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Panetta Offers Few Clues Regarding Budget Choices

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  • October 13, 2011
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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated the principles that are guiding the Pentagon’s strategic review of the department’s budget while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday, but offered only a glimpse of the tough choices officials are facing.

As the department looks for $450 billion in savings over the next decade, officials are scrutinizing a range of military policies and programs, including force structure reductions, troop basing, personnel and benefits, and weapons systems. No cuts have yet been identified, and the secretary said he anticipates briefing lawmakers about the review’s findings early next year, reported American Forces Press Service.

As an example of the kind of tradeoffs officials are considering, Panetta suggested that if it is determined that the military needs to maintain a robust presence in the Pacific and the Middle East, troops concentrations would have to be reduced elsewhere.

Given the “outstanding” performance of the National Guard and Reserve forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, reserve component forces will continue to play a key role in the military, he said.

“[That] is something that I want to assure you we are not only going to maintain, but strengthen,” Panetta said. The secretary added that reserve component forces act as a link between the military and communities throughout the nation.

The four principles that will guide the strategy-driven review require senior leaders to:

  • maintain the world’s best military;
  • avoid a hollow force, sustaining a military that, even if smaller, is ready, agile and deployable;
  • take a balanced approach in searching for savings, covering overhead, management, acquisition, personnel costs and force structure; and
  • keep faith with the men and women in uniform.

He also cautioned the committee about the consequences of imposing deeper spending cuts on the defense budget, an outcome that would be triggered if Congress fails to come up with $1.2 trillion in additional savings government-wide. Under that scenario, the department would face additional cuts of about $500 billion, or $1 trillion in total.

“It is a blind formula that makes cuts across the board, hampers our ability to align resources with strategy, and risks hollowing out the force,” Panetta stated in his written testimony.

To watch a video of the hearing, visit the committee’s website.

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