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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise in strong support of the nomination of Leon Panetta to be the 23rd Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Panetta, who currently serves as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was nominated by President Obama on April 28. The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on his nomination on June 9, and I was honored to introduce him at that hearing. His nomination was approved unanimously by the committee on June 14.

I would like to speak briefly about Director Panetta's career, and in particular his time at the Central Intelligence Agency.

In his 47 years of public service, Director Panetta has held the positions of Congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, chief of staff to the White House, codirector, with his wife, of the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, which I have had the pleasure of speaking before, member of the Iraq Study Group, and Director of the CIA.

His career and service started in 1964 as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and now 47 years later he has come full circle to be nominated to lead the Department of Defense and U.S. Armed Forces.

In the course of 2 years as Director of the CIA, Mr. Panetta has mastered the intelligence field, led the CIA through a very tumultuous time, restored badly damaged relationships with Congress and with the Director of National Intelligence, and carried out President Obama's personal instruction to him to find Osama bin Laden.

It has been my pleasure to serve as the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during this time and to be able to work closely with Mr. Panetta.

I have no doubt that his past experience and his capabilities prepare Leon Panetta to meet the major challenges before the Department of Defense.

With knowledge of CIA operations and analysis, he will come to the Pentagon with a thorough understanding of the situation in Afghanistan as well as the aggravating factors of our relationship with Pakistan. Through CIA analysis and operations, he is also well aware of the other contingencies around the globe where the U.S. military may be called to deploy.

Director Panetta is also well positioned to guide the Department through the constrained budget environment. The budget cuts to the Pentagon have already begun, for the first time in 10 years, with the appropriations bills now moving through the Congress.

The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, on which I serve, held a hearing last week with Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mike Mullen. Both of them expressed concerns that budget cuts not lead to a ``hollow force'' or deprive the Department and the Nation of needed capabilities.

I am confident that Leon Panetta possesses the credentials and experience to make cuts where needed and where prudent, but that he will do so in a way that keeps the military strong and capable, and in a way that maintains the cohesion of the Department and its services.

Beyond Director Panetta's experience is his leadership style, his character, and a deft personal touch. As we all know, personal relationships and the way one approaches things matter a great deal, whether within Cabinet meetings or negotiating with foreign counterparts. Mr. Panetta's approach is effective, and it provides for a very good working relationship with the Congress.

Positions like the Director of the CIA or the Secretary of Defense require a strong character and a strong moral compass, qualities that this nominee possesses.

Let me give you an example. Early in his tenure at the CIA in 2009, Director Panetta was briefed on a number of active and recent intelligence programs. One of them, which I can't describe here, was particularly sensitive and provoked questions and concern. Director Panetta asked the CIA staff if the congressional intelligence committees had been briefed on this program. He was told they had not.

Mr. Panetta immediately requested an urgent meeting with the Intelligence Committee to brief us. He said he found it unacceptable that this program had been withheld from Congress, and terminated it in large part on that basis.

In the 2 years since, he has never declined to answer a question or provide us with his candid views. He has been completely forthright, and motivated only by what is best for the CIA, and more importantly, this nation.

The Department of Defense is the largest Department in the Federal Government. As Secretary Gates recently noted, the health care budget of the Department of Defense is bigger than the entire budget of the CIA. The Secretary of Defense is responsible for thousands of young men and women serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and deployed around the world, and bears the burden of every death and casualty we suffer.

I agree with Secretary Gates that no other position can fully prepare someone to be Secretary of Defense. But I believe that Leon Panetta, who has served honorably and successfully in Congress, at the Office of Management and Budget, at the White House, and now the CIA, is uniquely qualified to be another outstanding Secretary of Defense in this very challenging time.

I urge his confirmation.


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