WASHINGTON– Senior defense leaders are taking a serious and critical look at the president’s fiscal 2010 defense budget request, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the combatant commanders, and other civilian and military leaders from the Defense Department are discussing department-related issues, including the budget, during the Defense Senior Leadership Conference, Morrell said at a news conference.

Morrell said the secretary is reshaping the request to reflect current and future realities.

“He wants to make sure the budget balances the demands of the wars we are currently fighting and the future threats we may face,” he said. “Of course, he is acutely aware that we are crafting this budget in the midst of a global financial crisis, so it must not only be militarily responsible, but also fiscally realistic.”

Gates said in testimony before Congress last month that the department is ready to make the tough choices in the defense budget. The senior leader conference is looking at the budget with this in mind.

“First, we must make tough choices about programs suffering from serious execution problems,” Morrell said. “Second, we have to find new ways of doing business more efficiently and cost-effectively. And third, the services must strive to be as joint in their acquisitions as they are in their operations.”

The secretary has said he wants the combatant commanders to explore new ideas. “We need to look for cost efficiencies, and we need to be more joint in how we acquire [capabilities],” Morrell said.

The secretary often has mentioned that military services must depend on other services for capabilities. If one service is building a capability, another service does not have to duplicate it.

“The services clearly have been extraordinarily joint in their operations since Operation Enduring Freedom began in late 2001,” Morrell said. “They have been increasingly joint in other aspects as well.

“[The secretary] really does believe that we need to put service interests aside as much as we can when it comes to budgeting and acquisitions and so forth, and work more jointly and not see ourselves as separate stovepipe budgets, but one larger defense budget that looks out for our collective capabilities and risks.”

Morrell also discussed the Defense Department portion of the economic stimulus package. The White House asked for — and the department delivered — a list of military construction projects that could be part of the stimulus bill now being voted on by Congress. “The [Defense Department] portion of the stimulus package … totals a little more than $7 billion,” Morrell said.

If President Barack Obama signs the legislation, the Defense Department will receive the money for near-term construction projects “that could make a difference in the lives of our servicemembers and their families,” Morrell said, such as barracks, medical clinics and child care centers.

“For us, anything helps,” Morrell said. “It does help us address the needs of our servicemembers and their families, and for that we are thankful. … And we look forward to executing that money as soon as we get it, because we think it can make a difference not only in their lives, but in the near-term economic state of the country, as well. We can put people to work and do these military construction projects in the next six to 18 months, and hopefully have an impact.”

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