WASHINGTON —Defense Secretary Robert Gates today outlined a series of measures designed to corral what he called unabated administration creep and to force the kind of cultural change in spending at the Pentagon that he has been seeking for years.
A sense of dissatisfaction and impatience with the pace of organizational and spending reform suffused Mr. Gates’ briefing with reporters, where he announced elimination of the Joint Forces Command and a minimum 10 percent reduction in the use of contractors. The Joint Forces Command oversees cross-service training with a complement of more than 5,000 employees.
Mindful that his proposals could face strong opposition, not least from some in Congress, Mr. Gates sought to cast the changes as necessary in difficult economic and fiscal times if national security priorities like force modernization and troop development and well-being are to be maintained.
“The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be [addressed],” Gates said. “I am determined to change the way the department has done business for a long time.”
Noting that the Pentagon budget has grown substantially since 9/11 and will continue to grow, the secretary emphasized that his initiative is “not about cutting the budget” but about “sharpening and reshaping priorities.”
Among other steps laid out, Gates plans to:
- Freeze the number of positions in the office of the secretary of Defense, among other offices.
- Freeze the number of senior department positions and appoint a task force to study reducing the number of generals and other senior staff to address what is called “brass creep.”
- Close two defense offices and recommend the elimination of a third.
- Find economies of scale, especially in areas like information technology and services.
“To be clear, the task before us is not to reduce the department’s top-line budget,” Gates said. “Rather, it is to significantly reduce its excess overhead costs and apply the savings to force structure and modernization.”
Gates said one incentive for each military branch in the quest for greater efficiencies is that savings undertaken will be poured back into that particular branch.
Gates had previously announced a goal of cutting $100 billion in waste and overlapping functions over the next five years. The Pentagon’s budget stands at $535 billion, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with President Obama asking for $549 billion for 2011.
Another possibility for savings is the perennially proposed but anathema-to-Congress idea of closing military bases. Gates acknowledged the difficulties that any base-closing plan faces, but he added that “hard is not impossible.”
Maybe not, but the formidable opposition already assembling to head off elimination of the Joint Forces Command is just one example of how “hard” Gates’ task will be. Already, both of Virginia’s US senators – in whose state the JFC resides – have come out in favor of cutting Pentagon waste but vociferously opposed to this particular cost-cutting measure.