By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, September 30, 2015 — Avoiding a government shutdown tomorrow is not enough for service members and the national defense, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at a Pentagon news conference today.
Carter said he and other advisors already have recommended that President Barack Obama veto the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that will reach the president’s desk tomorrow. The bill sets spending goals for fiscal year 2016, which begins tomorrow.
“It appears, at this hour at least, that we will avoid the trauma of a government shutdown for now,” the secretary told reporters. “But that’s not enough,” he added. “It's not enough for our troops [and] not enough for the defense of our country, because this is about more than just the short-term damage of a temporary shutdown. It's also about the accumulating and lasting damage that comes from a paycheck-to-paycheck approach to budgeting for the defense of our country.”
Funding the Department
Carter said that although the bill contains some funding authorities, the Defense Department needs an appropriations bill that funds the entire department.
The NDAA also tries to evade the question of overall fiscal responsibility, Carter said, by using what he referred to as “the so-called OCO gimmick,” in which overseas contingency operations funds are used to pay normal department expenses to get around budget caps such as those set by the Budget Control Act.
This approach, Carter said, “is objectionable to me and to [those] in other agencies, and I think ought to be to the taxpayer and certainly to the warfighter.”
The NDAA contains other objectionable provisions, he added, including disallowing key defense reforms that extend from health care to force structure and represent billions of dollars.
“That’s not OK with me, because that is taking dollars that I already regard as short for national defense and using them in a way that we, the department leadership, have for several years determined are not in the national interest,” he said.
On the severe cuts in defense spending that sequestration-level funding represents, Carter said the department must innovate and attract the best people to develop the next generation of capabilities and meet the current generation of threats. Political gridlock could hold it all back, he added.
“The alternative to a budget deal -- a long-term continuing resolution -- is merely sequester-level funding under a different name,” the secretary said, adding that this eventually will result in a $38 billion deficit in resources for the military if Congress pursues this path for the full year.
Through seven straight years of continuing resolutions, Carter said, the department has made painful choices and tradeoffs in the joint force’s size, capabilities and readiness. Meanwhile, he added, “the world has not stood still. Russia and China have advanced their new capabilities, and new imperatives such as ensuring the lasting defeat of [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] have emerged.”
In such a dynamic security environment, sequestration and a long-term continuing resolution puts the Defense Department in a straitjacket, Carter said.
“Making these kinds of indiscriminate cuts is managerially inefficient and therefore wasteful to taxpayers and industry,” the secretary said. “It's dangerous for our strategy, and frankly, it's embarrassing in front of the world.
“Most importantly to me,” he continued, “for the men and women serving our national defense and their families, it adds an absolutely undeserved element of uncertainty about their future.”
Force of the Future
During the news conference, Carter also mentioned planning for the Force of the Future, noting that today service leaders will submit reports to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that contain recommendations on positions they plan to open to women and exceptions to opening all combat specialties to women.
Carter said he would carefully review the information and analysis from all four services and U.S. Special Operations Command to make his final determination.
“As secretary of defense, I’m committed to seeing this through,” he said, “because attracting the best and staying the best means that wherever possible, we must open ourselves to the talents and strengths of all Americans who can contribute with excellence to our force.”