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Panetta, Dempsey Talk Defense Budget at House Hearing

DoD photo: Erin Kirk-Cuomo

Defense cuts are a primary topic of conversation in the government and in the defense industry, providing a timely backdrop for Congress to host both the Pentagon’s top civilian official and uniformed military officer Thursday.

The House Armed Services Committee heard testimony for the first time in their current roles from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Panetta offered no specifics on how the Pentagon would implement $450 million in defense cuts, but spoke in broad terms of the strategy in making cuts.

“If we decide that we’ve got to maintain our force structure presence in the Pacific in order to deal with China and China’s expanding role in that part of the world … and if we decide that the Middle East is also a very important area where we have to maintain a presence as well, then just by virtue of the numbers that we’re dealing with, we will probably have to reduce our presence elsewhere,” Panetta said. “Perhaps in Latin America … [or] Africa.”

Panetta also told lawmakers the Pentagon has made progress in being ready for a financial audit by 2017 and a full-budget audit will be conducted in 2014.

Panetta and Dempsey also addressed the possibility of changing the military’s 20-year retirement program. Panetta promised to preserve the current system for those currently in the military. Dempsey addressed why he felt the military’s program could not be compared to programs in the civilian sector.

Dempsey said soldiers who serve for 20 years put themselves in harm’s way, move frequently, and often have spouses who cannot find employment “because we tell them to go where the nation needs them.”

“That retirement program needs to be fundamentally different than anything you find in the civilian sector, in my view,” Dempsey said.

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