Secretary Panetta used a message to the troops Wednesday to reiterate that DoD's pending review must be what dictates how to reduce its spending, not "hasty, ill-conceived" political decisions. Panetta said he opposes the potential second round of $500 billion in defense spending cuts that would be triggered if Congress' super-team can't reach another agreement by Christmas, and suggested it's as much an incentive for the Building to get working as the Hill. Because if everyone can't come to an agreement, he wrote:
[I]t 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.So what can the Pentagon do, besides go forward with the Mother of All Reviews, as the Super Congress looks for $1.2 trillion in budget cuts? DoD must get serious about waste, fraud, abuse and efficiency, Panetta wrote:
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.
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.If this happens, it'll scratch an itch the Hill has had for a very long time, but as a political matter, it also could turn out to be a double-edged sword: There's every reason to expect that if DoD, the services and the agencies begin yielding comprehensive audits, they'll also produce many headlines about waste. Although congressional defense advocates are in their see-no-evil mode because they want to protect as much military spending as possible, other elements in deficit-mad Washington may try to use new revelations about the Pentagon as ammunition against it. Why defend the budget of a department that cannot stop frittering away billions upon billions of dollars?
Panetta concludes that DoD can weather this storm, and he challenges the narrative taking shape in some places that reduced spending necessarily equals reduced security:
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 life.