President Bush said Tuesday he will insist on tighter controls and higher quality from military contractors in a drive to "wring the last drop of waste and mismanagement out of the way we buy our weapons." He said those steps are vital to building a national consensus in support of a strong defense.
Bush made his remarks on the deck of the aircraft carrier America at the Norfolk Naval Base to an audience of thousands of Navy personnel and contractor employees.Standing coatless in temperatures in the 50s, Bush coughed frequently and spoke in a raspy voice, evidence of a cold that has plagued him for nearly a week. "Excuse the cough here," he said.
The president lunched in the ship's enlisted mess before returning to the White House by helicopter.
Touching on cost overruns and the current criminal investigation into Pentagon purchasing practices, the president said: "Even if overruns are not new, they are still wrong - and hurt the national security, particularly when budgets are tight. We want tighter controls and higher standards in weapons procurement."
Bush, who was a carrier-based Navy pilot in World War II, said the "first bulwark of our national defense is our national will. If our will is ruptured, our ship of state cannot sail - or at least sail safely."
The Justice Department is pursuing a 2-year-old investigation of alleged purchasing fraud. So far several individuals and one defense-contracting firm have pleaded guilty and another contractor has been indicted.
The president used the occasion Tuesday to emphasize his program of highlighting public service, praising members of the military for the sacrifices they make.
"In the years ahead I want to make sure that those who build our ships, planes and weapons live up to the standards of service, dedication and duty that this crew and this shipyard set," he said.