a return to normal budgeting.”
Secretary Chuck Hagel has not made a final decision on furloughs of civilian employees, Carter said, “but if we have to furlough, it will harm morale and productivity in our support functions and damage readiness.” In the next five or six fiscal years, he added, the civilian workforce may be cut by 5 percent or 6 percent.
Carter said his talk was part of a series on how the department is “ready to make tough choices” in putting a “stable and solid foundation on the strategic transition we’ve embarked upon as the nation moves” from fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a shift that is both “physical and intellectual,” he said.
He said the transition, building on the reforms of former Secretary Robert Gates and the $487 billion in cuts over 10 years already in the strategic plan, will be comparable to the drawdowns that followed the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
Examples of changes in the acquisition area will include “setting targets on what things should cost,” Carter said, naming the Joint Strike Fighter, the Ohio-class missile submarine and a new strategic bomber. He predicted more fixed-price contracts, and promised to trim personnel in the Office of the Defense Secretary, Joint Chiefs and Defense agencies, which amount to about one-fifth of the defense budget.
In asking for a BRAC round to begin in fiscal 2015, Carter called the method “a comprehensive and fair tool that requires an up-front investment.” The budget includes $2.4 billion as a “pay-for,” he noted, but in the long run, the first five rounds have proven to save $12 billion annually.
On health care, he noted that President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget requests a $3 billion cut in those accounts compared with the current levels.