The Obama administration should take the money offered by Congress for defense despite the fiscal gimmicks in the proposed budget deal, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
It's "a hell of a way to run a railroad," Gates said of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed this week by the House and Senate, but it was probably the best the administration and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter could do, given the politics of the issue.
"My sense would be to take the money, because what's my alternative? My approach on that as secretary was take every dollar I can get where I can get it," Gates said. "In the current paralyzed state (of Congress), maybe there's no alternative right now to getting money this way."
At issue was about $38 billion in the NDAA that Congress has put into the fund for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is exempt from the spending caps set forth in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation.
President Obama has threatened to veto the NDAA unless the money goes back into the base budget and Congress also lifts the caps, known as sequestration, mandated by the Budget Control Act for both defense and domestic spending.
Senate and House Republicans are willing to lift the caps for defense but not for domestic spending.
In his first congressional testimony since stepping down as defense secretary in 2011, Gates ripped the bloated bureaucracy that he said had mired the Pentagon in an endless cycle of cost overruns on weapons systems and misguided spending on the pet projects of lawmakers.
In her questioning of Gates, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, complained about the 350-page request for proposals the Army came up with for a new handgun for soldiers and asked, "What should Congress do to fix this mess?"
Gates said that lawmakers should become "disruptors" of the process. They should call the Army secretary and the Army chief of staff before them and "ask why is it taking you guys 10 years? It's a handgun for God's sake."
Congress should also look in the mirror when trying to assign blame for the shortcomings of the acquisition process while trying to score political points off that same process, Gates said.
"Given the harm all this politically driven madness inflicts on the U.S. military, the rhetoric coming from members of Congress about looking out for our men and women in uniform rings very hollow to me," Gates said.
"Our system of government, as designed by the founders who wrote and negotiated the provisions of the Constitution, is dependent on compromise to function. To do so is not selling out. It's called governing."
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.