As the U.S. Congress continues deliberation on debt and deficit management, we must ensure that the debate is informed, and that our domestic security and responsiveness are balanced with economic efficiency.
The "debt deal" that was reached over a month ago mandated nearly $1 trillion in budget reductions, $350 billion of which will be cut from defense spending. What remains unclear are the metrics for determining these cuts, and how leaders in the Defense Department will vet their recommendations to ensure measured and educated decisions.
As governor of Florida, my foremost responsibility is to protect the lives and property of the citizens of my state. Our ability to meet challenges associated with domestic crises, specifically homeland defense and disaster response, is critical. The National Guard of all the states has inherent capabilities that are essential to support state and local emergency response, and do so at a great value to our taxpayers.
Through 10 years of conflict, multiple overseas deployments and recurring engagements with partner nations, National Guard units have achieved unprecedented levels of equipment and personnel readiness. Their parallel mission, with the same personnel and equipment, is to support our communities with a wide range of capabilities during crises, including air traffic control, civil engineering, aviation, humanitarian relief, medical care and evacuation, firefighting, search and rescue, crowd control and border security. During emergencies, they provide security to key infrastructure and neighborhoods, supplies of food and water, and aid to people who have been exposed to chemical/biological/nuclear contaminants. They routinely assist local authorities with illegal drug interdiction, and support youth education programs to reduce gang violence and substance abuse. All of these responsibilities, when properly resourced, clearly safeguard our communities.
Without a clear and collaborative strategy that considers the entire scope of security scenarios, we jeopardize the safety of our citizens. Though several news services have speculated on potential defense cuts, the official cloak of secrecy surrounding the "debt deal" creates unease for those who must be ready to respond to an attack or disaster at our doorstep. An unfortunate, but typically foreseeable outcome is to reduce structure in the National Guard — the consequences of which are significant. The elimination of a single National Guard fighter wing, airlift wing, or aviation battalion would not just remove aircraft from a state; it would also purge vital support functions and equipment, such as refueling and fire trucks, portable light carts, ambulances, explosive ordnance systems, command and control operations centers and highly trained personnel that provide these services during emergencies.
Defense leaders have been dealt an unenviable task — to find $350 billion in programs, systems and personnel that can be cut from our security framework. The process should be to determine (1) what we need for our safety and security, (2) what we have that can best and most affordably meet these needs, (3) what are the shortcomings and (4) how the nation will mitigate these shortcomings. Regardless, military service leaders should seek input from the states before recommending broad and arbitrary cuts that may result in irreversible damage to our domestic response capabilities. The time for collaboration with the states is now, before the president's budget is unveiled in February.
Speaking from one of many states whose citizens have been impacted by natural disasters, I submit that we should not take a risk by cutting our most cost-effective military organization and our primary homeland response force — our National Guard.
Rick Scott is governor of Florida.