By John T. Bennett - 04/28/11 08:32 PM EDT
President Obama's pick to lead the Pentagon made clear Thursday that he intends to continue cost-cutting efforts begun last year by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, whom Obama plans to shift to the Pentagon, vowed to maintain the strongest military in the world.
"It is time for tough choices," Panetta said.
Gates started an internal budget-cutting drill last year that uncovered more than $100 billion in savings. Most of those savings were directed to hardware programs, with a smaller amount going to deficit-reduction efforts.
Obama has ordered the Defense Department to lead a "comprehensive" study of Washington's national security missions and America's role in the world.
It is likely that review will suggest missions the military believes it can shed to save money. Overseeing the completion of that study will be among Panetta's first high-profile tasks, assuming he is confirmed by the Senate.
Defense insiders and congressional sources say Panetta is uniquely qualified to oversee a decline in annual Defense budgets, noting he is a former House Budget Committee chairman and director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Panetta also said he intends to oversee a military that can "prevail" in the conflicts in which it is already fighting.
"None of this will be easy," he said.
He told Obama he would provide "candid advice."
The Senate Armed Services Committee will oversee Panetta's confirmation hearing. Its chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), issued a statement Thursday applauding Obama for picking the CIA boss to replace Gates.
Levin said the Panetta pick has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and described the coming confirmation hearings for all Obama's nominees as likely including "in-depth discussion of some vital and pressing issues, from Afghanistan and Libya to the size of the defense budget and our force footprint around the world."
Updated at 5:07 p.m.