WASHINGTON Feb 25 Top Pentagon officials have
had to agree in writing to keep this year's budget talks a
secret as they confront thorny questions about the future of
expensive U.S. weapons programs, a spokesman said on
Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the unusual step of
requiring nondisclosure agreements of all senior officials who
wanted to participate in the fiscal debate, including the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
President Barack Obama, who inherited a recession and a
trillion-dollar deficit when he took office on Jan. 20, will
send his first budget proposal to Congress on Thursday but a
comprehensive fiscal plan is not expected until April.
Some budget watchers believe the Pentagon's base budget
could rise as much as 4 percent from a current $515 billion but
would remain well below the $581 billion initially sought for
the new fiscal year by the Bush administration.
Up to now, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been
funded by separate supplemental bills and not through the base
Total U.S. government spending stands at more than $3
trillion a year.
"Everybody who's participating in this process -- these are
the highest-ranking people in this department -- were asked to
sign," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
Obama has pledged to break with the unprecedented secrecy
of the Bush administration and allow greater openness in
But Gates, a former CIA director, is trying to prevent
leaks as his department weighs cuts in expensive programs and
rebalances budget priorities to reflect the demands of
unconventional warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pentagon officials also said some budget details are
classified and cannot be revealed without violating federal
law, while others are commercially sensitive.
"This is highly sensitive stuff involving programs costing
tens of billions of dollars, employing hundreds of thousands of
people and go to the heart of national security," Morrell
Budget discussions are expected to include high-stakes
decisions on the fate of programs such as Lockheed Martin
Corp's (LMT.N) premier F-22 fighter jet.
Obama himself vowed to crack down on costly military
programs this week, citing a project to build a new
presidential helicopter that is more expensive than the
Gates has also told Congress the global economic downturn
and war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan would force tough
decisions on weapons programs.
"We understand these (programs) involve huge corporations
that have a lot riding on the outcome of these discussions,"
Top Pentagon suppliers Boeing Co (BA.N), Northrup Grumman
Corp, General Dynamics Corp (GD.N), BAE Systems (BAES.L) and
Raytheon Co (RTN.N) are anxiously awaiting news of possible
cuts in their programs.
Lockheed defended its F-22 program this month in a
full-page advertisement in the Washington Post that emphasized
the number of jobs sustained by the program.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by John