Top uniformed officer says cuts to Pentagon budget would endanger U.S.

The nation’s top uniformed officer on Wednesday warned that any massive cuts to the Pentagon budget would be “dangerous” in the face of the military’s multiple national-security requirements. 


Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the pressure to cut overall government spending “is growing” and will only increase with time.


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Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have intensified their calls to consider the Pentagon’s budget for cuts as the country deals with record deficits. 

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a panel commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is recommending almost $1 trillion in reductions to the Pentagon’s budget during the next 10 years.
 
Frank has argued that not cutting the Pentagon's budget could lead to higher taxes and spending cuts that would be detrimental to the environment, housing and highway construction.

The Pentagon’s budget represents more than half of the country’s discretionary spending. The budget for fiscal year 2010 is $693.3 billion, while the request for 2011 is $708.2 billion. Those amounts include funding for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Recognizing that outside pressures to trim government spending are going to get “worse” before they ease up, Mullen indicated he and the Pentagon leadership are fighting to protect the Pentagon’s budget.



“What I hope to be able to avoid are any massive cuts,” Mullen said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “Those would be dangerous now, given the national security requirements that we have.”
 
Mullen said any significant cuts would affect everything from personnel numbers to the size of the Navy’s ship fleet. 

In order to stave off pressure to cut the Pentagon’s overall budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has initiated a sweeping department-wide effort to find $100 billion in savings over the next five years. The money would go toward top priorities such as the fighting force and the modernization of weapons systems. 

As part of an effort to save money and make the department more efficient, Gates is also seeking to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command and cut scores of senior military and contracting positions across the department.

 Military leaders as well as major defense companies have publicly backed the Defense secretary’s efforts. 


Mullen also said he is “extremely concerned” about rising personnel and healthcare costs for the military. Mullen acknowledged changes are needed to alleviate the fiscal burden, saying, “It’s not sustainable.”

The Pentagon has tried for several years to raise the co-pays on the military’s health insurance, but it so far has run into stiff political opposition on and off Capitol Hill. During the past few months, Mullen has been warning that the nation’s debt is the biggest threat to U.S. national security. He has stressed that Pentagon leaders, the military services and defense contractors must work together to cut bureaucratic bloat and unnecessary programs.
 
Two-thirds of the $100 billion in savings under the Pentagon’s plan will be spread out over the next five years and will come from trimming overhead costs. That money will be directly transferred into the force structure and modernization accounts. 

The rest of the cost savings would come from developing efficiencies within the force structure and modernization accounts, according to Pentagon leaders. 

The departments of the Army, Air Force and Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, as well as the combatant commands had to report their savings proposals by July 31 as the Pentagon prepares its 2011 budget request for Congress.