Gates: weapons projects cuts were ‘no brainers’
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday said his decisions to scrap multibillion-dollar defense projects, like a new White House helicopter, were “no brainers.”
But some lawmakers expressed concerns over certain planned cuts and about the secrecy surrounding them.
Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that some programs, like the presidential helicopters, “didn’t require deep analysis to figure out that (they) ought to be stopped as poster children for an acquisition process gone wrong.”
“There are a lot of these programs, that as far as I’m concerned, were kind of no-brainers,” to eliminate from the Pentagon’s proposed $534 billion fiscal 2010 budget, he said.
But lawmakers challenged Gates’ decision to cancel Lockheed Martin Corp.’s presidential helicopter program after spending close to $3.2 billion. They also questioned him about ending purchases of Lockheed’s F-22 fighter jets.
“It’s undeniable you’re taking the department in a different direction,” said Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., ranking member of the committee. “The problem is the Congress really hasn’t had yet the benefit of reviewing the analysis and data to determine how those decisions will take the department in the best direction possible.”
McHugh said Gates’ decision to impose a gag order on senior military officials about details of the Pentagon’s budget left lawmakers in the dark.
Gates said the only reason Congress had been included in internal budget talks in the past was because the Pentagon “leaks like a sieve.” He urged lawmakers to take a wide look at the fundamental way he is trying to reform how and what the Pentagon buys.
“I did not want to miss the fiscal 2010 opportunity to begin making changes in the direction of the Department of Defense and the way we do business,” Gates said.
Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday voted 428-0 to approve legislation to add new oversight and transparency to the Pentagon procurement system. The vote came just six days after the Senate unanimously approved a similar bill, and responds to a request by President Barack Obama for Congress to send him a bill improving Pentagon purchasing practices by Memorial Day.
The presidential helicopter project, which has a $13 billion price tag and has been delayed by six years, will not meet the White House’s requirements, Gates said. Restarting the program will be included in the next budget.
As for the F-22 fighter jet, a futuristic plane that’s a darling of many in Congress, Gates said the money for the $140 million per plane could be better used elsewhere, like on more unmanned aerial vehicles need in Iraq and Afghanistan.