Washington – Connecticut lawmakers on defense panels are lauding presumptive Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter, even as the defense industry may be wary about the candidate’s reputation as a cost cutter.
“I have been impressed by Ashton Carter’s thorough grasp of Pentagon operations and policy, and by his straightforward approach with the House Armed Services Committee,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, who is a member of the panel. “I am confident he would serve as a highly capable leader and a strong partner with Congress and the president.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Carter “would be a truly excellent and extraordinary choice at this point in Pentagon history because it needs a true professional.”
“He acts on facts and pushes back on assumptions,” Blumenthal said. “He personifies independence of mind.”
From 2009 to 2011, Carter — a Yale graduate with a degree in physics — served as undersecretary for acquisition, specializing in procuring equipment to meet emerging threats.
In 2010, Carter implemented a policy that said future contracts for Pentagon purchases include a “50/50 share line,” meaning that the Pentagon and the vendor would split the cost if a program goes over budget.
Carter also established a cap on big-ticket items of 120 percent of contract amount. Contractors that exceeded those limits could have their contract revoked.
“When we get to $120 on a $100 item,” Carter told an audience at the Center for American Progress in Washington, “I’m out of Schlitz and it’s all yours.”
One of Carter’s main jobs was focused on reining in cost overruns on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system ever built with an estimated price tag of more than $390 billion.
The engines for the F-35 are built by Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut.
Blumenthal said Carter’s cost-cutting ways are not a problem for Connecticut’s defense industry.
“I strongly encouraged him to push back against waste,” Blumenthal said. “I know a lot about our contractors in Connecticut, and they have squeezed waste out of their contracts.”
Blumenthal also said he is grateful to Carter for making body armor for the troops a priority.
In a handwritten 2012 letter addressed to “Dear Ash,” Blumenthal thanked the then-deputy secretary of defense for providing the troops ballistic underwear designed to provide femoral artery and genital protection.
“Your diligence on ballistic underwear reflects the extraordinary skill and dedication you’ve given our nation,” Blumenthal wrote.
Carter would replace Chuck Hagel, who has resigned. Although there are reports the nominee is still being vetted by the White House, President Obama is expected to announce his candidacy soon.