UPDATED: Ash Carter Says House Defense Bill ‘Gambling With Warfighting Money,’ Path to Hollow Force

May 17, 2016 4:24 PM - Updated: May 18, 2016 8:36 AM
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with reporters at theU.S. Air Force Academy after touring the campus in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 12, 2016. DoD Photo
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with reporters at theU.S. Air Force Academy after touring the campus in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 12, 2016. DoD Photo

This post has been updated with a statement from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the House version of the Defense Authorization bill to shift money from emergency war spending to the base budget is gimmickry that is “gambling with warfighting money at a time of war.”

Speaking Tuesday at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space 2016 Exposition, he said, “It would spend money taken from the war account on things that are not DOD’s highest priorities across the joint force.”

The move would also threaten last year’s budget agreement and was “another road to nowhere.” Carter said that “leaves us facing the Department’s greatest strategic threat—a return to sequestration and $100 billion dollars in looming automatic cuts beginning next year.”

“Buying force structure in this fiscal year without the resources to sustain it in future years is not a path to increased readiness, it’s a path to a hollow force. It exacerbates the readiness challenges we currently have. Our readiness recovery plans are centered on synchronized and sustainable manning, training and equipping pipelines that are rigorously shaped based on the size of the force.”

At the same time, neither the House nor Senate versions recommended another round of base closures and other management changes the Pentagon requested to put more money into readiness, Carter said. “Readiness is the core of our mission.”

Carter said, “If a final version of the NDAA reaches the president this year includes a raid on war funding that risks stability and gambles with war funding, jeopardizes readiness, and rejects key judgments of the Department, I will be compelled to recommend that he veto the bill. I am hopeful, however, that we can work with Congress to achieve a better solution.”

He found provisions in the Senate version, which would split the current position of under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics into two positions, disturbing enough to warrant a call for a veto if it remains after the different versions of the bill are reconciled.

Carter, who served in that position earlier in his career, as did several other defense secretaries, said, “I share the view of SASC that over time, the acquisition executive’s position has become so preoccupied with program management, including a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy associated with it, that it perhaps takes some management attention from the research and engineering function.”

He cautioned, “Separating research and engineering from manufacturing could introduce problems in the transition from the former to the latter, which is a frequent stumbling block for programs.” He cited the Joint Strike Fighter’s “growing pains in moving from engineering and manufacturing design to low-rate initial production.”

“An overly prescriptive approach risks unhelpful micromanagement, with a high potential for negative second and third order effects,” Carter said.

Senate Armed Service Committee officials disputed Carter’s characterization of their bill in a statement to USNI News on Wednesday morning.

“Unfortunately, Secretary Carter’s statement was wrong. In reforming AT&L, the SASC does not split oversight of development and manufacturing. The new undersecretary for research and engineering would set defense-wide acquisition and industrial base policy and oversee the development and production of weapons and national security systems,” read the statement. “Much of this work would be done by a new assistant secretary for acquisition policy and oversight, which would report to the undersecretary and enable that leader to prioritize technological innovation. What would shift to the new undersecretary for management and support is oversight of purchases of goods and services that are not national security systems and line management of defense agencies that perform these and other core business functions.”

Carter added both bills have become overly prescriptive and too lengthy.

Earlier at the Navy League event, Frank Kendall, who holds that under secretary position, commented briefly on provisions of both bills that paralleled Carter’s.

During his luncheon address, Carter said, “Security is like oxygen. When you have enough of it, you tend to pay no attention to it, but when you don’t have enough, you can think of nothing else.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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