Gates ‘on target’ with defence reform: Obama

President Barack Obama has given Defence Secretary Robert Gates a verbal “high-five” to proposal to reform the Pentagon’s procurement system to eliminate wasteful programs and curb spiraling weapons and equipment costs.
“Secretary Gates recently announced a courageous set of reforms that go right at the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and cost overruns that have bloated our defence budget without making America safer,” Obama said during a speech to faculty and students at Georgetown University earlier this week.  
American Forces Press Service reports Obama provided Americans an update on the state of the nation`s battered economy. While doing so, the president pointed to Gates` intent to eliminate wasteful spending in the Pentagon`s procurement realm.

Last month, during a nationally televised news conference, Obama said that he`d been working with Gates to reform the Pentagon`s weapons and procurement system “so that it keeps America safe, and we`re not wasting taxpayer dollars.” There`s broad acknowledgement, Obama said during the news conference, that the Pentagon`s procurement system “doesn`t work.”

Defence procurement experts have identified “a whole range” of multi-billion dollar systems that have incurred cost overruns of 30, 40, and 50 percent, the president said.

Tuesday at Georgetown Obama said more needs to be done to reduce wasteful or unnecessary spending across the federal government. Gates` proposal to eliminate unnecessary defence programs and to reform unwieldy and inefficient procurement procedures “is right on target,” Obama said.

Earlier this month Gates said personnel needs were at the heart of his proposal to reshape the priorities of America`s defence establishment.

He said he will eliminate some high-cost, under-performing programs, but will “fully protect and properly fund” the growth in the Army and Marine Corps and halt reductions in the Navy and Air Force.

The secretary`s second priority was to rebalance Defence Department capabilities to fund programs “that are most needed today and most likely needed in the future”. His third priority, he said, is to reform the acquisition process.

Gates said his proposed changes are interconnected and cannot be properly communicated or understood in isolation from one another.
“Collectively, they represent a budget crafted to reshape the priorities of America`s defence establishment,” he said. “If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business.”

Taking care of the all-volunteer force is the secretary`s first priority in the budget. In the past, funding for growing the force and other quality of life initiatives was often done on an ad hoc basis in the yearly supplemental. The secretary said he believes these are too important not to include in the base budget.

Growing the land services and halting reductions in the Navy and Air Force will add US$11 billion to the fiscal 2010 base budget.

The secretary also would like an extra US$400 million to continue growth in military medical research and development.

The secretary noted the importance of recognizing the critical and permanent nature of programs for the wounded, ill and injured, as well as traumatic brain injury and psychological health programs.
“This means institutionalizing and properly funding these efforts in the base budget and increasing overall spending by US$300 million,” he said. “The department will spend over US$47 billion on health care in fiscal 2010.”

The department also will increase funding by US$200 million for improvements in child care, spousal support, lodging and education.

Since he took office, the secretary has been critical of the lack of a “home for warfighters” in the institution. The budget changes seek to build that home.
“Our struggles to put the defence bureaucracies on a war footing these past few years have revealed underlying flaws in the priorities, cultural preferences and reward structures of America`s defence establishment — a set of institutions largely arranged to prepare for conflicts against other modern armies, navies and air forces,” Gates said.

Programs to directly support, protect and care for warfighters have been developed and funded outside the base budget.
“Put simply, until recently there has not been an institutional home in the Defence Department for today`s warfighter,” he said. “Our contemporary wartime needs must receive steady long-term funding and a bureaucratic constituency similar to conventional modernization programs. I intend to use the fiscal 2010 budget to begin this process.”

The US military must maintain support for current wars, but must be ready to contend with the security challenges posed by the military forces of other countries — from those actively hostile to those at strategic crossroads, he said.
“Last year`s National Defence Strategy concluded that although US predominance in conventional warfare is not unchallenged, it is sustainable for the medium term given current trends,” Gates said. “This year`s budget deliberations focused on what programs are necessary to deter aggression, project power when necessary, and protect our interests and allies around the globe.”

Maintaining America`s technological and conventional edge requires a dramatic change in the way the department acquires equipment.
“This department must consistently demonstrate the commitment and leadership to stop programs that significantly exceed their budget or which spend limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs,” Gates said. “Our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries — not by what might be technologically feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources.”

The department also must ensure requirements are reasonable and technology is mature enough to allow the department to successfully execute the programs.
“Again, my decisions act on this principle by terminating a number of programs where the requirements were truly in the ‘exquisite` category, and the technologies required were not reasonably available to affordably meet the programs` cost or scheduled goals,” he said.

The secretary also aimed to realistically estimate program costs, provide budget stability for programs, adequately staff the government acquisition team and provide disciplined and constant oversight.
“We must constantly guard against so-called ‘requirements creep,` validate the maturity of technology at milestones, fund programs to independent cost estimates and demand stricter contract terms and conditions,” he said.

Every defence dollar is precious, Gates said. Money spent to “over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable,” Gates said