Senators focus on Iran and Israel, but defense nominee also addresses matters at home.
Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, shown here in 2009, testified Jan. 31 at his Senate confirmation hearing.
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel underwent a day of grilling in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 31, when a hearing on his nomination for defense secretary became contentious at times, particularly among GOP members.
The former Republican lawmaker faced a barrage of questions about his previous comments and stance on issues including Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons, but in between he also fielded inquiries on how he would handle budget cuts, sequestration and cybersecurity if confirmed for the top Pentagon post.
When peppered with pointed questions about statements he made in 2011 about a "bloated" Defense Department that could be "pared down," Hagel said the comments, which have helped fuel opposition to his nomination, were taken out of context.
"That comment came in a long extended interview about budgets, about everything," Hagel said. "That interview was done in 2011 prior to the Budget Control Act. I never supported sequestration, by the way."
He went on to tell senators that he believes sequestration's sweeping cuts would be as devastating as current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly insisted.
"When you hang that kind of uncertainty over any institution, but especially the institution charged with national security in our country, it's very dangerous. We're going to have to reduce training, steaming time and flying time," Hagel said. "I think the American people do need to be reassured ... the security of this country is not going to be in jeopardy. But it's going to be difficult, and it's going to affect longer-term kinds of planning. Make no mistake, if this happens, this is going to be a severe problem."
When further pressed on how he would address budget cuts, Hagel pointed to DOD's redundancies and inefficiencies as top contenders for the chopping block.
"Much of the conversation has been about acquisition, about waste, fraud and abuse, billions of dollars. Why aren't we auditing these programs? Where's the accountability? That's certainly an area we're going to have to take a look at," he said. "The military has taken on a tremendous volume of assignments and [the] funding that goes with that. That needs to be sorted through. It has to be."
Still, in keeping with current policy, there is at least one area where Hagel appears to see the need for continued investment.
In prepared answers to the Senate's foreign policy questions, Hagel deemed cybersecurity a top priority and a major challenge, and he called on Congress to pass legislation after failing to do so following “three months of agony.” At the hearing, he reiterated that stance.
"Cyber represents as big a threat to this country as any significant threat. It's insidious, a quiet kind of threat we haven't quite seen before. It can paralyze a nation in a second," Hagel said. "Cyber is an area I'd focus on as defense secretary."