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Like Predecessors, Hagel Vows to Cut Military Fat

The head of the U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday vowed to cut 20 percent of some areas of the military bureaucracy in a move estimated to save as much as $2 billion.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement while speaking to troops during a trip to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little in a statement e-mailed later in the day said the reductions would affect the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the Military Service Headquarters over a five-year period beginning in 2015. They will occur whether or not lawmakers agree on a plan to avoid automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, he said.

"These headquarters reductions should be pursued now, regardless of future fiscal circumstances," Little said. "These cuts will be implemented even if Congress lifts sequester-level budget caps."

Little didn't specify how many personnel would be affected. The move may eliminate more than 4,000 jobs, according to an unofficial headcount of those areas. That's less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the Pentagon's 2.1 million active-duty troops and civilian employees.

What's more, the Pentagon bureaucracy has only increased since 2010, when former Defense Secretary Bob Gates made a similar pledge, raising questions about whether Hagel -- or any defense secretary -- can succeed in thinning the ranks of the military's top-brass and senior civilians.

The number of positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the combatant commands increased 24 percent, to 21,952 in 2012 from 17,765 in 2010, according to a graphic accompanying a recent analysis by Marcus Weisgerber, a reporter for Defense News.

More than half of the overall increase came from the Joint Staff, which simply absorbed positions from Joint Forces Command after Gates ordered the latter to be shuttered in 2010, according to the analysis.

Hagel's announcement is based on a strategic review of spending priorities in the wake of across-the-board budget reductions, Little said.

The Defense Department faces $500 billion in automatic cuts over the next decade. That’s in addition to almost $500 billion in defense reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment of the automatic cuts, totaling about $37 billion, began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending.

In response to the budget tightening, the Pentagon ordered some 750,000 civilian employees to take 11 days of mandatory unpaid leave, known as furloughs, by Sept. 30.

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