The Pentagon got the giant check that leaders have been requesting for years, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned the military they better spend it wisely.
In a 30-minute impromptu briefing with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Mattis took a far different tone than the one taken by President Trump on Friday, in which the president criticized Democrats’ “opposition to the military.” The secretary several times praised the bipartisan effort to pass the spending measure.
“We have the best budget predictability we’ve had in a dozen years with the two years of congressional intent,” Mattis said. “It was passed with bipartisan support, showing the defense of this country is a nonpartisan issue.”
Last week, lawmakers passed, and the president signed, a $1.3 trillion federal spending measure that funds the government through Sept. 30.
“It was not a close-run vote at all, which gives you an idea of the Congress’ view aligned now with the executive branch’s view of the threats to this country and the circumstance of our military readiness, current and future,” Mattis said.
There was drama last week when Trump hinted that he might veto the bill because it did not address immigration policy. Fox News reported that Mattis was going to call Trump to urge his support for defense spending.
Asked his reaction to the president’s veto threat, Mattis said, “I don’t have much of a reaction. I try to stay with what actually happens.
“The president rightly looks into every assumption, challenges every assumption, challenges everything that’s going on,” he continued. “He’s elected to do that. He’s not elected to be a potted plant.”
This morning, Mattis met with the service secretaries and Pentagon undersecretaries “about how we maintain managerial integrity over this spend plan.”
In a March 26 letter to “All Members of the Department of Defense,” Mattis wrote that “every decision we make must focus on lethality and affordability.”
“I need your help to establish a culture of performance where results and accountability matter on every expenditure,” he wrote. “I need your commitment to exercise the utmost degree of financial stewardship as you instill budget discipline within your organization.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to lift defense budget caps in fiscals 2018 and 2019. That means the Pentagon will get $654.6 billion in 2018 and roughly $686 billion in 2019. Lawmakers must still approve detailed appropriations for fiscal 2019 even though the topline figures have already been approved.
“Thanks to congressional leadership — both House and Senate, both Republican and Democrat — they’re going to give us a little more flexibility on the timelines to obligate money so we don’t feel this being rushed,” Mattis said on Tuesday.
Pentagon leaders plan to put that extra money toward readiness, which includes a mix of training and new equipment. It will also invest in new technology.
“We’ll see more money going into research and engineering about future protections for the country,” Mattis said.
He mentioned investments made decades ago, such as GPS satellites and stealth, two technologies that officials say have given the U.S. military a leg up on its adversaries.
“Those kinds of approaches will be funded for our time,” Mattis said