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Sen. Webb: Focus on Defense Department’s ‘must-have’ programs

During debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 on Tuesday, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) reiterated his concerns about using funding intended for operations, maintenance, and acquisition programs to expand biofuel research-and-development (R&D) programs in the Department of Defense.

Webb emphasized the importance of re-evaluating each DoD program to determine its value in the context of national security as well as current and future fiscal realities.

“We should ask the Secretary of Defense … to examine which programs in DOD are the must-haves, which are absolutely vital to our national security,” said Webb, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and former Secretary of the Navy, during debate on the floor. “I would say that the costly biofuels programs, in the sense that we are proposing to fund them in the operational environment at this time, would have to qualify as a nice-to-have. That does not mean that we should eliminate the biofuels program. There is money in R&D to continue to examine them, but I’ll tell you, Mr. President, what a must-have is.  A must-have is our shipbuilding program.”

Webb pointed to the dramatically reduced size of the Navy, which is down to 287 operational combatant vessels. During Webb’s tenure as Secretary of the Navy in 1987-1988, it had up to 568 combatants.

“We have to make decisions,” Webb said. “We have to get competitive programs into the Department of Defense. We must increase readiness. We are not proposing to decrease the research and development programs.”

Webb has said that private industry and the Department of Energy should lead the effort to develop our nation’s biofuel production capacity. Webb has also supported the Department of the Navy’s operational proof-of-concept demonstrations and technical certifications to incentivize investments in the facilities necessary to produce biofuels that are competitively priced in sufficient quantities for use by the military.