Pentagon Cuts: Targeting the Bureaucracy to Save the Budget
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced significant belt-tightening measures yesterday in hopes of saving the department from externally imposed cuts that could undermine needed resources and capabilities. “My greatest fear is that in economic tough times, people will see the defense budget as the place to solve the nation’s deficit problems, the place to find money for other parts of the government,” Gates said.
Numerous news accounts this morning outline the planned cuts, which are summarized as follows (for a full list, see the slides released on DoD Efficiency Decisions):
- Reducing reliance on contractors and freeze personnel: a 10 percent reduction in service support contracts each year over the next three years, with no automatic replacement of departing contractors with full-time civilian personnel. Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), defense agencies and combatant command personnel levels will stay frozen at this year’s level (Fiscal Year 2010) for the next three years. This means the current government push to in-source will now shrink to specific fields, such as the acquisition workforce.
- Cutting senior personnel: the number of general officer and senior civilian executive billets will stay frozen at the current year’s level. Over the next two years, at least 50 flag officer and 150 senior civilian billets will be cut.
- Maximizing “Economies of scale” and instituting a “Culture of Saving”: DoD IT assets will be consolidated to identify smart, cost-saving purchasing and operating strategies. To promote the culture of saving, cost estimates will be required for each proposed initiative.
- Reducing excessive oversight and reports: freeze DoD-required reports, cut the funding for advisory studies by 25 percent and publish the actual cost of preparation for each report on the front of the document. This is interesting in that little attention is paid to the amount of time and effort expended on providing information to oversight requests, reports, and other such tasks. At both OSD and combatant command levels, this seems to demand a disproportionate amount of time and effort at the expense of other priorities. Publishing that information upfront will be a good way to force the questions of relevancy and prioritization.
- Streamlining defense intelligence activities: a 10 percent reduction in contracts supporting intelligence functions and a freeze on senior executive service positions within the DoD intelligence community.
- Cutting entire organizations: here’s where the more unprecedented of Gates’ measures emerge. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), based in Norfolk, Va., will be closed, along with the Business Transformation Agency and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Network and Information Integration.
Some of these seem like no-brainers. It is hard to believe, for instance, that proposed initiatives to date have not included cost estimates. Or that the Pentagon does not actually have a figure for time and resources expended on reports – Gates said, “At this time, nobody knows what they cost.”
On the other hand, the New York Times reports Pentagon officials could not recall precedent for the shuttering of a command as proposed for JFCOM. While several combatant commands have previously been stood up and subsequently inactivated, they were merged into new commands, not “vanished off the books.”
Worth watching here will be the political response. While Pentagon officials are saying they do not need congressional authorization to make the cuts, Congress may think otherwise. Virginian governor Robert McDonnell has already put his stake in the ground with intent to fight the decision, while the White House has issued a statement in support of the planned changes. Partisan differences will likely fall along the line of comments made by ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, expressing doubt that “these savings will be reinvested into America’s defense requirements.” This reinvestment is, of course, central to Gates’ overarching intention, which is not to cut the overall budget but find an additional 1 – 2 percent in savings to enable much needed service modernization while maintaining slow, steady growth.