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President signs Defense Authorization Act

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama signed the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act during a ceremony at the White House Oct. 28.

President Obama hailed the act, which contains $680.2 billion in military budget authority, as transformational legislation that targets wasteful defense spending.

The president was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, congressional leaders and other senior officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"There's still more waste we need to cut; there's still more fights that we need to win," President Obama said, noting he and Secretary Gates will continue to seek out unnecessary defense spending. President Obama said he has ended unnecessary no-bid defense contracts and signed bipartisan legislation to reform defense procurement practices so weapons systems' costs do not spin out of control.

"Even as we have made critical investments in equipment and weapons our troops do need, we're eliminating tens of billions of dollars in waste we don't need," President Obama said.

The legislation, the president said, saves billions by capping production of the Air Force's costly F-22 Raptor and terminating troubled, over-budget programs such as the Army's Future Combat System and a new presidential helicopter.

"As commander in chief, I will always do whatever it takes to keep the American people safe to defend this nation," President Obama said. "That's why this bill provides for the best military in the history of the world."

The authorization act provides for a 3.4 percent pay raise for military members, improves care for wounded warriors and expands family leave rights.

Money also is budgeted to fund programs that address "real and growing threats," President Obama said. Such systems, he said, include the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, the littoral combat ship and more helicopters and reconnaissance support for deployed U.S. forces.

The authorization act contains $130 billion to fund overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and it also provides $6.7 billion for thousands of all-terrain, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles now arriving in Afghanistan.

"Secretary Gates and I both know that we can't build the 21st century military we need unless we fundamentality reform the way our defense establishment does business," President Obama said. He cited a Government Accountability Office report that found cost overruns totaling $296 billion across 96 major defense projects over the last year. That amount of money, the president said, would have paid for troop salaries and military family benefits for more than a year.

President Obama praised Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen for their hard work in developing the 2010 defense budget.

"I want to thank, publicly, Bob Gates for his service to our nation," he said, and he added that Admiral Mullen has "provided wise counsel and stood with us in our efforts to initiate reform."

The authorization act, Secretary Gates said, is a bipartisan effort that's the result of countless hours and hard work on Capitol Hill.

"This bill is a necessary step toward reshaping the priorities of America's defense establishment and changing the way the Pentagon does business," Secretary Gates said at the signing ceremony. Work already is under way, he said, in development of the 2011 defense budget recommendation.

"And, I can ensure you it will focus on institutionalizing and accelerating many of the priorities and reforms embraced by this legislation," Secretary Gates said.

The annual defense authorization bill prepared for the president's approval or veto falls under the House and Senate armed services committees and is one of two bills required for the Defense Department to spend money. The other is the appropriations bill, crafted by the House and Senate appropriations committees, which provides funding to pay for the defense programs specified in the authorization bill.

Although the authorization bill signed today contains funding to develop and produce an alternate engine for the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter that Secretary Gates had opposed, the legislators were able to provide that funding without taking resources away from the F-35 program itself, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters later in the day.

Some people, Mr. Morrell said, believe that funding a second engine for the F-35 would be an unnecessary waste of taxpayers' money.

"The authorizers have been able to do it in a way that does not seriously disrupt the overall F-35 program; we'll see if the appropriators are able to come up with a way to do it that way," Mr. Morrell said. "If they don't, if they seriously disrupt it, then the secretary will recommend to the president that he veto the appropriations bill."

The House and Senate appropriations committees are evaluating budget provisions contained within the Defense Authorization Act signed today.