Pentagon & Congress

Former SecDef Gates: DoD should just take the money

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would accept Republican lawmakers' plan to fully fund defense programs in fiscal 2016 through temporary war accounts because "there's no alternative right now."

His position is at odds with current Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who has repeatedly backed a presidential veto of any appropriations bill taking that approach.

But Gates did stop short of offering a heartfelt endorsement of the idea.

"It's a terrible way to budget," he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It is a gimmick … a hell of a way to run a railroad."

His comments came as President Obama mulls a veto of the annual defense authorization bill, a $612 billion measure that follows GOP-backed plans to funnel an extra $38 billion into overseas contingency funds to get around mandatory defense spending caps for fiscal 2016.

Republicans have called it the only realistic way to ensure national security without a bipartisan deal to repeal the caps. Obama and Hill Democrats have called it an unsupportable workaround that jeopardizes other critical agencies and programs.

As he has several times in the past, Gates blasted the political dysfunction as harmful to the fighting force and infuriating to Pentagon budget planners.

"These kinds of ad hoc arrangements are never at all as satisfying or as cost-effective as regular-order business, in which choices are made and decisions are made based on those choices and dollars allocated," he said.

"There may be more dollars, there may be fewer dollars, but at least people have some predictability."

But, he added that given the current political uncertainty, "my sense would be to take the money, because what's my alternative?"

Republicans have criticized Carter for not taking that approach, arguing that he is jeopardizing his department's fiscal health to fight for more bloated non-defense programs. Carter has countered that an underfunded State Department or Department of Homeland Security presents other serious national security concerns.

This was the first time Gates testified on Capitol Hill since he left the defense secretary post more than four years ago. He joked that "given some of the things that I wrote in my book, I'm rather surprised to be invited back."

The longtime military and security bureaucrat savaged lawmakers in his 2014 book "Duty," complaining that the "partisan abyss in Congress" and "single-minded parochial self-interest of so many members" were a constant distraction to Pentagon operations.

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