Air Force to Make Accelerated Cuts to HQ Staff

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III present the structure of the Air Force to the Senate Arms Services Committee in Washington, D.C., on April 29, 2014 (Scott M. Ash/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force intends to cut is headquarters staff on a much more aggressive time line than that required by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, according to Air Force officials.

Last summer, Hagel ordered all of the services to cut their headquarters staff by 20 percent by 2019. Hagel's directive was part of a larger Pentagon effort to save money at a time of budget austerity.

"You're going to see the Air Force do a bit better than 20 percent, a little bit more than 20 percent, and we're going to try to do it in one year, not five years," Deborah Lee James told an editorial board meeting at Gannett Government Media Corp., according to a report by Federal Times, a Gannett publication.

Capt. Erika Yepsen, an Air Force spokeswoman, confirmed the ambitious plans.

"We have five years to do it. But if we can frontload the cuts, then we will be able to reap the benefits of the savings across the five years," she said. "That's been our plan all along is to try to achieve the cuts as fast as possible so that we can get the maximum benefit of the savings ... Like everything in our budget, the sooner you cut it out, the savings sort of multiply over time because then you don't need to keep spending that money [every year]."

James said the shrinking of the headquarters staff will affect active-duty airmen, Air Force civilians and contractor personnel, and the bulk of those cuts will occur in fiscal 2015, according to Federal Times.

To trim the headquarters, James told the editorial board that the service will look to make consolidations among major policy command staffs that manage base support services, such as security, chaplain services, civil engineering and personnel, but the details are still being worked out.

"By next summer, we are looking to be done with this ... because we'll basically be shaped at about the right size," she said, according to Federal Times.

In addition to the headquarters staff cuts, the Air Force intends to slash its overall force structure so that the service can spend more money on new weapon systems and personnel readiness. James has said the Air Force wants to use voluntary retirement measures to reduce the force, and will only use involuntary measures if necessary.

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