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Hearing of the House Armed Services Committee - The Defense Department's Fiscal Year 2009 Budget

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

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REP. JIM COOPER (D-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Secretary, we remain thankful that you've taken Secretary Rumsfeld's place. It's a very distinguished group we have in front of us and I'd like to ask a couple of Roles and Missions questions.

As you all are aware, Chairman Skelton put in the Defense Authorization Act of '08 a specific requirement that the Pentagon start addressing some of these questions. Can you give us a general idea of how the Pentagon is planning on mobilizing for this review?

ADM. MULLEN: Yes, sir. I -- actually, the chairman and I have talked about that legislation and certainly we have every intent of fully complying with it. My background on this comes from the last time this was done -- at least in my experience -- was in the mid '90s, and it's a huge challenge for all of us. I'm aware -- I think I'm aware of the genesis of it this time. And getting our Roles and Missions correct for the future -- we're very committed to that.

What I worry about in this -- and I've shared this with the chairman -- is that not done well, it has a tendency to turn services against each other. We've come a long way in the joint world. It was thus in the mid-'90s when we did this. And so one of my charges to myself from a leadership perspective is to make sure that doesn't happen. And so we're on the way right now standing these up -- standing up the working groups that would get at this from each of the services, and the service chiefs and I and the vice-chairman have committed to making these decisions ourselves -- whatever they might be -- so that we can get it right for what we believe it should be for each of the services. So we're very committed to the process and it'll pick up from the last QDR come now, and then we'll do a QDR in two years and two years after that we'll do another Roles and Missions.

REP. COOPER: Thank you, Admiral.

You may know that Chairman Skelton has also appointed a seven- member panel of this committee on a bipartisan basis, and our report will be coming out next week. So we would hope that your groups could take into account some of the information that we'll be making public at that time.

ADM. MULLEN: We'll certainly do that. Yes, sir.

REP. COOPER: Again on roles and missions, we do want to guard against excessive interservice rivalry. But anyone who's looked at Defense budgets over the years cannot help but note -- whether it's the Cold War, Hot War or no war -- the Army, Navy or Air Force share of the Defense budget has remained virtually static for 40 or 50 years. Is this the result of some sort of secret gentlemen's agreement?

What's going on here? Because I know this year that the Army is surging in its funding and it's going up by one-half of 1 percent. So while as the secretary noted, overall defense spending has gone up and down like an EKG, each service's share of defense spending has remained unbelievably static -- some might say frozen -- for decades regardless of our security environment. What's going on here?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, for the 12 years I've been in and out of the budget world, I don't think it's part of a sinister plot. But it is very hard to move money from one service to another -- I think you know that. One of the challenges, at least, that is part of this is keeping the right balance and it goes -- and this goes back for 40, 50, 60 years where we've had a pretty good defense capability. I mean, we can argue about it on the margins at certain times, but by and large, it's been extraordinary national security capability for those same decades.

So I would not be inclined to just throw it out and re-divide the money. I think it has morphed to some degree over time. In fact, the Army's share in the last two or three years has really increased because we've grown the force dramatically, as has the Marine Corps.' And the Navy and the Air Force's has stayed fairly constant, if not gone down depending on what year you're talking about. To me, that's more indicative of how it should happen rather than do something radical. And this goes back to unpredictability -- very dangerous world and I think moving rapidly on something like this could put us in a situation in the future that we wouldn't want to be in and hadn't anticipated.

REP. COOPER: So you would continue to advocate very slow change in service shares of the Defense budget --

ADM. MULLEN: I'm --

REP. COOPER: -- if we see any change at all.

ADM. MULLEN: I'm actually an advocate for rapid change in lots of areas and lots of capabilities. And that, actually -- there has been great change in each of the services, particularly in the last four, five, six years. I wouldn't use it just from the budget perspective and say, "Let's change -- let's just move this much money and see what happens." And I think that Roles and Missions has some potential for certainly getting at this. But it's a tough one.

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