(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen on the Department of Defense’s plan for a fair and transparent competition for aerial refueling tankers. Murray’s questioning took place at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Defense’s 2010 Budget.
Senator Murray, a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, has been consistently pointing out the deficiencies of dual-buy for the taxpayer and the military, and last week received a commitment from Air Force Secretary Donley that he would also continue to oppose it.
On Fair and Transparent New Competition:
Senator Murray was an outspoken critic of the Air Force’s flawed decision to award the tanker contract to Airbus last year and spoke out on many of the competition’s inconsistencies. She questioned Secretary Gates on this issue at today’s hearing:
Sen. Murray: “What kind measures will you take to prevent the claims of an unfair evaluation or the scales being tipped one way or another as we move through this?”
Secretary Gates: “Part of the process I am going through right now is to try to structure this in a way that puts the best people on this program and that provides a supervisory role, and right now, tentatively thinking I’m going to clearly ask the Deputy Secretary to take a close interest in this process.”
On Dual Buy:
Senator Murray then asked about the viability of the dual-buy option for tankers.
Sen. Murray: “Clearly this is a real challenge and we all want the best aircraft at the end of the day…We want what’s best for the warfighter, and we want what’s best for the taxpayer as well. You have been strong proponent of a winner take all competition. Is that still your opinion?”
Secretary Gates: “Yes ma’am.”
On Industrial Base:
Murray is a leading advocate in the Senate for preserving a strong domestic industrial base. She pressed Secretary Gates on this issue at the hearing today:
Sen. Murray: “I am worried about how we are balancing this acquisition reform effort in relation to our domestic industrial base. I am worried about the long-term ability of our domestic industrial base to provide our military forces what they need to accomplish their national security missions....Can you tell me how you are taking into account the health and longevity of our domestic industrial base including our suppliers, design engineers and manufacturers as you tackle acquisition reform in the DoD?”
Secretary Gates: “Well I think so far in terms of the decisions I have made, most of the issues have not been taken, the decisions have not been taken, with the view to the industrial base, but rather acquisition programs that had been extremely badly managed, in substantial measure by the Department of Defense. So I would say in all honesty that not very many of the decisions I have made were made with the industrial base as an important consideration……As we go forward…clearly we have concerns about the industrial base, but to be perfectly honest, decisions made a long time ago have limited our options in this respect.”
Sen. Murray: “But if keep going down this road without thinking about it, then ten years from now we will be in a bad place….I do think we have to start talking about acquisition reform in terms of our industrial base as well, and I hope we can work with you on that.”
Murray successfully included an amendment in the procurement reform bill signed into law last month that requires the Pentagon to report on the effects that canceling an acquisition program would have on the nation’s industrial base.
On Combat Stress
Sen. Murray: “Admiral Mullen, I know combat related stress is a great concern for you and each of the service chiefs, how are you planning to address this issue DoD-wide?”
Admiral Mullen: “This budget puts a lot more money in that direction, and that’s key. Leadership throughout the department, and clearly military leadership, is very focused on making more capability and capacity, more mental health providers available…. We have taken some steps in the stigma issue, but that’s still a huge issue. I don’t think we really remove that until we get to a point where everybody receives an effective screening, and it’s not voluntary, you must do it and create opportunities to understand when someone is suffering as so many are right now, which is pretty normal and pretty human…”
Secretary Gates: “This budget…has a substantial increase focused strictly on psychological health. One of the things I would like to explore with congress…is the issue of availability of mental health care providers. The truth is there are a lot of places in the country where we are trying to hire them and they are not available…One of the things I would like to explore with congress is expanding the Military Medical Education Program so that it goes beyond just physicians and includes mental health care professionals…”