You could almost see the captions above the heads of the budget battlers at the House Armed Services Committee's 2010 budget hearing today. Bam! Pow! Whack!
"While it's undeniable that you're taking the department in a 'different direction,' the problem, Mr. Secretary, is that the Congress has not had the benefit of reviewing the analysis and data to determine how your decisions will take the Department in the right direction," a ruffled Rep. John McHugh, the top Republican on the HASC, told Gates.
Bam! "In the view of many, this budget process has been anything but 'holistic.' The delayed release of this budget request, the infamous prohibition on providing briefs to Congress ahead of the release, and the absence of a future years defense program has left an undeniable vacuum of analysis and justification.
"Sadly, those circumstances help breed the very conclusion you wanted to avoid: that this proposal is a series of decisions whose only unifying theme is that the aggregate fits within the top line. I hope today we can help to dispose of these serious questions." McHugh went on in his opening statement.
Pow! Gates slammed back. "The only reason Congress was informed about the executive agency's [budget] deliberations in the past was because the building leaks like a sieve. Congress had a hotline to every office," said a clearly agitated defense secretary. That was why Gates imposed the Nondisclosure Agreements that several hundred senior OSD and service officials signed, he made clear. Those are now moot, the secretary said. Department officials will answer all questions that Congress might have for them now that the budget is out.
But McHugh was unsatisfied, taking the tack that Gates had undermined the QDR process, effectively making most of the decisions that should have been duly considered by the QDR. Gates' decision to make major program and policy changes "undermines" the QDR, the GOP lawmakers said.
Bam! Gates came right back. "You are saying I'm going to shape this QDR. You're darn right," said a tough looking defense secretary. And Gates, an old Washington hand, threw in the specter of resignation. "If I'm on the wrong path, I would be glad to yield to somebody else," he told McHugh. Given how well Gates has preformed in the eyes of many lawmakers, that is a potent, if veiled, threat.
Note that this hearing has adjourned for 45 minutes. We will update it later today if the hearing reconvenes.