Defense Media Network

Interview With Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

Congressman Duncan Hunter, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain, served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He is the first combat veteran of the Global War on Terrorism to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. After attacks on America Sept. 11, 2001, Hunter, a graduate of San Diego State University, quit his job and joined the Marine Corps. Completing Officer Candidate School in 2002, he became an artillery officer. When his second tour of duty in Fallujah, Iraq, ended in 2005, he was released from active duty, remaining in the Marine Corps Reserve. Successful in business, Hunter decided to run for Congress. Weeks after filing as a candidate for California’s 52nd District, however, he was recalled to active duty in 2007 for assignment in Afghanistan. His wife and family carried out Hunter’s election campaign while he was fighting overseas. He won the election and joined the House of Representatives in 2008. Hunter also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and subcommittees on Tactical Air and Land Forces and Seapower and Projection Forces. Between votes on the House floor, the congressman spoke to Defense senior writer Clarence A. Robinson, Jr., about the controversial 2012 Defense Department budget request.


Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.: Budget figures released in advance of the 2012 defense spending request show that the defense budget will continue to grow through FY 2014, albeit at reduced levels. This comes as U.S. forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan, places where you served in combat. What is your position and that of your committee colleagues on this current budget?

Congressman Duncan Hunter: The House Armed Services Committee is closely examining the Defense Department’s budget request, delving into line items in an effort to identify approximately $100 billion over the five-year defense plan that can be redirected through budget amendments. These funds will be in areas where critical programs appear to be underfunded. One example in 2012 is restoring research and development [R&D] funding. The administration requested $75.3 billion for R&D, but this is about $5.6 billion less than the 2011 request, a 6 percent reduction. R&D is the lifeblood of the nation’s technological progress. Cutting-edge science from military development programs often spills over into commercial sectors. A graphic example is the Internet, which began as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency method of digital communications with government laboratories.


After eight years of war, equipment and weapons systems are worn out. Does the FY 2012 budget request allow replacing of critical combat systems? If not, is Congress looking at redirecting funding for this purpose?

No, it does not provide a reset for weapons systems upgrades that the services have requested. All of the numbers are in the ether, meaning we are working from a bad Quadrennial Defense Review [QDR], or at best a guess. In reality, there appears to be no intelligence assessment that accurately predicts the evolving world threat situation. We must know the risks involved to size and fund force structure and weapons modernization programs. The committee needs a threat assessment that will accurately foresee things like the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and other regional powers. Knowing the threat allows adequate funding to manage risks.

Whether this threat analysis comes from the Defense Intelligence Agency, RAND Corporation, a university, or a military college doesn’t matter. Managing risks mandates an accurate analysis, but this has not been done in time for the 2012 markup; however, we will have it in time for the next budget cycle. National security simply costs money, but it protects our nation and we need to grasp and understand that concept – defense is not cheap.


Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., has publicly raised “significant concerns” over the 2012 Pentagon budget request for $670.9 billion, including $117.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This request is $13 billion less than projected a year ago and $36.5 billion less than current-year spending. What are your thoughts on the amount requested, and is it adequate?

The Defense Department’s funding request should start with each of the service chiefs stating, as an example, a top-line concept telling the committee “this is everything we need by priority to literally prepare for any possible threat scenario.” Then, the acceptable funding levels will be matched against projected threats and effective counters. Until this is done, the committee is throwing darts. We want to be certain that we can cover at least 65 percent to 70 percent of the threat base, whatever that budget figure might become. This approach would provide effective risk management. The threat scenario will determine the forces and weapons needed and thus funding levels. Until we receive this information, Congress will have to act on what the service chiefs say they need, regardless of the administration’s request.


Having been through the annual authorization process before, in general, how would you describe the Pentagon’s 2012 budget request before the markup?

It seems to me, as our committee chairman pointed out, that the Defense Department cannot propose cutting some $500 billion in spending over the next decade while continuing with business as usual. Fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability are department imperatives. Unless the department determines the basic requirements through proper due diligence, other countries could become emboldened to challenge our nation. The Defense Department must come to grips with the fact it cannot continue with its wasteful ways and expect better results. We, as a nation, face difficult choices and must resolve America’s defense and acquisition management issues. The department will not continue to succeed with its funding requests without identifying the basic causes of defense inefficiencies.

As an example, more than half of the Defense Department’s financial management community works outside typical auditing and accounting norms. Committee members expressed concerns the department lacks the management and fiscal concepts needed to administer defense resources. As a business major, and having run my own company, I know that you cannot run a successful organization this way. The 2012 markup requires a Defense Department financial management certification program. This authorization bill further requires the comptroller general to annually assess actual departmental savings realized in comparison to the secretary’s proposed efficiency initiatives. More importantly, however, the 2012 markup ensures that troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other garden spots have the training, equipment, and resources to successfully complete their missions and return home.

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Clarence A. Robinson, Jr., is the author of Battleground High, a book in progress on...