DOD's ex-comptroller predicts big Pentagon budget request

Former Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale predicts the Pentagon will unveil a 2016 defense budget request to Congress higher than the amount set by budget caps. 

"The Department I think — and I don't know because I'm no longer there — will come in with a budget in February that is above the caps," he told The Hill at a Brookings Institution event on Friday. 

Hale retired as Pentagon comptroller in June, but normally the Pentagon plans budgets for at least five years at a time. 

ADVERTISEMENT
His remarks echo those made last month by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey said he needed more than the capped amount for 2016. 

"What I will tell you is, it's clear to me we need additional top line for the emerging and new requirements," Dempsey said at the Defense One conference in November.

If the Pentagon requests more money than is allowed under caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, Congress will either have to raise the caps or cut the request to the capped amount. 

If Congress simply approves the request, automatic budget cuts known as sequestration would kick in, and slash every defense program by 10 percent except for troop pay and benefits.

"I rather doubt that will happen because they will either change the caps in some fashion with a mini-budget deal, or appropriate at the cap level," said Hale, who is now a fellow at Booz Allen. 

"But it's not clear where this debate goes," he said, noting that Congress could revisit the issue before raising the debt ceiling in March, and that a Republican-controlled Senate could change things. 

"I think we're going to have to wait and see otherwise," he said. 

Hale also praised Ashton Carter, who will become the new Defense secretary if confirmed by Congress. 

"He's a good manager, he sets goals, he carries them out, he follows up," he said. 

Hale also cited Carter’s "strong commitment to the troops." 

"I learned that firsthand as he tried to get the right equipment to Afghanistan to minimize casualties," he said. 

"When I'd raise financial concerns, he'd kind of turn to me and said, 'Solve them!'" Hale said. 

Hale, a formal naval officer who spent more than a decade at the Pentagon, said he missed government and "the feeling of being part of something larger than myself." 

"But I don't miss the stress," he added, noting that he took a long vacation to South Africa in October.