WASHINGTON, May 21, 2009 – Characterizing it as a “reform budget,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates described for members of Congress the thinking underlying his recommendations for fiscal 2010 Pentagon spending Wednesday. Gates’ main themes in developing the Pentagon’s budget proposal were military troops and families, balancing between current and future missions and reforming the Defense Department’s buying process.

“First and foremost, this is a reform budget reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet also addressing the range of other potential threats around the world now and in the future,” Gates told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee. He and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the details of President Barack Obama’s proposed $534 billion defense base budget for fiscal 2010 during the hearing.

The defense secretary said that on a recent visit to Afghanistan he sought “unvarnished and unscripted” perspective from troops and commanders downrange.

“As we increase our presence there – and refocus our efforts with a new strategy – I wanted to get a sense from the ground level of the challenges and needs so that we can give our troops the equipment and support to be successful and come home safely,” he said. Such input, Gates added, has provided the best source of ideas for directing the Defense Department.

“As I told a group of soldiers, they have done their job,” he said. “Now it is time for us in Washington to do ours.”

Gates laid out his three principal objectives, citing the need to reaffirm the commitment to take care of the all-volunteer force, which he said represents America’s greatest strategic asset.

“As Admiral Mullen says, if we don’t get the people part of this business right, none of the other decisions will matter,” Gates said.

Mullen described military personnel and their families as the top strategic priority. “I’ve said many times, and remain convinced, the best way to guarantee our future security is to support our troops and their needs and the needs of their families. It is the recruit-and-retain choices of our members and their families — and, quite frankly, the American citizens writ large — that will make or break the all-volunteer force.”

Potential servicemembers will be less inclined to serve if the department is unable to offer viable career options, adequate health care, suitable housing, advanced education and the promise of prosperity beyond their military commitments, he added.

The defense secretary’s second objective is to rebalance the department’s programs to enhance warfighting capabilities for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to prepare for scenarios the United States is most likely to face in the years ahead, while hedging against other risks and contingencies.

Gates announced his recommendations last month, distributing the funds in accordance with what he characterized as the type of “complex, hybrid warfare” that he expects will be increasingly common. He allotted roughly half of his proposed budget for traditional, strategic and conventional conflict, about 40 percent for dual-purpose capabilities and the remaining 10 percent for irregular warfare.

In addition to the unique breakdown he outlined, the defense secretary’s proposal seeks to move funding away from supplemental budgets and into the baseline budget. Gates today said his suggestions were derived from lessons he’s learned during his tenure as defense secretary.

“As you know, this year we have funded the costs of the wars through the regular budgeting process – as opposed to emergency supplementals,” he said. “By presenting this budget together, we hope to give a more accurate picture of the costs of the wars and also create a more unified budget process to decrease some of the churn usually associated with funding for the Defense Department.”

Finally, Gates emphasized the need to reform the defense acquisition process, a goal he has stated repeatedly.

“We must reform how and what we buy,” he said, “meaning a fundamental overhaul of our approach to procurement, acquisition, and contracting.”

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