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Robert Byrd:A Smarter, More Efficient Defense Plan

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd
May 22, 2003


"A Smarter, More Efficient Defense Plan"

Senator Byrd delivered the following remarks during Senate consideration of the Fiscal Year 2004 Department of Defense Authorization bill.

Just weeks ago, our armed forces once again demonstrated the overwhelming might of the United States military. Due to the sustained commitment of our country to invest a substantial proportion of our national wealth into our national defense, our military is faster, more agile, more lethal, better equipped, better protected, and better compensated than any other in the world.

Make no doubt about it, the sums that we invest in defense are enormous. According to the most recent CIA World Factbook, the world spent about three-quarters of a trillion dollars on arms in 1999, the latest year for which statistics are available. That same year, the United States spent $292 billion on its military – that's nearly 40 percent of all military spending on earth. Our country spends more on defense than all other 18 members of NATO plus China, Russia, and the six remaining rogue states combined.

And yet, our defense budget continues to increase. This bill authorizes $400 billion for our national defense in the next year.

In an age when we talk about smart bombs, smart missiles, and smart soldiers, any talk of smart budgets has gone out the window.

It was not that long ago that Secretary Rumsfeld conducted an extensive series of top-to-bottom reviews of the Defense Department. I supported him in those reviews, as did many other members of Congress. Those reviews were supposed to eliminate old weapons systems, field new ones, and cut the fat at the Pentagon, all for the purpose of getting more bang for our defense buck.

I understand that a huge bureaucracy like the Defense Department cannot turn on a dime. But any hopes of containing military spending increases while preparing our forces for the 21st century seem to be a distant memory. Two years into what was supposed to be a major overhaul, the Pentagon's budget has grown by 24 percent, not counting any of the billions of dollars that we have spent on the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq. Our defense budget seems more the same than ever: not more bang for the buck, just more bucks.

The Administration has charted a course to increase defense budgets to $502.7 billion within the next five years. At the same time, Congress has passed one tax cut of $1.35 trillion, and the Senate is headed at flank speed to pass another $350 billion in tax cuts before this week is over. Budget deficits are soaring out of control, while our economy is in the doldrums.

Instead of saving money by skipping a generation of military weapons, we are sending our country even deeper into debt – a debt that will have to be borne by yet another generation of Americans who will be expected to pay for our defense largess.

Let there be no doubt that we can and must provide first-rate fighting capability for our troops. But we can do so without committing to defense budgets that are set to spiral ever higher. I know of no one who would seriously propose to give our troops second-rate equipment or to cut their pay and benefits. The size of our defense budget is not a good measure of our support for our troops.

We have plenty of headroom in which to maintain our overwhelming military superiority without bowing to every request by the powerful defense industry for more money for programs that are all too often over budget and behind schedule. Propping up unproven weapons systems through infusions of taxpayer cash is the surest means to short-change our men and women in uniform.

There remains much work to be done regarding the business practices at the Pentagon. Secretary Rumsfeld has made a commitment to improving DOD's financial management and accounting systems. He appears to be making an earnest effort, but progress is painfully slow. Untangling the mess of unreliable accounting entries will take years to solve. The bottom line is that the Pentagon still has no way of knowing how much it spends, how much it owns, or what its real budgetary needs are. It makes little sense to keep piling more money on a Department that does not know how it spent last year's funds.

The DOD proposed a transformation package that was said to be able to make the Department more efficient. "Flexibilities" are held up as the cure-all to what ails the Pentagon's management. The answer to problems like the Pentagon's accounting system clearly is not more flexibility – what is needed is more accountability. Accountability within the Department, accountability to Congress, which means accountability to the Constitution and the people.

It is a good sign that this bill does not include most of the "flexibilities" requested by the Department of Defense. Senator Warner and Senator Levin acted wisely in crafting a bill that upholds the prerogatives of Congress in this respect.

But we remain on the wrong track when it comes to defense spending. Instead of truth in budgeting, Congress cannot get a straight answer about how much it will cost to occupy Iraq. Instead of choosing priorities for our military and skipping a generation of weapons, defense spending is through the roof while our government is swimming in red ink. Instead of holding the Pentagon accountable for what it spends, we are kept busy fighting off legislative proposals that would reduce oversight of the Department of Defense.

Mr. President, we are living in a time when the greatest threat to our national security is the threat of asymmetrical warfare. We learned that on September 11, 2001. We are in no danger of being outmatched militarily by any nation on earth, but as the current orange alert status reminds us, we remain vulnerable to the very real threat of terrorists.

And yet, our Department of Defense is on a track to be the instrument of a doctrine of pre-emptive attacks: ready and willing to invade and take over sovereign states that may not even pose a direct threat to our security. The name "Department of Defense" is increasingly a misnomer for a bureaucracy that is poised to undertake conquest at the drop of a hat.

Senator Warner and Senator Levin have done an excellent job of managing this bill and of stripping some of the most egregious provisions from the President's request. I commend them for their hard work, but I believe that this bill is still too costly and still steers our nation in exactly the wrong course for the future. I believe it is time to just say no to Pentagon excesses. I believe it is time to force the Defense Department to work smarter and waste less. I believe it is time to demand accountability for our enormous investment in defense. For these reasons, I will vote against this bill.

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