The only one on the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning who says the defense budget should be on the table for President Obama’s spending freeze is a former Navy secretary — Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). Saying that there’s no reason military spending should be “sacrosanct,” Webb urged Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen to “take a hard look at programs that don’t produce a clear bottom line.”
Webb shot out three programs. First, he questioned the wisdom of giving $60 million to Blackwater to train sailors in self-defense on board ships — or, as Webb put it, “how to do their job.” He attacked sending military officers to defense think tanks to serve as fellows, specifically calling out the well-connected Center for a New American Security, which has sent a lot of its own analysts to the Obama State and Defense Departments. “The American taxpayer is funding think tanks that don’t really produce any added value to the Department of Defense,” Webb said. Finally, Webb called out the Pentagon’s “mentorship” program — recently the subject of a USA Today investigative report — that basically allows retired officers who serve in many cases on defense contractor boards to still get Pentagon cash for advising active-duty officers.
Gates deflected Webb’s criticism, saying merely, “We will certainly continue to look at these things.” He defended the mentorship program, but said vaguely to expect “fairly dramatic changes” to its administration, thanks to a study by Deputy Secretary William Lynn.