Meeting our fiscal and national security responsibility

  • Published
  • By Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta
  • Department of Defense
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta issued a message to all Defense Department
personnel on Aug. 1, 2011, regarding the resolution of the debt ceiling

As I begin my second month in office as Secretary of Defense, I wanted to
take the opportunity to share my thinking with you on one of the key
challenges we face as a Department: how to ensure that our military has
everything it needs to protect our national security at a time of
considerable fiscal challenge in our country.

I know that many of you have been watching with concern the deficit
reduction negotiations in Washington. As President Obama has said, our
growing national debt, if not addressed, will imperil our prosperity, hurt
our credibility and influence around the world, and ultimately put our
national security at risk. As part of the nation's efforts to get its
finances in order, defense spending will be - and I believe it must be -
part of the solution.

The reductions in defense spending that will take place as a result of the
debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress and the President are in line
with what this Department's civilian and military leaders were anticipating,
and I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the
excellence of our military. But to do that, spending choices must be based
on sound strategy and policy. In the past, such as after the Vietnam War,
our government applied cuts to defense across the board, resulting in a
force that was undersized and underfunded relative to its missions and
responsibilities. This process has historically led to outcomes that weaken
rather than strengthen our national security - and which ultimately cost our
nation more when it must quickly rearm to confront new threats.

I am determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In order to make the
key decisions on how to best implement spending reductions, the President
said in April when he unveiled his fiscal framework that "we're going to
have to conduct a fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities,
and our role in a changing world." As a Department, we are following that
approach. We are asking ourselves: What are the essential missions our
military must do to protect America and our way of life? What are the risks
of the strategic choices we make? And what are the financial costs?
Achieving savings based on sound national security policy will serve our
nation's interests, and will also prove more enforceable and sustainable
over the long-term.

We expect that the responsible transitions in Iraq and Afghanistan will help
reduce total U.S. defense spending over the coming years. But I will do
everything I can to ensure that further reductions in defense spending are
not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the
military's ability to protect America and its vital interests around the
globe. For example, the debt ceiling agreement contains a sequester
mechanism that would take effect if Congress fails to enact further deficit
reduction. If that happens, it could trigger a round of dangerous
across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our
troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation. This
potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy. Rather, it is
designed to be unpalatable to spur responsible, balanced deficit reduction
and avoid misguided cuts to our security.

Indeed, this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of
Defense, the President, and to our nation's leaders. That's because we live
in a world where terrorist networks threaten us daily, rogue nations seek to
develop dangerous weapons, and rising powers watch to see if America will
lose its edge. The United States must be able to protect our core national
security interests with an adaptable force capable and ready to meet these
threats and deter adversaries that would put those interests at risk. I will
do all I can to assist the Administration and congressional leaders to make
the commonsense cuts needed to avoid this sequester mechanism.

Our military has always taken on and succeeded in every mission it has been
assigned - from the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to humanitarian
assistance and disaster relief at home and abroad. You - the men and women
of the military - have never said "I can't do it." Nor have the civilians
who support you. That is the military ethos - to salute and press on. The
ethos of this nation's leaders and policy makers must be to ensure that the
missions assigned to the military meet critical national security
priorities. It is our responsibility to determine those priorities and to
ensure that you will always have the training and equipment to succeed in
those missions.

I am aware that as Washington discusses strategy and policy, you and your
families are discussing the implications of decisions that may be made. I
promised in my first message as Secretary that I will fight for you. That
means I will fight for you and your families as we face these budget

The force has been stretched by a decade of combat. We owe you and your
families the support you have earned - both on the battlefield and on the
home front. To be sure, the current budget constraints will make it all the
more challenging to modernize and recapitalize the force. Platforms from the
build-up of the 1980s are reaching the end of their shelf life and must be
replaced, and units and equipment that have been stressed by a decade of
combat must be reset. Going forward, we must ensure that the military gets
the effective and affordable weapons it needs by redoubling our efforts to
enforce procurement discipline.

We also must continue to tackle wasteful and duplicative spending, and
overhead staffing. We must be accountable to the American people for what we
spend, where we spend it, and with what result. While we have reasonable
controls over much of our budgetary information, it is unacceptable to me
that the Department of Defense cannot produce a financial statement that
passes all financial audit standards. That will change. I have directed that
this requirement be put in place as soon as possible. America deserves
nothing less.

The United States faces a series of tough choices ahead on the budget as we
seek to balance the need for fiscal solvency with the need to protect our
security. We can - and must - address the budget and protect the country. As
we do, we will be guided by the principle that we will do what's right for
our nation now and for its future. By better aligning our resources with our
priorities, this Department can lead the way in moving towards a more
disciplined defense budget. Only in that way can we ensure that we fulfill
the fundamental duty for those of us in public service - which is to do
everything we can to give future generations of Americans a better and safer