DOD won't get to keep monies freed up in pursuit of $400B cut goal

The Defense Department will not keep funds they cut as part of President Obama's drive to eliminate $400 billion from their annual security budgets.

The monies that will be freed up as part of the budget-slashing drill "are intended to be for deficit reduction," Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter said Wednesday.

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But he also said there is a "general expectation" among Pentagon officials that military services that find savings as part of the budget drill "will get more capability."

There was some confusion within defense circles after Obama endorsed Defense Secretary Robert Gates' efficiency initiative and called for more cuts.

"Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending," Obama said during a fiscal policy speech last Wednesday. "I believe we can do that again."

It was unclear whether the president was calling for outright cuts or a continuation of the Gates-started efficiencies initiative that, if continued by future presidents, would last through 2023.

During a forum at the Heritage Foundation, Carter said it's possible Pentagon officials might cancel more hardware programs. But he suggested DOD would find most of its — yet undetermined — amount of the $400 billion cut to come from other parts of the annual defense budget.

"Programs are not where the money is," Carter said, saying the department's procurement account is only one-seventh of the entire defense budget.

"We need to take a comprehensive look at all of our spending," the top weapons buyer noted.

Obama's goal to cut security spending — which has skyrocketed since 9/11 — coupled with lawmakers' 2011 defense spending compromise, which cut $18 billion, makes it "clear" that the era of swelling DOD budgets is over, Carter said.

Carter ticked off a list of weapon programs that Gates has eliminated since 2009 because they were performing poorly or over budget.

Additional program cancelations like those "undoubtedly" will occur, Carter said.