James N. Mattis, the 26th Secretary of Defense. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

DoD secretary testifies about the reality facing America’s military

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary James Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee on June 12 about the reality facing America’s military and the need for Congress as a whole to support and pass the department’s 2018 budget request on time.

“For four years, our military has been subject to or threatened by automatic, across-the-board cuts as a result of sequester – a mechanism meant to be so injurious to the military it would never go into effect,” Mattis said in his written statement. “In addition, during nine of the past 10 years, Congress has enacted 30 separate Continuing Resolutions to fund the Department of Defense, thus inhibiting our readiness and adaptation to new challenges.”

Mattis said Congress has sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration in the past. In addition, Congress has blocked new programs; prevented service growth; stalled industry initiative; and placed troops at greater risk.

“The fundamental responsibility of our government is to defend the American people, providing for our security,” he said. “We cannot defend America and help others if our nation is not both strong and solvent. So we, in the Department of Defense, owe it to the American public to ensure we spend each dollar wisely.”

Despite tremendous efforts, Mattis believes Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership. “I retired from military service three months after sequestration took effect. Four years later, I returned into the department and I have been shocked by what I’ve seen with our readiness to fight,” he said. “For all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration. We have only sustained our ability to meet America’s commitments abroad because our troops have stoically shouldered a much greater burden.”

For Mattis, it took years to get into this situation and will now require years of stable budgets and increased funding to get out of it. He said this is necessary “because of four external forces acting on the department at the same time,” which include:

• 16 years of war,

• worsening global security situation,

• adversaries contesting the U.S., and

• rapid pace of technological change.

“Each of these four forces require stable budgets and increased funding to provide for the protection of our citizens and for the survival of our freedoms,” said Mattis. “To strengthen the military, President Trump requested a $639.1 billion topline for the FY 2018 defense budget. Of this topline, $574.5 billion supports Department of Defense base budget requirements – warfighting readiness and critical program requirements including intelligence community requirements. The balance, $64.6 billion, supports Overseas Contingency Operations requirements.”

Mattis goes on to say that “DoD’s 2018 base budget, with its $52 billion increase above the National Defense Budget Control Act cap, is the next step to building a larger, more capable and more lethal joint force.” The 2018 budget request reflects five priorities which include:

• Restoring and improving warfighter readiness;

• Increasing capacity and lethality;

• Reforming how DoD does business;

• Keeping the faith with servicemembers and their families; and

• Supporting Overseas Contingency Operations.

Mattis said he needs bipartisan support for DoD’s budget request, as “judicious spending of America’s public money is critical to ensuring security while maintaining solvency.”

He urged the committee members and Congress to achieve three key goals:

• Fully fund DoD’s request which requires an increase to the budget caps;

• Pass a fiscal year 2018 budget in a timely manner to avoid another harmful Continuing Resolution; and

• Eliminate the threat of future sequestration cuts to provide a stable budgetary planning horizon.

“I know we will have to make hard choices as we develop our new defense strategy and shape the FY 2019-2023 defense program,” said Mattis. “With the help of Congress, I am confident we can build a force that is necessarily more lethal without placing an undue burden on the American economy.

Read his full testimony here.