Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the budget estimates for the war supplemental for the FY2009 budget, on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 30, 2009.

This afternoon, the Department of Defense will conduct detailed briefs on the FY 2010 defense budget request. While much of what Secretary Gates’ has proposed for the military budget in FY 2010 and in the coming years has already been made public, today’s proceedings should provide a much clearer picture.

Here is what we already know:

While Congress will have to seriously consider the impact some of the proposals Secretary Gates has made in the coming months, there is one step they can take today to ensure the process Gates’ has initiated remains transparent and consistent with the best interests of American national security. Pursuant to law, Congress should oversee the establishment of an independent National Defense Panel to provide an outside evaluation of the prevailing opinions at the Pentagon. This panel should be made up of a number of defense experts with varying perspectives so that a truly transparent review and discussion can accompany the ongoing QDR process at the Pentagon.