On Thursday, CIA Director Leon Panetta goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee to explain why he should become the 23rd secretary of defense. The senators and their staffs are working on the questions they’ll ask him, both in open session and behind the scenes. The American Enterprise Institute released its own set of questions it would like Panetta to answer. Here, for what they’re worth, are 10 Buzz questions:
1. Do you believe, as many do, that the way in which the U.S. equips its military – the overall acquisition process – is broken? Can it be fixed, or is it necessarily flawed because of the complexity of the Defense Department or the influence of Congress and the defense industry? How would you improve it?
2. Secretary Gates and many commentators in Washington have cast the near future of the Defense Department as an inevitable conflict between the military’s ever-increasing personnel costs and the department’s need to buy new hardware. It would be too expensive, the thinking goes, to pay for both. What is your view?
3. What do you think of the argument that defense spending always should represent some fixed percentage of America’s gross domestic product – a minimum of 4 percent, for example?
4. Maintaining the “industrial base” has become a common argument for defense programs – DoD should buy weapons to keep employed the skilled workers who build ships, aircraft, tanks, etc. Do you find this rationale compelling? As we all look forward to a future in which the Pentagon’s budget stays at least flat, and possibly begins to shrink, will the maintenance of the industrial base remain a good argument in and of itself for spending money on weapons programs?
5. DoD’s current top weapons-buyer, Ash Carter, has signaled to the defense industry that he’d be open to potential consolidation among smaller firms if they need to merge or acquire each other to survive. Do you agree? How do you plan to ensure the survival of some aspects of the defense industry?
6. Do you believe China poses a threat to the United States? If not, why not? If so, is America doing what’s necessary to counter it?
7. Do you support the planned decreases in end strength for the Army and Marine Corps? Will they be sufficient, or could you see making the force even smaller?
8. Why should the United States continue to maintain large land bases in Europe, along with tens of thousands of troops and their equipment?
9. Secretary Gates has a list of programs he believes DoD must pursue no matter what, even as it contemplates budget cuts: The F-35, the KC-46A, resetting the Army and Marine Corps, the Navy’s SSBN(X). Do you agree there are some programs that must be protected at all costs? Do you agree with Gates’ list or do you have one of your own? Or do you believe that everything must be on the table?
10. You were said to be reluctant to accept President Obama’s nomination for this job. You’ve had a very long career in Washington. Later this month, you’re turning 73. Do you see yourself as a stopgap secretary, on board only to finish out the president’s first term, or would you be prepared to serve in this job until 2016, potentially -- or beyond?
What questions would you like Panetta to answer?