Ashton Carter and the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed on the urgency of responsibly identifying cuts to Defense Department spending at a hearing on Carter's confirmation as deputy defense secretary.
At his confirmation hearing Sept. 13, Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s nominee as deputy secretary of defense, was grilled by Senate Armed Services Committee members on his plans for cutting Defense Department spending by more than $300 billion over the next 10 years.
At the confirmation hearing, the committee also queried Carter on how he would move forward with the efficiency measures he rolled out last year and on providing Congress with recommendations for budget cutting. Carter is currently undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The recommendations were originally planned to come from a comprehensive internal review that is currently under way. However, after Carter testified that the review is behind schedule, ranking SASC member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) demanded that recommendations be provided sooner, in time for consideration by the super committee charged with identifying budget cuts.
Carter said that the comprehensive capabilities and mission review, slated to conclude by the end of the summer, may not be finished until the end of the year or later.
“If true, this review would not be available to inform the deliberations of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or Congress generally on how the currently proposed defense spending cuts will affect national security,” McCain said. “This is unacceptable.”
Carter pledged that, if confirmed, he would work closely with Congress to identify cuts and savings that realistically could be implemented – and help avoid the automatic sequestration that will kick in if the super committee fails to pass a plan by mid-October.
“[The recommendations] won’t be final recommendations, but the options that we’re considering,” Carter said.
He warned, more than once, that if the $500-billion-plus, across-the-board automatic cuts to security spending were put in place under the sequestration process, it would be devastating to the military.
“Just the scale of it alone would lead us to have to consider truly Draconian things – abandoning major weapons systems, furloughing civilian employees and abruptly curtailing training because we couldn’t pay for fuel, and so forth,” Carter said. “When we say ‘disastrous,’ that’s the kind of disaster we mean.”
Still, Levin warned that any recommendations Carter offers ahead of the comprehensive review’s findings would still need to carry serious weight.
“Consultation is important, but what we need is recommendations,” Levin said.