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Defense Secretary Gates to unveil Pentagon budget Monday

A spokesman says Gates' recommendations will mark 'a fundamental shift in direction.' The secretary will announce his plan publicly -- perhaps in an attempt to head off criticism of weapons cuts.

April 04, 2009|Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will announce his plans for a sweeping overhaul of the defense budget on Monday, Pentagon officials said.

Gates will announce his decisions first in telephone calls to congressional leaders Monday morning and then in an afternoon news conference.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, April 11, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 0 inches; 0 words Type of Material: Correction
Defense budget: An April 4 article in Section A on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' proposed overhaul of the defense budget misquoted defense budget expert David J. Berteau as saying "lighting" when he said "lightning." The correct quote reads: "It's a very good trial run to see how much heat is going to be generated and how much lightning is going to be thrown at him [Gates] from Congress and industry."

Gates has been working for weeks on an overhaul of the defense budget and has been contemplating tough decisions on whether to cancel the Air Force's F-22 fighter plane, Navy shipbuilding programs, the Army's Future Combat System and a host of other weapons programs.

In an unusual move for the Pentagon, Gates will announce his budget recommendations before sending the formal recommendation to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

"It . . . reflects the magnitude of the decision," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. "These aren't changes on the margins. It is a fundamental shift in direction."

Gates will announce his recommendation publicly, Morrell said, because he wants a chance to explain how each decision on individual weapons programs adds up to a comprehensive vision.

"This has been an unusual process from the beginning," he said. "He wants this viewed as a whole."

The decisions will have a dramatic effect on a large number of defense contractors and is almost certain to be controversial. Historically, it has proven difficult for Defense secretaries to kill weapons programs. Many Pentagon leaders announce they are ending programs, only to see them revived by Congress or be resurrected under a new name.

A public announcement about Pentagon spending before the plan has been formally vetted by the Office of Management and Budget is unprecedented, said David J. Berteau, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The strategy may head off some attempts by lawmakers and others to alter it; it will also give Gates a sense of what the real budget fights are likely to be.

"It's a very good trial run to see how much heat is going be generated and how much lighting is going to be thrown at him from Congress and industry," Berteau said.

Morrell said Gates would make final decisions on what programs he intends to eliminate or cut over the weekend.

Last year, in a series of speeches and articles, Gates outlined what he saw as fundamental problems with the Pentagon budget. He said too many programs try to do too much, leading to cost overruns and delays. Instead, he has said he would offer "75%" solutions -- more modest, cost-effective decisions.

Gates has also pushed the Pentagon to do more to develop weapons systems relevant to the wars that the U.S. is fighting and other low-intensity conflicts. He has suggested that the military spends too much time and money on developing weapons systems for conventional fights. He said the U.S. cannot abandon such programs altogether, but instead must seek a better balance.

"Barack Obama's style has not been nibbling on the edges," said Berteau, the defense analyst. "He is going for the touchdown on every play. And that is what Gates has been saying in his articles, speeches and testimony. He's saying we are not going to punt, we are going to make hard decisions."

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julian.barnes@latimes.com

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