Akin takes reins of key House Armed Services subcommittee as it faces fiscal concerns, proposed program cuts.
The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee has oversight over many Navy and Marine Corps programs. Though its authorization for Navy and Marine procurement and research and development (R&D) programs, this subcommittee aims to reverse the decline in the Navy battle force fleet, strengthen the naval air component and provide Marines with essential equipment for combat operations. Leading this subcommittee in the 112th Congress is Rep. W. Todd Akin, R-Mo, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2000. He also serves on the House Budget Committee.
High on his list of action items is a plan unveiled Jan. 6 by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates aimed at cutting costs and finding "efficiencies: intended to save $78 billion over five years. It calls for canceling the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and restructuring the F-35 Lightening II program, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Akin issued an immediate response to Gates' proposals, saying in a statement that "many of these cuts seem to have been decided upon in a vacuum, ignoring the strategic situation our nation is in, and the capabilities we need to fight and win today and tomorrow."
Akin discussed his priorities for the subcommittee, his position regarding the decision to kill the EFV and other issues Jan. 26 at his Capitol Hill office with Editor-in-Chief Amy L. Wittman. Excerpts follow:
As a chairman of this key Armed Services subcommittee, what are your priorities for the current term, particularly with regard to the Navy and Marine Corps?
AKIN: We have a number of new people on the committee. What I would like to do is to provide them with a better education right off the starting block than what I received. I learn best when I see the big picture first and understand how the details fir into the big picture. If kind of tells me why the detail is or is not really important. Along these lines... various tools are available to us to help bring the committee up to speed. To the degree that the tyranny of the urgent allows me to do that, that's what we want to do.
One of the stops that we'll make will be [the "war room" set up by] General Dynamics. It's a room maybe a little bigger than our office here, with about five or six stripes that go around the walls and start with Britannia, the ruler of the sears, and the development of American sea power, the different wars we were in. The bottom line is a black line that's about the industrial base, which is a fascination story in itself, and then it talks about the different platforms and the general-purpose Navy ship as opposed to special purpose. Also the levels of funding and, when we go to war, what are we going to war with?
The fact is we're going to war with the ship that we had. Getting the idea of a new ship, designing it and building it in time for the war never works. We always had to fight the war with what had. ...
[We need some demographic kinds of information, just about how many people live near the ocean, how many capitals are near the ocean, and then why America is a maritime nation. Why do people say that and what's the logic of that? And then what does the Navy provide us in terms of security in standoff distance and a series of other kinds of things?...
That's the first one in terms of committee priorities. I want to get the team up to speed, get them operating on the big thing. Second of all, I want to encourage each individual to take on individual projects within the subcommittee that they want, basically that they can run with. I want them to feel empowered, and that I and the ranking Democrat [Mike McIntyre. D-N.C.] and our staffs will be resources, that if they're wise they use us to help advance things that they're concerned with. That's the big picture.
Could elaborate on the "the tyranny of the urgent?"
AKIN: The tyranny of the urgent really comes in sort of a global urgent and a specific urgent. The global urgent is, this morning, to some degree, I declared war on the Pentagon for the fact that they completely cut us out of the process of being involved in what's going on in these military decisions. The U.S. Constitution doesn't do that.
The U.S. Constitution recognizes that actual security is both a civilian and a military priority, and that our committee is important in the process of cross-checking and making sure we've spending our money wisely and that we're not getting things out of balance. Instead of soliciting our aid, particularly with budget problems, they instead carbon copy us when they send a press release to the media after they've already decided what they're going to do. I spoke to that issue in committee this morning.
I think that's shortsighted. It's politically foolish and I think, knowing something of the history of the military, it also is not in the best interest of our country. I appreciate people who are decisive. I appreciate Secretary Gates wanting to make decisions, but that needs to be a collaborative process.
For example, in December of last year, the Navy came to us and said, "We think, after restructuring the competition on the Littoral Combat Ships, that we see an opportunity to save some money and to get more ships for the Navy." Well, we're all ears.
They said, "It's going to require you to act quickly, but we believe we can buy ships from both contractors. ... We can get our ships faster. Both ships appear to be satisfactory and both appear to be about the same price"
So we took a look at it and, the best we could tell, not having all the data, made a decision, passed legislation and accommodated the Navy in that regard. I would've thought that, after extending the olive branch, that maybe we would have some consideration. If they're thinking about canceling various programs, at least give us a heads up, "We're looking at this." But, no, it's a carbon copy. Their process of ignoring the authorizing committee is of concern. That's the sort of global urgent.
The specific [urgent] is the cancellation of the EFV. I spent an hour and a half with Gen. [James F.] Amos [commandant of the Marine Corps], and he explained what his plan was, what he thought he was going to do. The explanation seemed thin, to me. It seemed to contain assumptions that I was not so sure were good assumptions and I thought it needed further discussion and investigation. So that will be one of our areas. If we don't do that in the main committee, we'll do that in the subcommittee. I think it may be of so much importance because you're talking about whether or not you're going to, basically, decide to get rid of the Marine Corps.