During debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 yesterday, Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) reiterated his concerns about using funding intended for operations, maintenance, and acquisition programs to expand biofuel research-and-development (R&D) programs in the Department of Defense. Senator Webb emphasized the importance of re-evaluating each DoD program to determine its value in the context of national security as well as current and future fiscal realities.
"We should ask the Secretary of Defense to examine which programs in DOD are the must-haves, which are absolutely vital to our national security," said Senator Webb, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and former Secretary of the Navy, during debate on the floor. "I would say that the costly biofuels programs, in the sense that we are proposing to fund them in the operational environment at this time, would have to qualify as a nice-to-have. That does not mean that we should eliminate the biofuels program. There is money in R&D to continue to examine them, but I'll tell you, Mr. President, what a must-have is. A must-have is our shipbuilding program."
Senator Webb pointed to the dramatically reduced size of the Navy, which is down to 287 operational combatant vessels. During Senator Webb's tenure as Secretary of the Navy in 1987-1988, it had up to 568 combatants.
"We have to make decisions," Senator Webb said. "We have to get competitive programs into the Department of Defense. We must increase readiness. We are not proposing to decrease the research and development programs."
Senator Webb has said that private industry and the Department of Energy should lead the effort to develop our nation's biofuel production capacity. Senator Webb has also supported the Department of the Navy's operational proof-of-concept demonstrations and technical certifications to incentivize investments in the facilities necessary to produce biofuels that are competitively priced in sufficient quantities for use by the military.
Below are Senator Webb's remarks during debate on the floor:
Senator Webb: I would like to speak on the Udall amendment. I have great admiration and respect for the senator from Colorado, as well as his cousin who now presides, but I have concerns about this amendment that were raised during the committee markup, and I think they have become even more of a concern since that time period. Let me just begin by saying, as someone who spent five years in the Pentagon -- one as a Marine and four as a defense executive -- I would hope that the top order of business for our president as he begins his next term would be to call for a rigorous re-examination of all of the programs in the Department of Defense. In other words, not quite to zero-base them, but to really examine the justifications for all of the programs that are in place with an eye toward the realities of the future. I think we could benefit as a country, and the people who care about national security, but also care about the tax bills that they are getting, would benefit as well from something of a triage of the programs in the Department of Defense.
We should ask the Secretary of Defense and the people who work on these programs to examine which programs in DOD are the must-haves, which are absolutely vital to our national security, and which programs are the need-to-have -- the programs that might place our national security at some level of risk if they were to be altered and modified -- and then also to have some painful examinations of programs that might be called the nice-to-haves, those that are essentially ancillary to the harder definitions of national security even though they have been supported. I would say that the costly biofuels programs, in the sense that we are proposing to fund them in the operational environment at this time, would have to qualify as a nice-to-have. That does not mean that we should eliminate the biofuels program. There is money in R&D to continue to examine them, but I'll tell you, Mr. President, what a must-have is. A must-have is our shipbuilding program.
When I was commissioned in the United States Marine Corp, we had 930 combatant ships in the United States Navy. By the time we went into the post-Vietnam drawdowns, we had 479 combatants. When I was Secretary of the Navy in 1987-1988, we were able to rebuild the Navy up to 568 combatants. Since that time, national strategy has changed -- our commitments have changed -- but the size of the Navy has been dramatically reduced down to the point where today it's at 287 operational combatant vessels. We have been trying since I came to the Senate to rebuild the Navy up to a minimum of 313 combatants. It is very difficult to do this when you have other programs in place that are not directly contributing to our national security, but are competing for programs. I understand the concerns about energy independence. I also would like to remind my colleagues of the advances that we have made in this country in that area just over the past few years in a way that many of us could not have imagined six years ago when I came to the Senate.
The International Energy Agency just made a report called "World Energy Outlook" and in this report, as summarized by Reuters, the United States, according to their estimates, will overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's top oil producer by 2017. The IEA Chief Economist, Fatih Birol, told a news conference in London that he believed the United States would overtake Russia as the biggest gas produced by a significant margin by 2015 and by 2017 would become the world's largest oil producer. Will this prediction hold out? I don't know. Are we on our way towards significant gains in terms of our energy independence? Yes, we are.
The language in Section 313, which this amendment proposes to strike -- I want to be very clear about this -- does not affect programs that have been discussed here in such areas as hydrogen fuel as a fuel of choice for engines design or doing away with R&D dollars. It is just not true. It states, in part, that this restriction goes to the cost of producing or purchasing alternate fuels if they exceed the cost of producing traditional fossil fuel that would be used for the same purpose. That is very narrowly defined. There is a second paragraph in Section 313 that goes to an exception to this program, which only applies to 50/50 blends of fuels. I personally believe that section should be modified and actually could be modified in conference. I think it is too narrow. In general, this is not a paragraph that totally does away with the biofuels program in the Department of Defense. We have to make decisions. We have to get competitive programs into the Department of Defense. We must increase readiness. We are not proposing to decrease the research and development programs. For those reasons, I will be opposing this amendment with the hope that we can continue the R&D programs for biofuels. With that, I yield the floor.