Defense Secretary Robert Gates has swung the axe once more, this time aiming for the enormous personnel costs that have swelled since Sept. 11, 2001, eliminating Joint Forces Command, freezing the numbers of senior military and civilian positions, cutting contractor numbers and aiming to control the costs resulting from congressional and OSD reports.
Gates' goal, put simply, is to inculcate a "culture of savings and restraint" and forestall any efforts to strip the overall defense budget in these hard economic times.
Stripping the defense budget, which he noted has happened four times before, "would be disastrous" in these times when the world is more unstable. That possibility, he said "is my greatest fear..."
On top of eliminating JFCom and the Networks Information and Integration office, he will freeze the number of senior civilian and military officers at OSD at last year's levels. He also plans to cut "at least" 50 officer positions and 150 senior civilian positions from OSD. He will even cut into the military side of the intelligence community. He will cut 10 percent of the intelligence contractors and froze senior positions. And he said Jim Clapper, his counterpart overseeing the intelligence community, is looking to take similar actions in his shops.
The JFCom cuts are likely to yield the greatest direct savings since the command includes some 2,800 military and civilian positions, bolstered by 3,000 contractors, for an annual budget of $240 million.
Initial congressional reaction may surprise some, with the Republican's top man on the House Armed Services Committee cautioning that Gates must first "convince members of this committee that these efforts will not weaken our nation’s defense." Rep. Buck McKeon said in a statement that Democrats were harvesting savings "for new domestic spending and entitlement programs. This is already happening. In the House this week, Congressional Democrats—with the full support of the White House—are taking critical defense funding to pay for another state bailout. What’s to stop them from taking this money too?" he asked.
On the other side, Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the HASC, praised Gates, saying he supports "any responsible shift of funds from overhead costs in order to strengthen the efforts of our brave troops."
Keenly aware of how congressional opposition could sink his effort to shutter JFCom and eliminate other jobs, Gates argued these moves might well allow him to add one or two billion dollars to shipbuilding so Virginia "could end up gaining a lot more jobs than it loses."